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State Support Team, Region 16

How Well Are Districts Equipping Paraprofessionals?

How Well Are Districts Equipping Paraprofessionals?

By Lisa Arthur, 05/20/2019

After all these years I finally feel like someone is listening.”   The response came from a paraeducator with more than 30 years in the profession.  Silence filled the room as her words permeated each team member. We’d been working together just nine short months.  It was our last meeting of the year. Who are we? We are a district team assembled for the purpose of better equipping and on-boarding paraprofessionals as members of school teams.  Now that my friends is impact.

Frequently assigned the most demanding students while being the least professionally prepared, paraeducators have many challenges.  Albeit more numerous than one short article allows, some of these challenges include the need for more clearly defined roles, increased funding, high-quality training which addresses the needs of their job assignment, and recognition of their intrinsic value as members of the delivery service team.  How is your district planning to meet these needs?

As teacher roles become more complex and demanding, expectations and roles of paraeducators are increasingly evolving. Introduced into classrooms nearly 50 years ago, “teacher aides” (a.k.a. paraprofessionals) provided clerical services and routine monitoring and maintenance of learning environments.  Today paraprofessionals are an integral part of the instructional team, directly impacting student outcomes. As a result of this role expansion, paraprofessional learning has become a focus of concern. In the past, professional development has focused mainly on teachers and administrators. Federal legislation, through ESSA, has included paraprofessionals as part of service provider team, and therefore, professional development will need to include team building, shared leadership, effective communication, and problem-solving in addition to the PD paras say they need (instructional support strategies, effective classroom and behavior management).

How are districts planning and preparing for this task?  This past year, some districts in our region partnered with the SST and OPEPP (Ohio Partnership for Excellence in the Preparation of Paraprofessionals with the University of Cincinnati) to assess the needs of their district regarding the utilization of and professional development for their paraeducators.  District teams worked closely with OPEPP and SST consultants to determine paras’ needs and establish a PD plan for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years. This is the first step in recognizing the scope of paras’ responsibilities and exhibiting acknowledgment and respect for their contribution to student success.


Please contact me for more information on how to better equip and utilize your district’s untapped assets - paraprofessionals.  We have just a few openings in our OPEPP partnership for the 2019-20 school year. lisa.arthur@sst16.org

Who’s Doing the Work? Early Literacy Book Study – 2019-2020 School Year

I want to tempt you to join, SST16’s literacy book study next year. The book, Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less so Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris describes the importance of helping students develop into agentive readers.  Good teachers use instructional scaffolds all the time. They do so by directly and explicitly teaching students reading skills and strategies.  They also model the skills for students, do the skills alongside of their students and allow students to try the skills independently.  With those instructional scaffolds in mind, Joan Moser in the foreword of the book, alerts us to an essential but simple question we, as teachers, should be asking our students as we teach them to read, “What could you try?” 

Agentive readers develop as teachers move their attention away from what they need to do, over to what students should be doing on their own.  When students use both print and meaning to figure out the tricky parts of text; they read in a smooth, balanced, and integrated manner.  Teachers need to instruct students to utilize both the printed text and the meaning of the words, so they can comprehend the text.  

The book, further explains how traditional scaffolding practices can actually rob students of important learning opportunities and independence.  Students who are robbed of these important learning opportunities become over dependent on teachers as permanent scaffolds and they learn helplessness.  Many students develop reading habits that can cause them to plateau or make them become inefficient readers.   Many times students become “unbalanced” in the reading process and overly rely on the print or overly rely on the meaning.

Through the teaching pillars of read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading, the authors examine adjusted reading instruction and how teachers should teach students to do more of the work.  One of the most important takeaways from the book is that the authors stress the importance of developing students as readers with the “end” goal in mind; that is, students who feel empowered and motivated to take charge of their reading lives.  

So join us next year from September to March (one face-to-face) meeting and 3 on-line meetings) as we read this book on the next generation of reading instruction.  Who’s Doing the Work?  recommends ways to increase independence in reading for students by helping them apply strategies they’ve been taught. Teachers who read this book, will walk away with the future goal for students. Additionally, teachers will reframe interactions with difficult texts and assist students to see these texts as an opportunity to practice the messy work of figuring out what to do and when to do it.



Relationships are Everything!

How many times have you been personally affected by a student’s behavior? Personally offended? Hurt?


I know as a person with a soft heart, many times a student’s bad day has become my bad day. And more often than not, when a serious behavior issue arose in my classroom, an administrator or counselor dealt with it. Once the student returned from a suspension, too much time had passed for any conversation or even healing to take place between me and the student.


How does this scenario negatively impact the relationship between student and teacher? In our personal relationships, we would rarely allow someone to offend or hurt us without having a discourse with that person about our feelings, boundaries, expectations, and desire for an apology. How could this look in a school setting?


I want to introduce you to three steps you can take to strengthen your relationships with your students. These ideas come directly from Dr. Clayton Cook, a professor and researcher at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Educational Psychology.


Two individuals holding hands




  1. First the teacher must establish a relationship with the student. Some strategies for establishing relationships would be to ask open-ended questions, survey student interests and follow-up on their interests, share humor, or give compliments. Of course, these interactions with students must be genuine and authentic. Often our most difficult students are students are desperate for genuine connections. As you begin to establish relationships with your students, you will notice a change in the necessity for classroom management because the relationships you’re forming will ward off disruptions and problematic behavior.

  2. Once you have established relationships with your students, you must maintain those existing relationships. One way you can maintain your relationships with students is to use a higher ratio of positive interactions to reprimands per student. The magic ratio seems to be 5:1. Five positive interactions to every one reprimand. Continue to briefly check in with students through the methods used previously to maintain your positive relationships throughout the year.

  3. Conflict can be hard to avoid, so when a negative interaction occurs, you must counter it with the final step: restore. Ways that you can restore your relationships with students after a negative interaction are to use the following communication techniques. First, take ownership. For example, you might say, “As your teacher, I realize I could have handled myself differently in that interaction with you.” Second, you might apologize to the student. You might say, “I’m sorry we both had a bad day yesterday and that I wasn’t able to better support you.” Third, you can convey care. “That behavior was a bit difficult to deal with, but I care about you and really love having you in my class.”


Dr. Cook’s EMR method simplifies the tools and strategies we need as educators to connect with our students. It’s important to think about each and every student in your classroom. Have you cultivated a relationship with every single one of your students? How are you maintaining those relationships? And what do you do when those relationships break down because of problematic behaviors or negative interactions? The EMR method can bring that awareness of teacher-to-student relationships to the forefront of your mind, which will ultimately improve your classroom management, climate, and engagement.


Quotes from School Climate: Leading with Collective Efficacy

I just finished reading School Climate: Leading with Collective Efficacy by Peter M. Dewitt.  Now, I do love to read and I do love to learn, but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I do recommend it as a MUST READ for all principals.  At the very least, read my blog and then read Chapter 1 with the link.

In the introduction, Dewitt states, "but one year under bad leadership, whether it comes from insecurity or unpreparedness, can destroy the self-efficacy of some of the most positive teachers.  Other times, teachers find their leaders within because they know that schools, students, and teachers deserve better than they are getting."

Chapter 1 defines collaborative leadership.  Dewitt tells leaders to build teacher self-efficacy by providing supports to teachers - both material and immaterial, by constructing the teacher's goals together, and by giving frequent feedback to the teacher.  He tells leaders to build teacher collective efficacy by supporting collaborative inquiry, by providing teaming time, by turning staff meetings into problems of practice, and by providing co-teaching and mentoring.  Finally, collaborative leadership is built by sharing a vision, by empowering staff, and by supporting teaching and learning.

collaborative leadership frameworkDewitt explains this framework well when he states, "It's very possible to be collaborative in the areas we like to focus on, a bystander in those areas we dislike, a regulator when it comes to protocols, and a negotiator when we really want to get what we want."

Even better, Dewitt provides a Collaborative Leadership Rubric for principals.  The rubric areas are: school climate, instructional leadership, professional development, feedback,collective teacher efficacy, assessment-capable learners, and family engagement.

All of Chapter 1, including the Framework and the Rubric, can be read here.  Take a few minutes for your growth as an administrator and read it NOW!


More Bang for Your Buck - Stop Wasting Time and Money on Ineffective District Professional Development

Think back to your last in-district professional development (PD).  Chances are it was a one-and-done, sit-and-git, can't-get-back-those-hours of your career as an educator.  As a teacher, I've attended too many of these "professional development" opportunities over the years and have little to show from participating in them.  As a curriculum coordinator, I tried, with not much success, to provide teacher PD that made a difference in their instruction. It was hit and miss.  I didn't go about it in any cohesive manner.

Since then, I've done a lot of research on how to provide professional development that will be implemented and will make an instructional difference.  Actually, I would rather call it professional learning.  For me, PD is the one-day training that is more compliance driven, like the lock-out tag-out and blood born pathogen training done at the onset of each year.  Professional learning is a training series followed up by small group technical assistance and then one-on-one coaching.  I'd like to think that administrators would want to know how to stop "throwing away" money on ineffective professional development and would be excited to know how to implement professional learning so that they can see the impact it has on the district educational system.  Here goes!

The best place to start is at the beginning.  What is the district plan - is it meaningful?  What is being implemented - PBIS, a series of reading programs, a multi-tiered system of support, inclusive practices?  If this is all in order and communicated to teachers, have steps been taken to get educator buy-in?  I really dislike that term.  It sounds as though administrators have to convince educators to implement something that would have a positive effect on instruction.  Convince?  I'd rather not.  If an administrator has to convince, the district either has the wrong educators or the wrong initiative.  

Once the initiative has been examined in relation to the district needs and district plan and the educators understand the "why," it's time to plan for professional development.  Planning starts with understanding needs once again.  Where are the teachers in their understanding of the initiative and how to implement it?  Also, get an expert in for the first year of PD at the least.  Teachers need to know that they are being trained by the best, that the district is so serious about supporting teachers with the initiative implementation that it will seek out experts to provide a series of training, to provide technical assistance time with small groups to answer questions, and to provide one-on-one coaching opportunities for teachers who struggle with implementation. 

Additionally, teachers need team time to discuss implementation.  The ideal time is during PLCs/TBTs.  Unfortunately, many districts use TBT time for RtI and IAT, never focusing on teacher development.  If the administration fears a cold-turkey approach to rebooting TBTs, there are ways to transition teams from focusing on students to focusing on teacher development of the initiative.  Begin by asking teachers to list 3 to 5 components of the initiative that every administrator should see in every classroom every day.  Then have each team choose one of the five for deeper learning at their team meetings once or twice a month.  Administrators can offer frameworks, such as peer teaching, vertical team study, and lesson design.  Want to learn more about these and other frameworks, read this book. At the end of each quarter, have teams share out what they learned and how it improved their implementation of the initiative.

These are just a few of my favorite ideas on how districts can stop wasting time and money on ineffective PD and can focus on implementing an initiative with fidelity so that it can make a difference in teacher instruction.  I've read somewhere that implementing an initiative without fidelity might lead to positive change after about 12 years of implementing, but implementing with fidelity shortens that timespan to three to five years. 

Also, think about the classroom of your childhood and compare it with the classrooms of today.  Now, think of the telephone you used as a child and compare it with the telephone you use today.  If we keep doing what we've always done, we're going to keep getting what we've always gotten.  Let's change the way we teach so that we can meet our student's needs instead of meeting our educators' needs when it comes to fearing of change.  It's not about the adults, it's about the children.