Years ago, when one of Renay’s godsons was a toddler, Renay recalled him getting into a bag while she helped the family move. And in the bag, the toddler’s father had packed some sports equipment. Of course, he was very motivated by the bat and went around trying to figure out the purpose of the bat. Being small, the bat was replaced with just a ball. Without hesitation, the toddler let everyone know this was an unacceptable substitution. So, Renay picked up the little fellow and held him and said he could have the bat back when he understood what the ball was for and had ‘leveled up’. A month later, Renay took the godson out to a park and taught him how to play catch with a toddler glove. The pandemic put a hold on learning to level up with the bat with Renay, but recently, Renay had taken him to a batting cage and together they worked on hitting a softball on slow pitch. As Renay often says, she cannot hit a barn with a bat so a moving object has been that much more of a challenge. But the little boy, who was once a toddler with a bat looked at the bat after he had hit his first ball. “Is that all there is to leveling up?” he asked her. Renay explained to her godson that sometimes just experience is all the level up one needs, but most of the time it is experience and it is just having something else like grit or empathy that gets the level up we all need in life.
Leveling Up the Team
Like any set of skills, everyone comes to the classroom with a variety of knowledge of skills. This is entirely the domain set of paraeducators. Some a great with just being generous of time and space with all students. Other paraeducators are great with maintaining regular boundaries with students. There are paraeducators who are good at getting students to work on academics. Still other paraeducators truly understand that some student come to school to experience the things they do not have at home. All of these paraeducators are wanted in a school environment. And all these paraeducators care about the students that come into the classroom every day.
Trying to Level the Playing Fields
So there is experience in academic years for paraeductors, there is life experiences, and then there are experiences that come from either being around children or perhaps other more clinical interactions because a paraeducator was perhaps working in a home with children or even in day care settings.
The rules change entirely in school settings. And for some paraeducators who are used to the demands of in-home support where you are constantly ‘on’ with no chance for a moment to breathe, school demands feel different. This can cause anxiety for some people even when they have a schedule.
Getting team members to respect the different professionals that come in and out of any given classroom is also a task that needs to be explained to some. Working in tandem with irregular visits from certain specialists that could have as many as five hundred students to support is as important as working with specialists that one might see more often like the Behaviorist and the Speech Language Team.
There are skills to learn how to better support students learning how to use their AAC systems and then there are learning the academic demands and the social expectations for students. And despite all the needs to figure out, we know that it is not an all at once sort of action. There is space for everyone to get there within the first month, with in the first grading period to learn to best support any given student in any given situation. Special education teachers are welcome to make sure that paraeducators are improving daily in that regards and not just surviving. The whole machine of education needs to have that concept in place—improvement is improvement, and for students with disabilities, those improvements are not always instantaneous. Demonstrating the need with the adults on campus is as important as identifying those skills with the students.
Ask yourself as a paraeducator how you can level up your skills to better support the students. Ask your special education teacher just about the other students with disabilities if you are curious. There are ways to level up. And it is not about wanting to pursue a job as a teacher. But there are ways to improve to make the school year better for everyone.
About our Social Media
You may have noticed that our logos were recently updated to remove one social media platform. While we still control our accounts on all our social media platforms, we will be promoting connectivity less and less via certain social media. We thank all of our followers because we know that it is hard to stay connected with voices that are not as frequent as they once were.
Do you have any comments about this month’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published once a month during the academic school year. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.