I have been doing a lot of consulting with the schools last month and a common theme is always embedded in my meetings – staff management. I originally wanted to focus on behavior in October but because this kept coming up I knew I had to throw some staff management posts into this month. I did a quick shout out on instastory asking for common challenges, questions, and concerns and got a TON of great input. A lot of the message have (or will be) addressed in other posts but I waned to include some of the other ones here!
Finding activities to meet paraprofessionals' strengths.
There are some things that you and I are awesome at (and hence enjoy doing) and other things not so much. It is more enjoyable and motivating to do things you are good at. It’s important with our classroom staff to play upon their strengths. Some assistants may be great with challenging behavior while others are more consistent at taking data than you or I. Look at what worked or didn’t work in the past. Ask them which centers, responsibilities, or types of instruction they prefer. Everyone will be more successful when they are doing something they enjoy & are good at.
One of my classroom assistants loved fluency. She requested working that station at the start of every year! I was happy to honor that request. My station always ran smoothly!
Finding time to train classroom assistants.
I get this question a lot. I don’t have a magic switch for giving more minutes to the day or suddenly populating common planning time (what are those foreign words??). The answer here is iPads, puzzles, extra worksheets, and file folders. Give the group of students you are scheduled to work with a big pile of all of those things (or even just iPads to keep it simple) and spend some real time working with your paraprofessional. Whether that means teaching them how to take academic data, how to run independent work, or follow a behavior plan. Spend some real time. Yes, that means the kids that are scheduled to be with you are missing out on instruction that week. That’s okay. In the long run this means, more data being take, higher quality instruction, and more consistent behavior plans. I’m on board for that.
Following behavior plans.
This is a big one. I received a lot of variations on this same question. The answer to this one is training. Training, training, training, training. But what if we don’t have time for staff training. Next answer, advocate for it and be a little pushy. Ask your admin or case manager to help you think of times when you can sit down for some real training time with your staff. Ask your principal if he will pay you assistants to stay after once a month for 30 minutes. On the next professional development day, request time alone with your staff. Ask if other school assistants can take your class to gym or art once a month, so you can sit down with your paras. Think outside the box. Think of a lot of different possible options and continually (and respectfully) bring them to your admin.
In this training time, the take home point is all behavior is communication. If you can accomplish this shift in perspective, a lot of other changes will follow. Some teachers have used a page or two in Paraprofessional Training Guide for each team meeting to highlight a different strategies and concepts. Also use this time to explain the rationale behind different interventions. Acknowledge the short term vs. long term consequences of how we respond to students behavior. Yes, it is easier in the moment to tell a child to stop yelling but in the long term if we teach him yell doesn’t get our attention we won’t have to keep saying it. This process takes time. Allow for discussion, open questions, and real-life scenarios.
Decreasing personal chatting.
I feel you all on this. Yes, it is great when we have a lot of staff but that also means our rooms can get noisy. And it can be noisy with just instruction going on. Add in a smidge of personal chatter and it’s enough to make me want to grab for those noise canceling headphones. A few suggestions here: Chat in the morning before the kids come in. You do want to create rapport with your staff and let your staff create relationships amongst themselves so have a time for that to happen. Be the role model. You can’t be asking everyone else to not engage in personal conversations when the kids are in the room and then when you teacher bestie walks in you do the exact opposite. Regularly remind them of the rule. Saying this once at your start of the year meeting isn’t enough. Remind them regularly why this is not acceptable. Be direct. I know this hurts some your non-confrontational hearts. But if a staff member regularly engages in this, pull them aside and politely but directly tell them to stop. Explain why adding to the noise level is potential harmful to our kids’ instruction.
Babying or over prompting students.
Some of the hardest working, most amazing paraprofessionals I have ever met are guilty of this. That over prompting monster can get the best of all of us. Sometimes we over prompt because we feel like we should always be doing something. Sitting and waiting to see if a student will do it on their own is not in everyone’s nature. In this situations, have them take data on prompting. Set goals for fading prompts. If you are tracking how often you are prompting, you are much more aware when you over do it. Set the class wide goal or independence. Celebrate and bring to everyone’s attention those little victories and encourage them to do them same. Set the example for this.
Sometimes some of our strategies may be on the ‘tough love’ bandwagon. Again, this may not be everyone’s first instinct. Believe me – I’ve never had a problem with this – I guess I’m mean. But for some people it’s harder. Explain the rationale behind challenging and pushing our kids towards independence. Constantly be highlighting that long term goal and talking about how this student will survive as an adult without his parents around. Provide loads and loads of praise for your staff (and student!) when they fade prompts and let kids do things themselves.
When to bring in administration.
Sometimes we set up everything right and do loads of staff training and the same challenges keep coming up. Keep track of your staff management strategies. Write down when you have met with staff and what you discussed. Write down dates of individual conversations. Keep some data on how often behaviors are occurring. Yes, I’m asking you to keep data on your staff. It will be much more powerful when going to your administrators. Instead of saying, “I’m having some problems with Ms. Garret” and explaining it anecdotally you would be saying “I have explained the behavior plan to Ms Garret 7 times on these dates and I still have 5-7 times a week where protocol is not followed.” It’s facts. It’s harder to argue with facts. Bring this to the attention of your case manager, assistant principal, or principal. Ask them for advice. Make an action plan. Follow up with the results. If this continues to be a problem all year, continue to bring it to their attention. They have a lot on their plate, if you stop bringing it up, they will probably forget it’s a problem.