Having paraprofessionals in the classroom is a huge help. We truly could not keep our classrooms running without support staff.
The trick is figuring out how to work with our aides effectively as a team. College courses and the majority of professional development provided by school districts never does professionally train us on how to utilize or manage paras in the classroom, yet it is a part of our job expectations.
It’s always helpful to sit down with your paras at the beginning of the school year and discuss how you see them participating in the classroom, and also to get an idea of their expectations as well. This opens up the lines of communication and builds a good rapport.
But what should paras do in the classroom? And what shouldn’t they be doing?
Expectations and Class Jobs for Paras
While the ideas below are an excellent overview of tasks that paras can assist teachers with, please remember that all paras are different, and you should keep their level of comfort with certain things in mind. It’s also essential to have open lines of communication at all times so that your para feels comfortable talking with you about everything and anything.
1. Work Directly with Students on Academic Work
Depending on your paras level of comfort and experience, she can be assigned small group rotations during centers and working directly with students on skills.
2. Collect Data
Have your para collect data. This helps you out in managing your IEP responsibilities, but also allows your para to learn new skills, as well as see students’ progress and areas that need improvement helping in the IEP process.
3. Assist with Toileting
If you are in a classroom where students have toileting or bathroom assistance needs (like changing diapers), paras can – and should – assist with this throughout the school day.
4. Prep Materials
Prepping takes a lot of time, but paras can help free up some of that work. Have them prep centers and stations, small groups, and even whole group materials as needed.
I recommend having one spot in the classroom where you can put copies or printed materials that are ready to be laminated, cut out… prepped.
5. Tidy Up the Classroom
When you work as a team, the classroom becomes everyone’s home away from home. That means that tidying and cleaning is a job that everyone – students, paras, and the teacher – should do.
This could be a fun, end of the day – right before dismissal type of job where everyone pitches in.
6. Take Students to Lunch
Having your para walk students to lunch and pick them up again can free up vital planning and prep minutes. Set clear expectations for behavior and make sure students know that those behaviors are expected no matter who is taking them to specials or lunch.
7. Keep Track of Student Supplies
Assign your para the task of keeping track of each student supplies (change of clothes, diapers, etc.) and filling out daily communication notebooks when things are needed.
Communication stickers are an easy, print and ready option for paras to use.
8. Recess Duty
If you have work to complete but are assigned recess duty, have your para fill in for you. This frees up your time to complete the tasks you need to do.
9. Help with Bulletin Boards
Bulletin boards are essential, but let’s be honest… changing them out is not my favorite task! Have your para take down and put up the bulletin boards each month or season.
One school year I had a very creative paraprofessional who loved putting up new bulletin boards, and they were always so adorable. You can see our St. Patrick’s Day picture board here.
10. Help Brainstorm
As teachers, sometimes we need another perspective to help us solve an issue in the classroom. Paras are an excellent resource for brainstorming solutions and ideas. They are in the room and see the issues firsthand, so they understand the challenges, as well as the rewards.
11. Be Timely
In general, or from lunch breaks. Emergencies happen. If your Para has an emergency or is going to be late/out, please have them let the lead classroom teacher know ASAP so that you can make sure there is adequate coverage for the day.
12. Set Boundaries with Cell Phones
Make sure to address cell phone usage. A lot of people like to play games or scroll through social media, but that is something that should only be done during your scheduled lunch break. Most classes will use their cell phones for communicating with the parents and other staff members throughout the day, but that should be done by the classroom teacher only, unless specified otherwise.
13. Maintain Confidentiality
Students have the right to confidentiality. Please advise your paras to not speak about students in the company of other students or adults. They may communicate with any member of the students IEP team, but when in doubt, please ask the classroom teacher before discussing any students with another adult.
On the topic of confidentiality – social media. Please make sure they know to refrain from posting pictures, using names or telling stories about your students on social media. This breaks confidentiality.
14. How to Handle Parents
This is a tricky one. Parents will want to ask you questions regarding their child. It is okay to say that the student had a good day and check their communication log – or however you communicate daily information to the parents. If the student had a rough day, please tell them to check their child’s communication log. If in doubt, less is more. I have had this come up in the past and we do not want parent issues. Please refer them to the classroom teacher and they will handle it.
15. Share your Daily Schedule
It would probably be easiest to type up a copy of your classroom’s daily schedule and where your Para’s should be during that time. In that, make sure to add exactly what they are supposed to be doing so and with what students. Making the directions more direct will help to ease any confusion down the line. Meet with your paras before school starts to go over this, and have them sign and date the document so in the future, they can’t say they didn’t know if you ask them to do something that is on that document.
16. Be positive: Keep a Positive Energy in the Classroom
Believe it or not, when you are in a bad mood, your students can feel it, and they respond in the same way. We all have difficulties that we deal with in school, as well as outside of school, but the students want to know that they feel loved and that you are happy to be at school with them.
17. Provide Behavioral Support
Coming into a self-contained special education classroom, typically comes with dealing with behaviors – work refusals, yelling/loud noises, stimming behaviors, and sometimes aggressive behaviors. Your paras need to be comfortable with helping with some of those behaviors. No one wants to deal with these types of behaviors by themselves all day, everyday, so having a good support team will make everyone’s jobs just a bit less stressful.
18. Assist with Adaptive Skills
Adaptive skills are ways that we can help our students with daily living and life skills. Sometimes, students will come to you not potty-trained yet, especially when working in the younger grades. They also may not know how to wash their hands, dress themselves, put their shoes on, or other self-grooming skills. A lot of the students will also need assistance learning things like how to stay safe, learning and following the rules of the classroom and school, cleaning up after themselves, social skills and work habits. All of these skills are embedded in the daily routines and activities of the classroom, and your paras need to be able to assist with those throughout your day so that your students are getting as much exposure and the possibility of as much success as possible.
19. Modify Materials
Not all of the students are going to be able to access materials in the same way. Some students will need modifications of 1 item per page, having things already cut out for them, using more picture cues, highlighting specific writing areas or drawing squares for designated writing areas, etc. Helping to make materials and assignments modified for success will be super helpful for the teacher, but make the students able to complete their work more independently and successfully.
Paraprofessionals are some of the most influential people in the classroom. They can support you and your students, free up your time, and be your right hand. Treat them with respect, show them you value them, and create a positive relationship that can withstand even the most challenging days in the classroom!
What para classroom jobs and expectations do you have for the paraprofessionals and support staff in your classroom? Tell us in the comments!