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Working with Paraprofessionals in the Classroom

In an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) or autism special education classroom, collaboration between teachers and paraprofessionals plays a pivotal role in supporting the individualized needs of your students. Paraprofessionals, also known as teacher assistants or instructional aides, work closely with educators to implement educational plans, provide behavioral support, and foster a general positive learning environment. In this blog post, we will explore effective strategies for working with paraprofessionals, emphasizing communication, training, and establishing a collaborative partnership to ensure the success of your students!

NEW blog photo Working with Paraprofessionals in the Classroom

Clear Communication:

Clear and consistent communication is vital for a successful working relationship with paraprofessionals. Here are some communication strategies to consider: 

  1. Establish regular meetings: Schedule meetings with paraprofessionals to discuss student progress, goals, and/ or any concerns. These meetings provide an opportunity to share information, align strategies, and address challenges. Take special care to work with your colleagues and administration to carve out time for these meetings so that you are not asking any staff to come to work before or after their contractual employment times!  Thinking outside the box can help- things that have worked well for me in the past is to suggest a working lunch (only if all team members agree!) or ask for classroom coverage for ten minutes once a week from a partner teacher or support specialist to ensure these meetings can happen consistently. 
new blog photo 2 Working with Paraprofessionals in the Classroom
  1. Maintain open lines of communication: Foster an environment where paraprofessionals feel comfortable expressing their ideas, concerns, and observations. Encourage them to provide input and share their insights regarding students progress or modifications. Even if you do not agree with or ultimately decide to incorporate their suggestions, it sets the tone that you are open to new ideas and value their input. Approach all suggestions with respectful language (e.g., “I hear what you are saying, but I do want to give this strategy a few more days before we change it up!”).
  2. Utilize written communication tools: Implement tools such as a shared Google Doc or email updates to facilitate the exchange of information. (Check out this free daily update form that can be used to update both parents and guardians, as well as all staff members to any relevant changes going on with your students). This ensures that both teachers and paraprofessionals have access to relevant updates and documentation.
 school to home daily communication

Training and Professional Development:

Providing comprehensive training and ongoing professional development opportunities for paraprofessionals is essential to support their growth and enhance their effectiveness in the classroom. 

Consider the following approaches:

  1. Initial orientation and follow up training: For a new paraprofessional entering your classroom, take the time to familiarize them with the classroom environment, curriculums, and behavior management strategies. Provide training on implementing ABA techniques, Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and any specific behavior or other protocols relevant to each individual learner. Taking the time to do this at the onset of your working relationship will facilitate ongoing training opportunities as they arise when working with the students in real-time.
  2. Ongoing professional development: Offer regular professional development opportunities to build paraprofessionals’ skills and knowledge. Again, knowing time is precious and that we are not permitted to ask a colleague to come in early or stay late if they are not interested, finding creative ways to do this can be key!  One way to do this is to send emails with optional free webinars or podcasts based on current research topics in the field. If I present any of these opportunities to my colleagues, I will watch or listen during the same time-frame so that I can discuss it with them and also foster the idea that we are life-long learners together! Don’t be discouraged if sending this type of email does not come naturally to you-  I am constantly surprised by the amount of interest and appreciation I get from paraprofessional staff when I share ongoing professional development opportunities with them!  

Clearly Defined Roles & Expectations:

Establishing the roles and expectations for both teachers and paraprofessionals promotes a cohesive and efficient classroom environment. You want to welcome all ideas, feedback, and suggestions with a respectful attitude, yet at the same time clearly defining the expectations so that there are no misunderstandings down the road. 

Consider the following steps: 

  1. Clearly define responsibilities: Outline the roles and responsibilities of paraprofessionals, ensuring they align with the classroom objectives, the needs of individual students, and the duties according to school administration provided contract. Clarify expectations regarding instructional support, behavior management, data collection, and collaboration. For example, if a paraprofessional is entering the classroom as a 1:1 support for a particular student, are they expected to record behavior data for only that student, or for any behaviors that they observe on a daily basis?
  2. Promote teamwork and collaboration: Emphasize the importance of teamwork and collaboration between teachers and paraprofessionals. Encourage joint planning and decision-making in areas where you truly welcome their feedback and are looking for their input. Similarly, if there are areas of your classroom management where you are not looking for additional input at this time unless absolutely necessary (e.g., the timing of lunch and recess since that is an administrative decision), you may need to clearly communicate this!
  3. Provide ongoing feedback: Regularly provide constructive feedback to paraprofessionals, acknowledging their contributions to student success. If areas for growth are identified, provide clear feedback on what needs to be changed, and WHY this is a need for growth. Presenting feedback for change without providing the rationale is a recipe for disaster- this can leave paraprofessionals confused and irritated at being told “what to do.” An example of clearly stated feedback could be, “When he is eating a snack at the table, can you make sure his visual choice board is on the table in his field of vision? This gives him a non-verbal cue to remind him that he can use his words to get his peer’s attention, rather than hit his arm.” Then, on the next occasion this is done correctly, be sure to comment and convey your appreciation, “I appreciate you remembering the visuals today at snack! I was so happy to see Jonny use his words to ask for his friend’s attention, thanks to you!”.

These strategies can help you work effectively with the paraprofessionals in your classroom to maximize your learners’ success. If you’re looking for a comprehensive manual to provide to your paraprofessionals in an ABA or autism classroom, check out this resource!

paraprofessional aba binder

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