Explain It Like I'm Nine: Low Substitute Fill Rates
Can’t find enough substitute teachers to cover teacher absences? Seems...
The growing shortage of special education personnel in schools means more work for the educators who stay, and special education teachers and paraeducators shoulder much of the responsibility. As a result, having strong teacher-paraprofessional relationships is more important than ever for meeting individual student needs.
However, the relationship between a special education teacher and a paraprofessional is like any other relationship: it’s complex.
So, how can you strengthen collaboration across these two roles in your district? First, you need to understand both sides of the story, that of the teacher and the paraprofessional.
That’s why I asked special education teacher Kayleigh Ackerman and former paraprofessional Lauren Harnett to share their special educator-paraprofessional collaboration experiences ― including challenges they’ve faced and tips for improving things.
Here’s what they shared.
Kayleigh: Teachers and paraprofessionals or teaching aides (TAs) need to be on the same page in order to support students to the maximum extent. It’s our responsibility as teachers to train, teach and support our paraprofessionals. Whether it is through scheduled daily meetings or a quick chat in the hallway, keeping lines of communication open is most important.
Lauren: Paraprofessionals tend to be responsible for the details of what goes on during the day with individual students, whereas teachers are focused on planning and running their classes properly. In other words, the teachers are looking at the forest and the paras are amongst the trees. For a teacher’s lessons to be effective, both paras and teachers need to be in constant communication about individual student needs as well as curriculum and classroom requirements ― which are constantly shifting.
When it comes to special educator-paraprofessional relationships, trust is everything. Learn how to build it early on.
Kayleigh: Trust is everything. Relationships are everything. Trust has to go both ways. Paraprofessionals have to trust teachers and you have to trust them in order for students to have the most success in the classroom.
Lauren: Trust is one of the most important things to build early on, which is why I emphasize the clear delegation of roles from the get-go. This prevents most [potentially negative emotions] that could stem from feeling like someone else is doing your job and will help facilitate positive communication between co-workers. This extends to the kids — it’s hard to maintain authority or earn the trust of students if classroom staff do not work as a unit. And you can’t be a functional unit without trusting one another to maintain your responsibilities.
Kayleigh and Lauren emphasized that consistent and clear communication between special educators and paraeducators is critical to student success in the classroom.
To help improve communication, both Kayleigh and Lauren created information repositories to house shared knowledge and paperwork for each student. Having a shared source of information can help classroom teams remain up-to-date with what’s going on for each student, even during especially busy times.
Consider how communication and trust between special educators and paraprofessionals can be improved in your district.
*These interviews have been edited for brevity.