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Communication Is the Key to Working with a Paraeducator

Communication Is the Key to Working with a Paraeducator

Be loud and clear about your goals with your paraeducator.

A paraeducator can be an extra set of hands in your classroom, and they can help your students understand and practice concepts. Under the best circumstances, you and your "para" understand one another's roles and work cooperatively for the good of your students.

But sometimes things don't work out this way. Sometimes, you seem to be two people working independently in one classroom, sharing little information regarding student progress. When cooperation breaks down, students suffer. So, how can you avoid this situation and build a strong relationship with your para?

Working Together for the Good of the Students

It's important to meet with your paraeducator at the beginning of the school year to talk, plan, and begin building a working relationship. While midcourse corrections are expected, this relationship is something that needs continuous attention. If you missed the opportunity to establish a relationship early on, you and your para can still benefit from sitting down and talking about where you are now—what's working and what isn't.

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Kira Austin, a program specialist in autism and teacher training, wrote about some of the common wants of paraprofessionals. Some of these include wanting to know upfront the specifics of their role in the classroom and having direct supervision and orientation for their role. Austin also reports that paras say they need "on-the-job training to learn new skills," so it's clear that direct, accurate communication is a must.

Further reading: Turn Your Best Paraprofessionals Into Your Best Teachers 

So, when you sit down with your para, seek out their opinion regarding how they see the year going and what progress they see their assigned student(s) making. Be straightforward about how you want to work together, and tell him or her what kind of assistance you see various students needing. Then, each day, have a written assignment or goal for each student so they know what's supposed to happen and you have a record of progress.

Strong Partnerships Need Strong Communication

Working with paraprofessionals is a topic that many teacher bloggers have written about from their own experience. Their advice is strikingly similar—be respectful, be direct, give clear directions, be polite. Gina Riley, a 7th-grade teacher in Salem, WI, wrote, "Whether these education professionals work in or out of your classroom, it is vital to everyone's success to develop a good co-teaching partnership. It is especially important when a paraprofessional is in your classroom full-time or on a regular basis."

Sara Needham is an educator who began her service as a paraprofessional, and her experience is an example of what happens when partnerships aren't forged. "As soon as I walked into the school building with the label 'paraprofessional,' the assumptions started,'' she wrote in a blog post. "Teachers thought I must have just graduated from high school or had no experience with kids, or that I was just there to babysit an unruly student . . ."

With a lack of direction from her teacher—and little praise for the difficulties she managed to circumvent—Needham felt emotionally drained. Her advice to teachers: Take a closer look at what your paras deal with. "Even acknowledging these challenges is a step in the right direction for schools with a paraprofessional in the building," she wrote.

Further reading: 4 Successful Strategies to Increase Teacher Diversity 

It's clear that the key to working productively with a paraeducator is maintaining straightforward and frequent communication. In nearly all cases, teachers and paras want to work together cooperatively not only to help kids but to reduce ongoing stress that occurs when communication breaks down. Because student and classroom aides are a part of education today in many schools, it's important to develop the interpersonal skills needed to work together effectively.