Collaboration for student success: teachers and para-educators working together

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The idea of extra help in the classroom is becoming more and more a reality for many classroom teachers. As we move away from stand alone resource room models towards inclusion for students with needs there is a recognition that para-educators play a crucial role in improving student achievement and success in the classroom (NEA).

Though I believe we are moving further away from the traditionally accepted role of the classroom teacher as the ‘sage on the stage’ in his or her classroom, we are far from able to say that the role is historical fact. It still exists in many classrooms. And even when it doesn’t, it can be very intimidating for a teacher to have someone come into their classroom. It is hard to share a classroom with another educator.

Last year I worked with a group of educators – teachers, teaching assistants (para-educators), and administrators – from different schools in Montreal in professional development sessions under the heading, Collaboration for Student Success/Travaillons Ensemble pour un Meilleur Rendement Scolaire. Here are some of the ideas we generated as we explored how to guarantee successful teacher/paraeducator collaboration.

We looked at Context.

  • Quebec curricular reforms place the student at the centre of the curriculum and teachers are expected to differentiate their instruction based on the student profiles in their classrooms.
  • We are talking more and more of teaching teams where, under the Quebec Education Act, the teacher is the ‘premier intervenant’ – or the first speaker – for a student’s educational rights.
  • Our classrooms are becoming more and more diverse, with a variety of needs (from special to gifted and everything in between).

The context led us to develop an Essential Question

How can I, the teacher, make an effective intervention in the lives of the students in my classrooms with the tools I have (and by the way, just what are those tools?)

This question led us to develop some Common Definitions. Most importantly, for this discussion, we spoke of the tools that were available to us and we decided that the most important were people: our colleagues and consultants. We also searched for a common definition of collaboration and we decided that in order to effectively collaborate we had to have a shared vision for the classroom. We had to begin to pay attention to the same things in our classroom in order to be able to learn from the phenomena in our classrooms and to be able to plan accordingly.

The first Plan of Action that arose from these definitions naturally formed itself around how to establish a shared vision amongst the classroom teaching team (the main players being the class teacher and the para-educator(s)).

We decided that it could only grow from conversation.

We also came up with essential conversations around Expectations.

Teachers are ultimately responsible for curriculum, evaluation, and reporting. The para-educator facilitates the delivery and activities around this.

Conversations at the beginning of a teacher/para-educator relationship could be facilitated by asking questions such as:

  • What are your expectations of me as a para-educator?
  • How can I best help this classroom?
  • What is most important for you in regards to classroom management? being on time? how I intervene with a student or group of students?

Teachers also noted that it was important for them to know how their para-educator worked best, what his or her strengths were, so they could plan accordingly.

Our favourite resource to facilitate teacher and para-educator collaboration is available through ASCD and is called:

A Teacher’s Guide to Working with Paraeducators and Other Classroom Aides
By Jill Morgan and Betty Y. Ashbakar (ASCD, 2001)

There are some really clear and spot-on question sheets that teachers and para-educators can use to clarify their relationship in terms of the roles and responsibilities of both educators. I will go so far as to say it is essential reading for teacher/paraeducator collaboration.

Basically this is what we decided was key – it is essential for teachers and para-educators to have a clear and common vision of what each of their roles and responsibilities are towards the classroom and the students in it. The only way this can happen is by talking about it.

Some other resources:

Getting Educated: Paraeducators

Project Para: Pareducator Self-Study Program

Special Connections: An Introduction to Working Effectively with Paraeducators

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future

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  • Pat H. says:

    Communication is so important when working with anyone. I had the best relationship with my paraeducators because we totally communicated, the good and the bad. If their was a problem about the lessons or students, after school we discussed it calmly and rationally without taking it personally (this was agreed upon by both of us the first day). This actually helped me have another view of what I was doing. Sometimes it helped me see things clearer and I could tweak my lessons to be more effective. If I couldn’t get a lesson to work right, I was able to use my paraeducator as a sounding board to help me figure out what my next step would me. Sometimes I would be be able to redirect my paraeducator in a different direction and by explaining why and my goal, it was easier for the paraeducator also. Thanks for a great post!

  • Tracy Rosen says:

    Yes, everyone working together is the goal for student success. One can’t forget administrators, either! They form a large part of creating a successful context for good work to occur.

    When we met as a group for the first time it was important for school administrators to be there. Issues around scheduling came up, about when was the ideal time for paraeducators to be in each classroom (most of our schools had paraeducators scheduled with more than one teacher during the school day) and about scheduling in meeting times, that only an administrator could address.

  • elona says:

    Great post Tracy with lots of helpful resources for teachers and para-educators. The teacher, the para-educator and the student are a team that work together to help the student be the best student she or he can be. Communication is definitely the key. The questions you have suggested in your post are excellent places to start to dialogue. Thanks.

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