Supporting Paraeducator Effectiveness
Paraeducators constitute more than one-quarter of the instructional staff in U.S. schools and districts. They play a critical role, from providing behavior support to teaching both academic and social and emotional skills to students.
Despite their important work, training opportunities for paraeducators are limited. Due to reduced contract hours, paraeducators are not often included in staff professional development, and often lack preparation and learning time during the day. Why do we often pair our least trained and least supported staff members with some of our highest-need students? How do we help improve training and effectiveness for paraeducators?
This web seminar outlined strategies for building cost-effective, integrated and easy-to-implement training for paraeducators. The presenters included a licensed psychologist with over 30 years of experience working in K12, and two leaders from a South Carolina district who have put a paraeducator training plan into place and are seeing positive results.
Skip Greenwood, Ph.D
Angie Slatton, Ph.D
Director of Special Services
School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties (S.C.)
School District 5 of Lexington and Richland Counties
Skip Greenwood: Training and learning need to be thought about proactively. You don’t want to wait until you have problems and then engage in poorly organized or crisis-oriented training. It is important to develop a culture of learning and problem-solving for your paraeducators. This culture involves providing access to key work related information, awareness about best practices, preparation to be learners and team-oriented approaches to problem-solving.
We have a framework for how you might go about organizing your approach to supporting paraeducators: STAND.
S stands for “skills.” Specifically outline which skills are most important for your staff and when you think they should learn them.
T is for “top three things.” Don’t take on too much. Prioritize learning. Too much information just ends up with people feeling frustrated or lacking confidence rather than gaining confidence and mastery.
A is for “alter.” Alter misconceptions and myths. You want to dispel whatever common myths and misconceptions you think could be negatively influencing a paraeducator’s thinking and behavior.
N is for “not all at once.” This is about planful learning. Exposure to information in smaller, more digestible amounts is better than all at once, and is particularly better than all at once at the beginning of a school year. It’s better to provide information in short increments on a consistent basis over time.
D is “demonstrate.” Provide opportunities to put learning into practice and to be able to rehearse methods or skills to get familiarity. This needs to be done in a structured way: “learn this, go try this”, or “learn this, go look for this”. Give staff the opportunity to match what we they learn as quickly as possible to everyday experiences.
Angie Statton: Finding the time and resources to provide ongoing training to over 2,500 staff with only 13 employees is an ongoing challenge. Our goal is to decrease the number of days of lost instruction due to suspensions, and we were looking at ways to provide professional development and coaching in order to make this happen.
We wanted to make sure that we have common language and practices for behavioral supports for all of our staff members.
Another key piece is we wanted to make sure we were connecting the training that we were offering to the ongoing positive behavioral supports that we have in place in all of our schools. We also wanted to make sure that we had additional data points, and wanted other ways to track and determine what training was being done throughout our district to support our students with challenging behaviors. We also have specific topics and language that we want everyone to be familiar with. In the past due to limited resources, we have not had the capacity to produce training videos, but we were working toward developing an online method.
Lucy Bailey: When we discovered 321insight, the first thing we noticed was that it perfectly matched the topics that we needed folks to be trained in. It was like 321insight read our minds. The content and the language level are very appropriate for a wide range of employees, so for teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals, the terminology is accurate and appropriate, but it’s also very natural.
We also loved the look of the videos. The graphics are great, the style is very engaging and the overall look is very professional, yet it maintains a conversational style. As Skip mentioned, you want training to be in little bite-sized increments across time, and the five- or 10-minute videos are perfect and very digestible in that way.
A lot of times our principals will send the 321 videos out to the faculty before or after a professional development event, and that helps to extend that learning. Our special education teams that meet monthly, and gives them a chance to watch the videos together and have a discussion about those practices in their own schools.
Alia Jackson: We have designed our toolkit around what a para needs to know and needs to be able to do in order to be effective, from understanding diversity and diverse learning needs, to managing a crisis, to helping students build academic and social and emotional skills. For all of these categories, ParaSharp offers quick, digestible online training content.
It includes five- to 15-minute videos featuring best practices to address common challenges that paraeducators face:
• how to build relationships with students
• how to create effective professional and personal boundaries
• how to avoid power struggles
• how to understand inclusion support and strategies
• how to teach skills
We also have quizzes to help measure understanding, planning and data tracking tools, summaries and discussion guides that can be used with the videos for ongoing learning, and reference guides for anytime reminders.
We have a free trial available and more information on our website. If you’re interested in seeing more, please visit 321insight.com.