Hi everyone! No matter how much of a rockstar teacher you are, you can’t do it all alone! There are lots of people who make what we do in the classroom possible but one group has a special place in our hearts: paraprofessionals!
As teachers, we have been lucky to work with some amazing paraprofessionals. But we know firsthand how difficult it can be to get in a groove with each other. Based on our experiences, here are our tips for working with a paraprofessional and establishing a healthy collaborative relationship!
Another thing to establish before school starts are communication preferences and boundaries. To be effective communicators we have to understand what works for each other. While some people prefer verbal communication, others might like written notes or even digital records. Once you understand each other’s preferences, you can come up with a system that works for both of you. There is a good chance you’ll have to revisit it throughout the year and make some changes but starting off the year by figuring it out together gets you on the same page from the start and gives you both ownership over the process
While routines are essential to every classroom, they can be a point of conflict between teachers and paraprofessionals. Most teachers have spent years practicing and perfecting their ‘perfect’ mix of classroom routines. We oftentimes can expect other educators in our classroom to magically know our routines and anticipate how we want things done. But paraprofessionals aren’t mind readers! Take the time to lead by example and act out the routines you expect to be followed. Most importantly, take the time to explain the ‘why’ behind the things that you do. Once you do this, you can both take ownership over what happens in the classroom.
We have to remember that paraprofessionals are just as dedicated to their students as teachers are. They not only deserve to be included in identifying student progress and needs but they NEED to be! The adage that two heads are better than one comes into play here. Identifying student progress and needs can be difficult at times but when both of you share the process of identifying, recording, and reporting them it makes it both easier and more meaningful. Depending on the rules in your district, one thing we always try to do is to include our paraprofessionals when we communicate student progress to parents. That way we both share in seeing their delight and sharing their praise!
The only way to make your paraprofessional feel respected and involved is by setting aside time to collaborate and brainstorm together. Sometimes it is easier to plan by yourself but the amount of time that you might save is nothing compared to the value of brainstorming with your partner. Especially if you are a seasoned teacher, you might have a set way that you teach a topic or plan a unit. Having a fresh perspective on that, not only benefits you professionally but allows you to support your students better.
Who doesn’t love being told they’re doing a great job? We know teaching can be a thankless job but paraprofessionals receive even less praise. Let’s make it a point as teachers to step in and fill this void! At the beginning of the year, it is a great idea to find out what their favorite treat is, their coffee order, or something else they enjoy. Try to do something nice for them once a month or during special times of the year by bringing in something for them. We have ready-to-use printable gift tags you can attach to a special gift to make them feel extra appreciated!
As teachers, we often get stuck in the trap of thinking that we have to solve every problem in our classroom by ourselves. In moments like this, the power of your relationship with your paraprofessional comes into play. If you take the time to establish a relationship throughout the year then when you have a problem it is easy to show up for each other! Don’t be afraid to ask for help and lean on each other to get through those tough times. You’ll come out of it even stronger if you approach it together!
Once you’ve had a great experience having a paraprofessional in the classroom, you will never want to teach without one! We hope these tips will help you work with paraprofessionals! Have a tip to share with us? Comment below or email us at [email protected]. We would love to hear it!