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The Importance of Paraprofessional Learning: The Missing Puzzle Piece!

In the mosaic of education, paraprofessionals are the unrecognized educators whose contributions are integral to supporting all learners. From providing individualized support to students with disabilities to fostering inclusive and nurturing learning environments, paraprofessionals play a multifaceted role in enhancing the educational experience for every student. The invaluable role of paraprofessionals in shaping the future of education and ensuring that no learner is left behind is becoming more and more recognizable.

Paraprofessionals, also known as teacher aides, instructional assistants, or educational assistants, work alongside teachers to provide supplementary support to students. Their duties encompass a wide range of tasks, including assisting with classroom management, providing one-on-one support to students, facilitating small group activities, and offering additional help to students who may require special attention due to learning disabilities or language barriers.

A growing body of research documents that paraprofessionals are not well prepared to perform their specific job responsibilities (Brown, Farrington, Knight, Ross, & Ziegler, 1999; Giangreco et al., 2001; Wadsworth & Knight, 1996). It has been suggested that paraprofessionals who work with students with complex learning, cognitive, and behavioral issues are the least trained individuals in the school even though they are working with challenging students (Brown et al.). Many paraprofessionals receive no training before starting their employment in the schools (Passaro, Pickett, Latham, & HongBo, 1994), and many paraprofessionals report that they received the majority of their training by simply talking to and shadowing other paraprofessionals in the schools (Giangreco et al., 1997). Unfortunately, the support of an untrained paraprofessional can have negative consequences that actually undermine the original social and academic goals of inclusion.

School districts should be providing all levels of support staff with professional learning to advance the knowledge and skills needed to be a high performing employee, and directly impact student learning and achievement socially, academically, and behaviorally. Paras need to have a deep  understanding of their roles in the classroom and how to best support student learning in varied educational environments.  Paras need to be trained to provide evidence based practices and be able to support the lead teacher’s instruction. Lead teachers need to be trained to encompass their paraprofessionals in the core of the classroom and support their understanding of instructional practices to best support students socially, emotionally, and academically. 

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, including MTSS (multi tiered systems of supports), the role of paraprofessionals is indispensable. By offering professional learning opportunities, we can empower these dedicated individuals to enhance their skills, meet the needs of diverse learners, promote inclusive practices, and foster collaborative partnerships that elevate the quality of education for all. As we recognize the necessity of professional learning for paraprofessionals, let us commit to investing in their development and unlocking their potential to positively impact the lives of students.

Professional learning for paraprofessionals is not merely an optional enhancement but a vital investment in the educational ecosystem. By providing opportunities for ongoing training and development, educational institutions can empower paraprofessionals to refine their skills, deepen their knowledge, and stay abreast of best practices in the field of education.

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