Hi there! My name is Nicole Chavanne from Learning Lab. I am so excited to have this opportunity to share some tips and ideas with all of you!
As a special education teacher, I have to collaborate with several adults throughout my day, such as related service providers, general education teachers, parents, administration, special area team members, etc. Through being a self-contained teacher, a push-in provider, and a co-teacher, collaborating with other adults is one thing that does not change. With each new position, I have had the privilege of working with great teams of paraprofessionals.
Working with paraprofessionals in your classroom can be challenging, but when done correctly, everybody benefits – especially your students. It takes a lot of effort to make your classroom team work together collaboratively. Here are some important things to remember that I have learned along the way:
You are an important part of the classroom community!
You are the facilitator of learning in your classroom. It is your responsibility to make sure that all needs are met and that all students are learning in a safe and friendly environment. This includes making sure the other adults in your classroom are working toward a common goal.
Your paraprofessionals are JUST AS IMPORTANT!
Make sure you set up a classroom environment where your paraprofessionals feel like they are an important piece of the classroom puzzle. When a person feels important, they work harder and more efficiently.
For example, I like to give my paraprofessionals a place in the classroom that is theirs. Last summer, I cleaned out a closet and purchased a wire rack shelf system to go inside. Now each of my four paraprofessionals have their own space to put their belongings in and to hang up their coats. They were so appreciative, and I could tell that the gesture meant a lot to each of them.
Get to know your paraprofessionals.
Genuinely get to know your paraprofessionals. You will be working closely with them for the entire school year, if not longer. Learn about their families and what they like to do outside of school. Find out about their pet peeves so you can try to avoid them. Showing genuine interest in their lives will open the doors of trust and will help you to become a more solid team.
The moods of the adults in the classroom set the tone.
Be mindful of your mood every single day. It is your responsibility to provide a calm, safe, and happy place for your students. When we walk onto the stage that is our classroom, we need to try our best to set a positive tone with our own moods. When we are happy, our students are happy!
It is understandable that we all are going to have rough moments or even rough days. Try your best to put a smile on your face and give your students the positive experiences they deserve! My favorite saying is, “Fake it until you make it!”
This past school year, three of the four paraprofessionals in my classroom were all going through a crisis in their personal lives. We were all there to support each other in tough times, but each made sure to put the students first when they were at school.
What happens in the classroom stays in the classroom.
Q: How is your day going? A: Awesome!
Q: How has _____ been behaving? A: Great!
Q: How is it working with ______? A: Wonderful!
Whenever somebody asks about your experiences in the classroom, always answer them with something positive. The faculty lunchroom or the hallway is not the place to talk about the happenings in your classroom. It is important to always appear to be on the same page and working together well.
Obviously, concerns or issues may arise. It is vital for a successful team to have open communication. I highly recommend having a weekly team meeting to discuss progress and concerns.
Make sure you set clear expectations.
Everybody has a set role. Think about what those roles will be. Will your paraprofessionals work with set students? Will they rotate? What will they do when their student is not in the classroom? Make sure each member of your classroom team is aware of what is expected of them. If necessary, review your expectations during your weekly team meeting.
One of the biggest complaints from paraprofessionals is that they do not have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. You can eliminate that by making those expectations clear from the beginning.
Confidentiality is absolutely necessary!
Be sure to educate your paraprofessionals, no matter how long they have been working, on confidentiality. Your paraprofessionals should not be discussing a student with anybody that is not a part of that student’s educational team.
Each year, I create a folder that contains confidential but important information about the students with which each paraprofessional will be directly working. I make sure they know how vital it is to keep that information in a safe place within the classroom (my paraprofessionals keep their folders in the closet I cleared for them).
Confidentiality also comes into play with what happens between you and your paraprofessionals. They should be able to trust you, and you should be able to trust them. There also needs to be a level of trust between the paraprofessionals. Make sure you emphasize just how important trust is in your working relationships.
Even though you are technically in charge of your classroom, each of you brings great things to the table. You each have different experiences and training that has gotten you to this point in your career. You will learn a lot and gain a lot if you are open-minded.
Everybody likes to be appreciated, and everybody responds to praise. Be as positive as possible! A few kind words can go a long way! Better yet, bring in treats to say “thanks” every once in a while. Yummy food always makes things great!
The first few weeks of working together as a team are the hardest! But, if you put in the time and effort to get everybody working on the same page, the rest of the year will be more successful. I created an Ultimate Co-Teaching Start-Up Kit and a Paraprofessionals in the Classroom – Collaboratively Working Together in Harmony set to help get routines and expectations into place.
Thank you so much for reading today. I sincerely hope that you are able to use some of the tips within your own classroom. For more posts like this, I would love to see you at my blog!
Nicole lives in upstate New York with her husband and two (almost three) kids. She is a special education teacher that works with students in 4th-6th grades. She has worked as a self-contained teacher, a push-in provider, and in inclusion classes. Co-teaching has been her favorite type of teaching so far. Nicole also creates special education resources that ALL teachers can use for her TpT store, Learning Lab. You can find more ideas from Nicole on her blog or on Instagram.