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Building Strong Teacher-Para Teams for Student Success

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

As a literacy coach and educational developer, I have conducted many informative, energetic, and hands-on workshops with teachers and their paraprofessionals to provide methods for successful relationship building. Many teachers and paraprofessionals have found these workshops to be vital, informative and game changers for learning meaningful ways to support each other and their students in the classroom setting. The following quotes are similar to the comments that I overheard from many classroom teams who struggled to find their way to work effectively together. This is the reason why I developed the workshops because students cannot grow and learn in a classroom with teachers who are not on the same page. For example, The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) shared various opinions from teachers and paraprofessionals regarding some of the difficulties working in a classroom together. One paraprofessional stated, “My teacher never explains how she wants anything. Then she’s on my back because it’s not done the way she wants.” In addition, a teacher explains, “My para doesn’t seem able to do anything right. It’s like having another kid in the room. I have to redo everything.” (AFT). Often times, the relationship between the two may become complicated because they are two different people who may have different sets of ideas that conflict. Building relationships does not occur overnight and takes time to nurture and develop. Positive Communication and collaboration are key elements in building successful classroom teams. It is also vital for these team members to have clearly defined roles. Paraprofessionals are the backbones of the classroom. The impact they have on students is invaluable. They provide the support and one-on-one attention that many classified students or students with 504 documents need to succeed. Developing a positive working relationship between both parties may be as simple as following some important guidelines. It can also mean the difference between a productive or wasted year for a student. creatingclassteam.

Our greatest assets are our teachers and support staff professionals who use their levels of expertise and knowledge of their student’s needs to collaborate and develop a productive system of support. The classroom teacher or teacher of record is a mentor for the paraprofessional. Setting the stage by demonstrating respect, encouragement and patience is important to develop a good working relationship. The students will observe that the paraprofessional is an important team member which helps to create a foundation of support and respect among everyone. It is also equally important for the paraprofessional to share the same respect and follow the teacher’s directions in working in the classroom. I will share specific academic and behavioral strategies that paraprofessionals can use with their students.

A team encompasses people who join together for a common goal. The goal of my workshops is to help striving students or students who find classroom life challenging and unrewarding to become confident and successful with the team approach. Classroom teachers can develop some guidelines to share with the paraprofessional. Knowing each other’s roles helps to provide structure. The following are some guidelines for teachers and paraprofessionals that I discuss in my workshops

  • Teachers: Share expectations for how the paraprofessional should support the student. Discuss the student’s needs, areas of difficulties and strengths. Share strategies that can support the student’s needs (graphic organizers, templates, word boxes, etc.) Discuss how you will interact with the student and paraprofessional during the lessons and with assignments. How will the student be assessed? Will you be planning together? Be very specific and provide a written outline of class rules and directions discussed.

  • Paraprofessionals: Follow the teacher’s classroom management system and carry out directions that are given. Do not make decisions to teach concepts or provide another system of instruction on your own. This can become confusing to a student. It also undermines the teacher’s authority.

  • Teachers: Provide the paraprofessional with the ability to support and carry out the behavior system of the class. This demonstrates to the class equal authority and respect of the para.

  • Paraprofessionals: Discuss issues with the teacher in private and avoid interrupting the teacher during lessons. It is also very important to remember that information pertaining to students is confidential and protected by law. If a parent or coworker asks a question regarding a student, it’s best to refer them to the teacher for the answer.

  • Teacher: Provide time to reflect upon the student’s progress and determine if any modifications need to be made for additional support. Share opinions on the student’s behavior, performance and progress. Make time to share feedback with each other, keeping the lines of communication open. Treat the para as a co-worker and not a subordinate. Don’t forget to complement each other for all of the hard work and great effort to support students!

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