What it is: An outline for providing your assistants with the training they need in a simple and efficient way
Who it’s for: Teachers who have Instructional Aides
What you’ll need: A small window of collaboration time (20-30 minutes) once per week, while the students engage in an independent activity
One of the most challenging aspects of being a Special Education Teacher has been finding the time to collaborate with and train my Para-Educators. Since I have various grade levels in my room, with 10 students who all need myriad strategies implemented to be successful, I have come up with ways to appropriately train, inform and support my Para-Educators. Here are five valuable lessons I have learned in the past four years.
- Make time every morning to deliver the tasks of the day, verbally. At first, because I wanted to start teaching right when the kids came through the door, I wrote down what I wanted each assistant to do and handed them written instructions and we dove in when the bell rang. This led to a lot of confusion throughout the day. There are so many caveats in teaching special education, and with any desired lesson, there will be a lot of “what if” questions that will come up. It’s so important to give them time to ask and take the time to answer. Your Paras will feel more like a valuable member of the team and they will better understand how you’d like things to go, when something doesn’t go according to plan.
- Allow for questions before the day starts. When I wrote down my instructions, I noticed that no matter how clear I thought I made them, there were always questions. Delivering a task that is unclear will NEVER lead to a successful small group lesson. Taking even 5 minutes to talk through any questions has made each para-educator directed activity much smoother.
- Provide written instructions as well. Between behavior plans, various leveled work, and extra services schedules, there is a lot for your Paras to remember. Laminate a piece of card stock and bullet point the tasks you’d like carried out. This accounts for naturally occurring forgetfulness.
- Carve out 30 minutes a week for a teacher meeting. I fought this for so long. I did not want to take more time away from teaching than absolutely necessary. But the various needs of the students in special needs classrooms makes this collaboration time absolutely necessary. Every Wednesday morning, I pass Play-Doh out to the students and they sit at their desks while I talk to my Paras about what’s working, what’s not, and anything they have noticed that I may have missed. Every week, I fill a page with notes about how to improve a certain procedure or how to better support a struggling student thanks to their feedback. And I’ve been surprised to learn about things that are happening at recess or during small group lessons that I would otherwise not have the time to talk to them about.
- Teach your students to refer to your aides as teachers. Students naturally pick up on who is the teacher and who is not and it can create an attitude of hierarchy that will lead to behavior problems in the room. I teach my students to refer to my Paras as teachers and remind them how lucky they are to have so many teachers in the room to work with them. I also make sure the class greets me and each Para, by their name, each morning. This builds a sense of equality and sends a message that all adults are to be respected equally.
I hope this helps you!