How to engage your paras in building an effective classroom team
Building a collaborative classroom team with your paraprofessional staff is some of the most challenging and valuable work you can engage in as a special education teacher. Unlike other educators, as special educators we are lucky to work in classrooms where an entire team is devoted to supporting student learning.
We don’t have to do it all ourselves. Knowing how to effectively engage your paraprofessional staff in classroom routines and teaching and build a positive collaborative team can have a powerful impact on student learning and can also help you better manage your workload and use your time and skills more efficiently.
Below are 3 best-practice tips for engaging your paraprofessional staff in the classroom:
- Recognize your paraprofessionals talents and abilities: Identifying the unique strengths of each of your paraprofessionals is the first step to making effective use of the resources they bring to the classroom. You may find that one of your paras enjoys accompanying students on community-based instruction while another may be detail oriented and is great at collecting and entering data. In the same way that we differentiate instruction for our students, supporting our paras in discovering their unique strengths and finding ways they can put them into practice makes your classroom more efficient and supports student learning. It can even help boost morale by providing your paraprofessional staff increased work satisfaction.
- Involve your paraprofessionals in setting expectations: Before the school year begins it’s crucial that each member of your classroom team knows exactly what is expected of them. Involving your paraprofessionals in setting expectations (e.g. everyone is going to collect data, the teacher will create the classroom schedule and paraprofessionals will let the teacher know if the schedule needs amendments) for themselves can help set a precedence of collaboration and help you ensure that everyone is engaged in meaningful work where talents are being best utilized. Involving your paraprofessionals in setting expectations can also encourage them to be more confident in and engaged in classroom routines, which can lead to their valuable constructive feedback in ensuring that classroom routines are working.
- Make student success the goal of everything you do: While it is important to accommodate the preferences, needs, and talents of all of your classroom staff, ensuring that everyone operates with the assumption that student success always come first can make your paraprofessionals more open to occasionally engaging in tasks they don’t enjoy. For instance, collecting data may be tedious to some, but if everyone understands that data is crucial to evaluating student progress and helping kids learn, your staff may be more up to the task. Ensure that your paraprofessionals understand that some of the decisions you make in the classroom may be not be their preference but are always in the best interest of the students.
The most important thing to remember when building your classroom team is that everyone in the classroom is a professional and comes to the table with strengths, challenges, and talents. As the classroom leader it is your job to find out how to build upon these talents to help students succeed!