Preparing School Paraprofessionals for Success

Combining Technology and Coaching Can Support School Paraprofessionals in Being More Effective in the Classroom

Over the past 20 years, there has been a 123% increase in the number of paraprofessionals employed in the educational system.  School paraprofessionals are responsible for everything from ensuring that students get on and off the bus safely and assisting them in health related needs to providing direct one-on-one instruction. Their jobs can be physically, emotionally, and intellectually demanding, yet despite the intense demands of the job, the job entry requirements are shockingly low.

According to No Child Left Behind, all paraprofessionals must have a high school diploma or GED, 2 years of college coursework, and pass an assessment to show that they are capable of assisting in reading, writing, and math instruction. These guidelines do not require paraprofessionals to have experience working with students with special needs.

Given the demands of the job and the incommensurate experience many paraprofessionals bring to their positions, paraprofessionals need access to the same kinds of training and professional development opportunities provided to teachers. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to providing these opportunities.

Because school paraprofessionals are typically per diem employees whose jobs begin and end when the bell rings, a lack of funding to pay them overtime for PD and a lack of time within the school day can make professional development nearly impossible. Even when paraprofessionals do receive professional development, it can be difficult to follow up on this with applied practice, again, due to a lack of time.  Finally, without a formal education in special education, the technical parlance and jargon prevalent in education can make professional development difficult for paraprofessionals to access.

Effectiveness of training techniques for school paraprofessionalsFinding the Time

Effective professional development requires theory, demonstration, and opportunities for practice and feedback, but these things require time.  

Many districts are turning to technology to provide on-demand training to paraprofessionals through video modeling, which can be accessed anytime and anywhere. But to be effective, this also requires an investment of time at the district level to support paras with practice opportunities and coaching, which may necessitate district’s spending extra money to pay paraprofessionals to attend trainings after school or to come in on professional development days for teachers.

In a webinar hosted by Rethink last week, Rethink’s professional services director in Florida, Roz Prescott, discussed the success one school district in Florida had utilizing video-based training and on-site coaching to increase the knowledge, skills, and interaction of paraprofessionals supporting students with autism and other disabilities.

The Training Model

The training model included the following professional development components:

  • A Pre & Post Knowledge Evaluation was given to the paraprofessionals to guage baseline and improvement in learning.
  • A Confidence Survey allowed paraprofessionals to self-monitor any improvement or behavior change
  • On-Site Training included Rethink’s online training videos, guided notes, and quizzes as well as hands-on expansion activities for fluency, group exercises, and BCBA professional trainer for content expertise.
  • Applied Practice Activities were completed after each on-site training and were used to support paras in generalizing knowledge into application with students.
  • Classroom Consultation was provided to each paraprofessional and classroom to provide coaching and mentoring.
  • Teacher Feedback was gathered at the end of the initiative to gauge the perceived effectiveness of paraprofessionals in the classroom.

Training Outcomes

Positive outcomes were seen across the board, with teachers reporting a 19% increase in appropriate prompting behavior by their paraprofessionals, a 14% increase in maintaining a positive learning environment, a 7% increase in building and maintaining a positive rapport with students, and a 13% increase in dealing with problem behavior.  

The paraprofessional training model showed positive outcomesThe most impressive gains were seen by teachers in their paraprofessional’s fluency in facilitating smooth transitions between activities, with teachers reporting a 28% increase, and in  paraprofessional’s active engagement of students, with teachers reporting a 27% increase.

One teacher reported, “I have noticed an assertive effort to engage students and help facilitate learning.  I am pleased with the outcome of this training.”

What these results tell us is that with the right technology, training, and supports, both paraprofessionals and students can thrive.  It should be a top priority of school districts across the country to do everything they can to ensure that paraprofessionals have access to the supports they need be confident and effective teaching students.

You can watch the complete presentation here.

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