Thursday, August 5, 2010

Advice for working with paraprofessionals

Whether you refer to them as paraprofessionals, instructional assistants, or just assistants, training and working with them on a regular basis can be one of the most difficult part of being a special education teacher.  I can't think of another profession where a person fresh out of college is expected to manage, train, and evaluate 1-5 adults (who are usually older than them) while teaching in a classroom.  I know the first few years of my career I really had to work on how I related to my instructional assistants.  So here's some of my thoughts on working with them.

1.  Treat them like a teacher - many instructional assistants in my area are certified teachers who are unable to find a teaching position, so treat them like they are a teacher.  Let them know that you appreciate their training, their ideas, and their experience and use it to your advantage.

2.  Treat them with respect - a special education classroom cannot be run by one person!  As a teacher I need help, I know this, they know this, treat them with respect.

3.  Give them responsibility - let them run groups, give them a specific activity to be in charge of, somehow let them know that you trust their judgement.  While you may need to oversee or evaluate what they are doing, by giving that responsibility you are inviting them to be a part of the classroom, part of a team.

4.  Back them up - managing behavior in the classroom can be a difficult task, sometimes we make mistakes.  I always support the decisions that my instructional assistants make in the moment, then we can go back later and process if there needs to be a different response.  Students need to see the instructional assistants as leaders too!  Yes, the response may not be what you would have done, but you can always work on it when the students are gone.

5.  Listen - instructional assistants have questions and ideas.  Usually they want to get better at their job and want help with that.  I feel it's my job as a teacher to listen and help them.  Many times they don't mind doing it the way you've laid out, but they want to understand the why so they can get better.  The flip side of that is that many times assistants have great ideas!  They may have a fresh perspective and it never hurts to have different ideas when dealing with students.

6.  Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty - what I mean is don't ask you assistants to do something you wouldn't do.  I can't expect my instructional assistants to change diapers, if I'm unwilling to do the same. I want them to understand that while my job is important, their is too, I'm more than willing to do what they do.

This is my advice, what other suggestions would you give to someone just starting to work with instructional assistants?


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