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Effective Collaboration: Tips and Best Practices for Working With Paraprofessionals in the Classroom

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January 04, 2024


Are you tired of feeling like you are carrying the weight of the classroom on your own? Have you ever wished you could clone yourself just to get everything done?

Enter – a paraprofessional. 

As teachers, we know firsthand just how important paraprofessionals are in helping us provide the best education possible for our students. But effective collaboration can be tricky, especially when everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses

That’s why we’ve compiled some tips and best practices to help you work seamlessly with your paraprofessionals – and create a learning environment that benefits everyone. Get ready to say goodbye to overwhelm and hello to a more efficient, effective classroom!

Understanding the Role of Paraprofessionals

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First and foremost, it’s important to understand that paraprofessionals come in many shapes and sizes – there are instructional paraprofessionals, classroom aides, teacher assistants, and more. Each title may have slightly different responsibilities and duties, but they all play a key role in supporting students and teachers alike.

All in all, paraprofessionals wear many hats in the classroom. They may be responsible for assisting with classroom management, facilitating small group discussions, providing one-on-one support to students, and even helping with lesson planning and grading. They truly are the unsung heroes of the classroom!

Of course, with so many responsibilities, clear communication and expectations are a must. Teachers and paraprofessionals must work together to make sure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, as well as any specific needs or accommodations for individual students. This not only helps to promote a positive learning environment, but it also ensures that everyone is on the same page when it comes to student success.

Best Practices for Working With Paraprofessionals

role of paraprofessionals

Now that you know exactly what a paraprofessional might do, here are some tips to help you thrive in your new relationship. 

1. Differentiating Instruction to Engage Paraprofessionals 

We know that every student has unique needs, and the same is true for paraprofessionals. Take the time to get to know your paraprofessional and assess their skills and interests. What is their educational background? What do they like doing – and what do they dislike? 

Once you have this information, you can differentiate instruction and assign tasks that align with their strengths. For example, if your paraprofessional is a skilled communicator, they may be a strong candidate for leading small group discussions or facilitating peer collaboration. If they are great at art, you might want to incorporate some more arts and crafts into your daily lessons. 

Ultimately, the goal here is to find out what sorts of activities will allow your paraprofessional to really utilize their strengths – and add the most to the classroom. 

2. Co-Planning and Co-Teaching Strategies

Another important strategy is co-planning and co-teaching. This will help you make sure that everyone is on the same page and working towards a shared goal. Work with your paraprofessional to develop lesson plans, set expectations, and establish clear communication channels. 

Co-teaching can be an effective way to model effective collaboration and provide students with a range of perspectives and instructional styles – but make sure you’re planning together, too, so that you both have a clear understanding of what needs to be done on the day-to-day (rather than both of you trying to teach your own curriculum at the same time without meeting in the middle).

3. Recognize and Honor Their Contributions to Student Success

Recognize and honor the contributions that paraprofessionals make to student success. Often, these professionals work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that students receive the support they need. So take the time to acknowledge their hard work and show your appreciation!

This can be as simple as a thank you note or a shoutout during a staff meeting. But by recognizing their contributions, you show that you value their role in the classroom community.

4. Acknowledge Differing Power Dynamics and Roles 

Of course, it’s important to acknowledge the power dynamics and roles that exist within the teacher-paraprofessional relationship. While paraprofessionals provide valuable support, it’s important to remember that they are not substitute teachers – and unfortunately, this is often where hostility tends to arise in teacher-paraprofessional relationships.

Clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and expectations can help avoid confusion or conflict in the classroom. Open and honest communication is key to building a strong partnership and ensuring that everyone’s needs are met.

5. Participating in Regular Training and Professional Development

Finally, participating in regular training and professional development is essential for both teachers and paraprofessionals alike. This provides opportunities to build skills, share knowledge, and stay up-to-date with best practices. By investing in professional development, you show that you are committed to your own growth as well as that of your paraprofessional.

Tips for Effective Collaboration

role of paraprofessionals

Here are a few more tips to help you collaborate as best as you possibly can with your paraprofessional. 

1. Establish Clear Expectations and Roles 

Establish clear expectations and roles for yourself, your paraprofessionals, and your students. 

Make sure the paraprofessionals understand your expectations regarding tasks, how they should interact with students, and what they should do in case of an emergency. Remember, these expectations and roles shouldn’t be dictated by you, but instead, something that you and your paraprofessional mutually agree on after discussing the ideal environment you’d like to create together in the classroom.

2. Plan and Engage in Regular Meetings 

Planning and organizing meetings with your paraprofessionals – this is an extremely effective way to ensure a smooth flow of communication. You can assess their progress, provide constructive feedback, and discuss the student’s progress regularly. 

Use these meetings to strategize new ideas, focus on areas that need improvement, and identify what resources and support you need to provide to your paraprofessionals to increase their efficacy (and to rectify any issues that may be popping up, too). 

3. Focus on Building a Team Mentality 

You and your paraprofessionals are a team – that means you need to work together and support each other. Encourage your paraprofessionals to share their ideas and feedback when it comes to the student’s progress and goals. 

Together, brainstorm strategies, activities, and workshops that could help create the best learning environment for your students. Recognize their contributions, and offer praise, or rewards, when they have achieved the intended goals or tasks.

4. Have a Plan for Handling Conflict and Disagreements 

Conflict is going to happen  – it’s part of any healthy working arragnement.

But you should both work to find common ground, middle paths, or compromise where possible when you disagree about how to handle a situation. Address any issues promptly, clearly, and professionally with your paraprofessionals. This can prevent miscommunications and make sure things are smooth sailing in the future. 

5. Consider Station Rotation and Small Group Instruction

Using station rotation or small-group instruction models could be an effective way to engage your students, and tackle the differing abilities of your students. 

You can co-teach using this model with your paraprofessionals and ensure you are both prepared accordingly. You could also consider alternatives, such as flexible classroom seating to accommodate different learning styles and abilities.

6. Keep It Fun, Light, and Supportive

Do your very best to strike a balance between working hard and having fun. Maintaining a relaxed and friendly attitude towards the paraprofessionals in your team can help create a supportive and inclusive environment. 

Appreciate their efforts and offer words of encouragement when they need it. Humor can go a long way, too – so don’t be afraid to have a laugh and enjoy the collaboration. 

The Takeaway

role of paraprofessionals

By following the tips and best practices we’ve outlined in this guide, special educators can build strong relationships with their paraprofessional colleagues, and work together to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students.

Working with paraprofessionals can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that we all have different strengths and abilities. By embracing these differences and communicating openly and honestly, we can build a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Let’s get to work!

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a passionate special education teacher with [number] years of experience, uses her classroom knowledge to craft engaging stories that celebrate the unique strengths of all learners.