Renay is off on a quick trip this week for family and Nicole Eredics of the Inclusive Class was awesome and agreed to write in for her instead. We are so very honored that she was able to join us for this week’s blog.
Inclusive classrooms are learning environments for children of all abilities. Children with learning disabilities, mild, moderate and severe needs work alongside typically developing students in general education classrooms. If a child’s needs are significant, a paraeducator will be assigned to support the child’s education. So, in general, a paraeducator is a term used to describe a school employee who supports the instruction and other specialized services to children labelled with special needs. With the direction of the classroom teacher and special education teacher, the paraeducator helps carry out the student’s Individual Education Plan. A paraeducator is an important component within the structure of inclusive education.
For a new teacher though, it can be overwhelming and intimidating working with a paraeducator for the first time. Even more so if the paraeducator is seasoned veteran at the job. For most teachers, there has been little to no formal instruction or experience in developing a positive working relationship with a paraeducator. As a result, the dynamics between the new teacher and the paraeducator can easily become strained and uncomfortable.
This stressful working environment can have negative consequences for the students as well. There can be contradictory instructions and differences in expectations of behavior and work habits. The negative atmosphere can affect attitudes towards school and build a disrespect of others. Alternatively, a positive relationship between the adults in the classroom can motivate students to work together, respect one another and enjoy the classroom. Here are some suggestions to help new teachers and veteran Paraeducators develop an amicable and professional working relationship:
- Be Welcoming – Introduce yourself and welcome the paraeducator to your class. It is their work environment as well, and should feel comfortable and included.
- Establish a Workspace – Ask about the paraeducator’s preferred work space. Some like to have their own desk, others work from a student desk while even more carry around a bag or basket.
- Discuss Strengths and Skill Sets – Identify areas of strength and interests that the paraeducator can bring to the classroom. Discuss any personal preferences the paraeducator might have and ask what has worked for him/her in the past.
- Tour the Classroom – Show the paraeducator around your classroom. Point out where important materials and resources are kept.
- Classroom Expectations – Share one another’s classroom philosophy and teaching style, expectations of students, behavior management and general routines. Talk about the levels of support that the paraeducator can provide. For example, will the paraeducator sit next to the student, sit a few feet away and help when necessary or encourage the student to work independently.
- Resources – Share any relevant resources that might be helpful to the paraeducator. Provide him/her a copy of the curriculum plans for the year, the weekly and daily schedule and most importantly, a copy of the student’s IEP. Be sure to share any ideas and tips learned from workshops and meetings through out the year.
- Give Credit Where Credit is Due – Recognize the experience and expertise of the paraeducator. Listen to suggestions and take advice where necessary. Don’t assume their level of education and expertise is any less than yours. Many paraeducators have come from other careers, have varied backgrounds or have their own children with special needs.
- Areas for Support – Be aware of any challenges that the paraeducator is facing. Be supportive and help when necessary.
- Ongoing Communication – Set up lines of communication with the paraeducator. Make time to meet to check in and discuss areas of concern or needs.
- Plan Together – Most importantly, plan the student’s program together. Collaborate on ways to meet the needs of the child, support systems that need to be in place, and review the child’s current progress.
Establishing a positive relationship with the paraeducator in your inclusive classroom is essential. An experienced, knowledgeable paraeducator is one of the inclusive classroom’s greatest assets. They have the ability to adapt schoolwork, support behavior, suggest modifications and facilitate inclusion for students in all areas of school life. The experienced paraeducator can offer insight into a student’s learning style, which will help the classroom teacher prepare appropriate lessons. A teacher’s relationship with the paraeducator can help determine the success of the school year. So, make it a good one!
Resources for Further Reading:
Doyle, M. (2008). The paraprofessional’s guide to the inclusive classroom: Working as a team (3rd ed.). Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brookes Pub.
Fitzell, S. (2010). Paraprofessionals and teachers working together: Highly effective strategies for inclusive classrooms (2nd ed.). Manchester, N.H.: Cogent Catalyst Publications.
Theoharis, J. (2009). The paraprofessional’s handbook for effective support in inclusive classrooms (1st ed., p. 144). Baltimore, Maryland: Brookes Publishing.
Nicole Eredics is an elementary teacher who has spent over 15 years teaching in inclusive classrooms. She is also a parent, advocate and education writer. Nicole created and co-hosted The Inclusive Class Podcast. In addition, she has developed and discovered many valuable resources for parents, teachers and schools that she shares on her blog, The Inclusive Class, on Twitter at @Inclusive_Class and on Facebook at The Inclusive Class.