For the last two months, I literally have not stopped talking about staff training. It’s so critical and it’s something that we sometimes think is optional. Or maybe we know it’s important but we feel uncomfortable really taking the reins on this. It’s less intimidating to make file folder activities and schedule pieces than it is to tell someone twice your age with double the amount of years of experience what to do. Get over it. I have no nice sugar coated answer for you. My only answer is get over it. If you feel weird or uncomfortable, pull on your big girl pants and get it done. Your students do new and brave things every single day so let them be your inspiration. Be the leader your classroom need.
Now, Finding the Time
So maybe I’ve inspired you with my touch love to be more on top of staff training this year but here comes the tricky part – when do you do this? Staff training is definitely a year long endeavor. I advocate for focusing on some basics and overall goals in the start of the year but you need to maintain this throughout the year. You’ll need continued training, collaboration, and discussion throughout the year. If you wait for your principal to come over and hand you a schedule with common planning timing with your paraprofessionals, you’ll be waiting forever my dear sweet naive teacher friend. You need to make the time.
Find time before or after school.
One option can be looking for opportunities before or after school. Many paraprofessionals aren’t paid to stay after (so don’t ask them to stay if they aren’t being paid) or have additional duties outside of your room to accomplish. Here is where you need to advocate for your team. Reach out to your administrator or principal. Tell them how essential it is to have common time with your staff to discuss behavior plans, train them to take data, and review best practices. Ask if there is money in the budget to pay staff to stay after school once a month for 30 minutes. Or ask if once a week, their after school duties could be assigned to someone else. Come to your administrator with the problem (aka no common time with staff) and potential solutions. I have always had more success personally and when working with other teachers when I come to an administrator with a solution to my problem.
Find time during school.
Option one may not pan out because you may ask your principal and he or she may say no. There may not be a possibility of getting extra pay or rearranging schedules. Fine. Move on. Continue to problem solve. You may need to find time during the school day. This is hard for a lot of teachers. Because we feel like pulling time away from directly working with students is wrong. Pulling time away from directly working with students to surf Facebook on your phone or gossip with friends is definitely wrong. But pulling time away from directly working with students to teach your staff members how to better and more effectively work with your students is just fine. Those twenty minutes that you feel like your students ‘lost’ have now created countless additional minutes of better and more cohesive teaching and instruction from your team.
So set aside a time each week. I like doing this in the afternoon when – let’s face it – we are all over it anyways. During this time, set up your students where they will be safely engaged. That could be puzzles, play time, iPads, computers, games, etc. Then take 15 minutes and meet with your paraprofessionals. Review any important information from the week, any schedule changes, any behavior plan changes. Then pick an area to focus on each week. You’re time will go quickly so pick a specific topic. Discuss a how to teach problem solving, how to prompt to use the schedule, or ways to increase communication. Set mini goals with your staff. Ask for their input. Make it collaborative.
Another way to set this up to specifically focus on teaching data collection is during your center or rotations. Give the group that would be assigned to you activities that will keep them safely engaged (just like above – iPad, games, etc.) for one whole week. Yep, one whole week. Don’t worry you’ll be able to go back to work time with them. Take that week and sit with one paraprofessional at her center. Model how to run the center, provide prompts correctly, give reinforcement, run instructional programs, and take data. Throughout the week fade most of the instruction to him or her and provide immediate feedback. Do this with each adult in your class. Again, taking this time ‘away’ from your group will ensure that the other centers in your room are running effectively all year long.