The role of the paraprofessional in the classroom is often ill-defined and leaves too much room for interpretation which can contribute to frustration in the relationship between teacher and assistant.
Does life in the classroom sometimes feel like we’ve entered into an arranged marriage?
When we find ourselves sharing classroom space with other adults, our experience can feel like a marriage with many of the inherent pros and cons. The paraprofessional-teacher relationship has clear benefits as well as potential challenges. The difficulty is that the role of the paraprofessional in the classroom is often ill-defined and leaves too much room for interpretation which can contribute to frustration in the relationship. What can be done to foster positive relationships between paraprofessionals and teachers? Here are 12 ways to improve and enhance your paraprofessional-teacher experience.
1. Communicate with each other. One of the most important aspects of an effective working relationship between the paraprofessional, special educator, teacher, or specialist is clear and consistent communication and organization. It is critical to communicate frequently and use organizing tools that can help define roles, define expectations, and set parameters for class norms as part of the process.
2. While the teacher is up front leading, it is important that the paraeducator moves around the room. This allows him or her to be near their assigned students, but also allows them some space in order to develop independence.
3. Have a welcome interview with your team. For example a team might be a special educator, a general educator, and a paraprofessional. Learn more about one another and develop an initial understanding of your roles and responsibilities.
4. It is important to have a harmonious working relationship in the classroom, so the paraprofessional/teacher team should discuss in advance how they will approach lesson planning, student instruction, student behavior, and communication. Questions like ‘Who?’ and ‘How?’ and ‘When?’ are good.
5. Treat each other as equals – teachers and paraprofessionals are both essential members of the teaching team. As a teacher, I always treated my paraprofessionals with respect and as an equal and that always enhanced my relationships and the effectiveness of the paraprofessionals in my classroom.
6. Teachers – Empower the paraprofessional to monitor behavior and support the discipline process in the classroom. This empowerment will be worth millions when you must leave the classroom with a substitute knowing that you have challenging students in the room. You will be able to rest more comfortably knowing that the paraprofessional can handle the class and that students will respect that person’s authority.
7. Discuss goals, priorities, and plans with each other on a daily basis. Sometimes this may mean stealing a few minutes of time before class, while students are doing a quiet seat activity or after class. Communication is critical, not only to the success of students in the classroom, but also to the teaching relationship.
8. Discuss classroom issues with each other, especially when the issue is related to the student the paraprofessional is working with. Teachers and paraprofessionals oftentimes have different views, therefore sharing diverse ideas and possible solutions could be invaluable to a difficult situation.
9. When an educator (paraprofessional or teacher) is working with a student or several students, avoid interrupting. Interruption undermines the educator’s authority with the students and often causes distress and possible conflict.
10. Take notes and document those notes on easy to remember or easy to use forms or compile them in a binder with rules, expectations, and a syllabus, so that they can be referred to throughout the year. This is critical for paraprofessionals who are working with more than one teacher because each teacher may have different expectations (These forms are available in Susan’s Book, Paraprofessionals and Teachers Working Together).
11. Model how you want things done. For example, model for the paraprofessional how to administer tests, or model the difference between “cuing” a student to remember an answer vs. giving the student the answer.
12. Provide scripts when necessary to assist in responding to student behavior (Sample scripts are available in the classroom management chapter of Susan’s Book, Paraprofessionals and Teachers Working Together).
For more information about working with Paraprofessionals, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Paraprofessionals and Teachers Working Together. Available in both print and electronic versions!
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