This summer has flown by and now it’s time to get ready for back-to-school! While prepping our classrooms and schedules is essential, it is important be prepared for our paraprofessionals. All staff needs to be on the same page in order to give the best support to our students. I’m going to be talking about some resources and wanted to offer you a couple of freebies in case you logged more hours in front of the pool this summer than in front of your laptop (as you should have!). Here are some tips and resources to help jump start ongoing paraprofessional training in your classroom…
1. Get to Know Your Staff
It is important to get to know the people you will be working with each day and who you will rely upon to work with your students. Back in June (feels so long ago…) I did a post about getting paraprofessional buy-in. Getting to know your staff professionally and on some personal level can help when you need to give directions, feedback or a compliment. Sometimes, when you get a new staff member, it can be tricky to get to know them quickly in a short amount of time. I have created a beginning of the year paraprofessional questionnaire you can use in a variety of ways. You can use the questions to ask aloud, distribute to new and/or returning staff members, or simply take the questions and create a Google form.
2. Start with the Basics
It is easy for me to get caught up with all the specific topics I want to teach paraprofessionals about (behavior, prompting, person-first language), but it is important to start with the basics, no matter how, well, basic they seem. It is has been a long summer and everyone can use a reminder, plus it will be a great opportunity to start off the new staff on the right foot. It is also good to do some of these basic reminders at the beginning of the year so expectations are established from the get-go. This is also a good time to address those habits that annoyed you from the previous year in a preventative, professional matter. For example, cell phone usage among staff may have increased at the end of the year, but since it was the end of the school year, you picked other battles. The beginning of the school year and ongoing professional development days throughout the year offer opportunities for refreshers of basic expectations for all staff.
3. Establish and Communicate Procedures
As educators, we all know the importance of procedures in our classrooms, but as special educators we also have to create and communicate procedures for staff members to follow. We work with an amazing instructional support coach and she always uses the analogy of leaving out dishes to emphasize that the importance of establishing and communicating classroom procedures to paraprofessionals. She says just because you leave out the dishes, it doesn’t mean that someone will put them away. Paraprofessionals are people and we all work and take initiative in different ways. It is important to communicate how you want paraprofessionals to take initiative in the classroom so that everyone is successful and the classroom can run smoothly.
I’m sure that everyone has procedures for paraprofessionals, but the key is clearly communicating them. I had a professor that said playing guess what’s in the teacher’s head is a game that everyone loses (I’m so full of analogies today!). Obviously, we tell our paraprofessionals these procedures, but creating written documents that they can reference later is very useful and effective. I’ve included a couple of freebies (I apologize in advance they are in PDF, but hopefully, you can use it to create your own documents). Here is a list of general clean up and organizing tasks to do around the classroom at the end of the day, when students are on break or when a dedicated para’s student is absent. Here is a short guide to a quiet classroom that I created as a reminder of how to communicate in the classroom. Pictured above are my classroom’s crisis procedures that I post in order to remind staff of how to deal with a crisis situation.
4. Get Specific
Once basic procedures are established, you can go over specific topics, such as prompting, behavior, data collection and specific disabilities. And it’s an opportunity for another freebie! Here is a presentation I created for paraprofessionals about prompting hierarchies. This is a good resource to have at the beginning of the school year, because you can use it at beginning of the school year professional developments or look at it now and decide to use it later. Click here for a Prompting Strategies presentation. I hope you all find this useful!
5. Establish Ongoing Training
While doing training at the beginning of the school year is essential, it is important to establish ongoing professional development opportunities throughout the school year for your staff, especially as specific considerations arise with specific students. I established a meeting once a week to talk about issues that came up during the week and to alert staff to upcoming events and activities. I also used TAH’s Paraprofessional Training Manual for the remainder of the meeting to teach some of the more specific strategies and information for working with students in a cluster program. The best part about using the Paraprofessional Training Manual was that it was already planned for me!
Other paraprofessional training resources worth checking out include The Paraprofessional’s Handbook for Effective Support in Inclusive Classrooms and Effective Strategies for Working with Paraeducators.
I hope this was helpful to you in starting ongoing paraprofessional training in you classroom. Check out some recent Autism Helper posts on paraprofessional here, including data collection for paraprofessionals and a closer look at the paraprofessional training guide. As always, share strategies and ways to help paraprofessionals help you and your students!