I originally titled this post Staff Management Quick Fixes and then realized how ridiculously misleading that was. One – quick implies do it once and you are done and with working with your staff it needs to be something you do all year long. Two – fix implies it’s broken where really maybe you just haven’t really started. If you’ve been politely ignoring the idea of staff management so far this year because you’ve been overwhelmed or you aren’t confrontational or you didn’t know you should be doing this – get started now. You will be more overwhelmed if you overlook this aspect of your classroom, managing staff isn’t a confrontational thing, and now you know you should be. So, time to get started!
The first step is simple – be a nice, normal, social human. I am not saying this to be sarcastic or condescending but sometimes we honestly forget about this. We are so overwhelmed in our start of the school year craze that we barely have to time ask our husband how his day was when we get home much less spend a few precious minutes chatting with our paraprofessionals. But take them time. Ask them how their weekend was. Learn the names of their kids. Follow up on a story they said earlier in the week. This one step right here is enough to make or break your team of the whole year. Because people usually work better and harder for people they like. It’s normal and natural. Think of the principals you’ve worked for. You definitely work a tad bit harder for the ones you like. So develop a nice relationship with these paraprofessionals you spend all day with!
This next step goes hand and hand with creating rapport. You want to create some great staff rapport but with boundaries. Set some pretty clear expectations that when kids are in the room – chatting/rapport time is over. During morning putting coats away before the kids come etc. go ahead and chat away but we don’t want that to spill over into work time with the kids. If you set this boundary and expectation you can maybe avoid staff chatting between themselves while kids are in the room which can sometimes become an issue. So establish this right away.
There is a ton rolled into this one but basically realize that your paraprofessionals cannot read your mind. If you want them to do something or not do something – tell them. You don’t need to be rude about it and you aren’t being bossy by telling them what you want to do. It’s often times more challenging to work for some who didn’t clarify expectations. Imagine if your school district gave you no clear expectations on how to run your classroom, write IEPs, take data, write lesson plans, etc. Initially you are probably thinking what a dream, I’d love that but in reality we want to know what our job and managers expect from us so we can deliver. So make sure expectations are crystal clear in every aspect of your classroom from break times to cell phone use to data collection to prompting.
Invite and Respect Questions and Feedback
The goal is to work as a team. A team means everyone is a contributing member. Yes you are the head of the team but you aren’t a dictator. Ask for feedback and questions. And more importantly, respect and value that feedback. If someone on your team is concerned about something, that concern is valid just for the sheer fact that they brought it up. So have a system or specific time during the week for feedback. Invite feedback and question by asking specific questions – i.e. not “do you have any questions?” but instead “How is data collection on color id going?” or “Do you think there is anything we could change or add to Stephen’s behavior plan?” If you disagree with ideas, share the reasons why you aren’t going to implement the change. Make sure everyone feels heard all the time.
Regularly Review & Assess
This is a luxury that many of us simply don’t have because of scheduling – the team meeting. If the stars align and somehow in your schedule you have time for a weekly team meeting – treasure those moments. Plan to discuss specific strategies or areas of the class. Many teachers have used a page or section from my Paraprofessional Training Guide as the content for weekly team meetings – I love that! Review data together, check in on how things are going at specials or lunch when you are not there, and give the chance for those questions we talked about above. If you don’t have a time that works in the schedule for a team meeting – a few ideas:
- ask your principal: stress the importance of having a consistent time to work together with your team, see if your admin can help find time in the schedule, it never hurts to ask!
- keep it quick and brief: maybe 5 minutes on Tues and Thurs morning before the kids come in is all you can get – take it, plan one quick topic that you can review in 2-3 minutes and leave the last 2 minutes for feedback and questions
- have individual meetings with paras: if there is absolutely no time you can squeeze in as a team, schedule time with each paraprofessional separately while the kids are still in the room, make you take the last ten minutes of the day and have the other paras help kids pack up or finish their work while you meet with each paraprofessional on separate days
Praise, Praise, Praise, Praise, Praise
I always end with this because it’s so dang important and we sometimes forget about it. We don’t forget about it intentionally. None of use wake up on Monday morning thinking, “today, I am going to refuse to provide praise to my staff.” We get busy. We get distracted. But remember the power of being told you are doing a good job. It’s huge. When your staff does something amazing, helpful, thoughtful, or effortful – thank them. Every day. Multiple times a day. Continue to praise their hard work because often times this can be a thankless job.