Tips for Building a Strong Relationship with Your Paraprofessional
With a new school year about to begin for most Special Education teachers, you already have an idea of who your paraprofessional (classroom assistant) will be. Some of us are lucky beyond words to have more than one para. It’s not unusual to have the same para for multiple years. In many instances, this can be a wonderful thing. After all, you know almost everything there is to know about this person, right? You’ve worked side-by-side for years and can anticipate each other's next move. You work together like a well-oiled machine.
OR, YOU DON’T.
Over the course of my 20 year teaching career, I have worked with only a handful of assistants, as turnover is low and I have always gotten along very well with each person. We would meet for lunch, talk and text, laugh, ask for opinions, and, well, just be friends. This year is a change for me, as I have been assigned someone new. We’ve already met for coffee and touched upon how I run the classroom to keep behaviors in check. She’s sweet, kind, and enthusiastic, and I’m looking forward to working with her. I’ve read many of your personal stories of the struggles of adjusting to a new para, some good and some, well, not so good. Before you step foot into your classroom this year, take a moment to read these tips to help make your relationship with your assistant the best it can be. Bestie or Beastie? It’s all up to you.
Get To Know Me
I’m new, you’re new. Even if we’ve been at the same school for years, working together is very different. Ask me about my family, about how I spent my summer, and about things I enjoy outside of school. Share a little (or a lot) about yourself, too.
Roles and Responsibilities
Be clear as to what role your assistant plays in the classroom. This can vary greatly, as to meet the needs of your students. Just like you, I’ve heard, “My assistant is too overbearing. She thinks she’s the teacher!” Tell your assistant what kind of help you need or expect. Do you want her to do reinforcement work with a group of children, or to provide close physical support to one student? Should she take it upon herself to reprimand or reward a student without checking with you first? Do you have a child that has bathroom needs that require adult assistance (i.e. diaper changes, plays in toilet)? If you, as the teacher, are willing to take turns with this chore, then say so. If not, be clear about that, too. Set the ground rules from the beginning, and you’ll be off to a great start.
Provide a Schedule
Do you have schedule for your class? Make sure that your assistant has one, too. This is called a “zone schedule” and provides your assistant with specific times and their duties during that time period. Start from the beginning of the day, and continue through dismissal. Having this readily available allows your assistant to know ahead of time as to what he or she should be doing, or where he or she should be going. Keep an extra copy hanging by the classroom door for a substitute. Administrators and Program personnel will look for this, too, during classroom visits.
Do you have students that require close supervision? Share this important information with your assistant. If you have a runner, or a student with behavioral needs, spill the beans! The safety of your students is paramount, and your assistant needs to know that chatting with other adults, or not paying as close attention as they should, can lead to a crisis.
Bring On The Visuals!
Give your assistant all of the visuals that they need to help communicate with the students. Both verbal and non-verbal children respond to picture communication cards. This works especially well, too, in particular environments, such as a noisy area (school cafeteria), transitions, during work tasks, and throughout the school day. I also include student information cards for my assistant. This way, they have quick access to emergency contact information, can identify if the child has certain allergies, and their lunch number.
Training and Support
Be sure to suggest upcoming training that you feel may help your assistant to learn about specific abilities and challenges of the students he or she is working with. Having a better understanding of the children’s needs provides for a calmer, more productive classroom.
Boy, oh boy, “please” and “thank you” go a long way! Just like you teach your own kids, manners count. Rather than barking a command (okay, okay, you may not be that bad), tell or ask, politely. You should expect the same for yourself, as well. Paraprofessionals are instrumental to a smooth running classroom. Tell him/her what a great job they are doing and how you value their input. Don’t discuss (or vent) issues that you may be having. Bad news spreads, and can create ill will and resentment. You wouldn’t want anyone to do that to you, either.
When The “Bestie” is a “Beastie”
Let’s face it. Things don’t always turn out the way we envision them to be, no matter how hard we try. Are you having challenges resolving issues that you feel are negatively impacting you and/or your students? Write a list of things that are non-negotiables and set up an informal meeting after the kids have left for the day. Be kind and polite and ask your assistant how you can help and answer any questions he/she may have. Sometimes, all it takes is a quiet opportunity to sit and talk it out. If this plan of action doesn’t resolve the issues you are having, plan a meeting with an administrator, Team Leader, or Autism Coach present. Sometimes, it’s easier to find a solution through intervention.
Introduce, Include, and Celebrate
If your assistant is able to attend Meet and Greet, or Open House, invite him/her to attend. Your assistant is part of the class and both the parents and children should welcome them. Remember his/her birthday by having the children draw a card, or make something special to celebrate. You, as the teacher, should provide praise and gratitude, too. Make your classroom “the happiest place on Earth” by fostering friendship and kindness.
NOW FOR THE FREEBIES!
Follow the links below for some valuable classroom visuals and templates!
Wishing you an incredible learning year ahead!
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