The role of paraeducators can be paradoxical. On one hand, they work on the frontlines with students who often have some of the most challenging behavioral, learning and/or physical issues. On the other hand, they typically receive little to no training, in spite of the difficult nature of their jobs. More than ever, staffing shortages and challenging student behavior are reported as the biggest problems facing the profession. With these factors in mind, how can educators more deeply invest in their paraeducators, so they feel valued, validated and more inclined to stay in their positions? And how can we mitigate burnout and cultivate a culture of positivity, ongoing professional development and open communication? In a recent webinar on this topic, administrators from districts in Texas and Arizona shared their best practices and tips for success. (Click here to request a replay of the session "Investing in Your Paraprofessionals: Innovative Strategies to Support and Retain Your Staff.") Read on to learn six strategies for retaining and supporting your school or district’s paraeducators.
1. Offer ongoing, job-specific training
Providing paraeducators with engaging, high-quality PD opportunities that are specifically tailored to the unique nature of their jobs is critical. Paraeducators are tasked with the challenge of addressing behavioral issues, offering academic instruction and working in partnership with teachers and general education staff. Because the role of the paraeducator is so unique, it’s imperative that their training be relevant, ongoing and sustainable. It must also provide actionable guidance and best practices to instill trust and a well-earned sense of importance. And lastly, the training should be on-demand, bite-sized and easily accessible to accommodate busy schedules.
2. Recognize and celebrate your paraeducators publicly
Does your school or district publish a newsletter or blog? These are excellent places to publicly recognize and celebrate your paraeducators, cultivate a culture of positivity and create a spirit of inclusion within your community. As Sunnyside USD’s Assistant Technology Specialist Linda Powell shared: “We’ve found that celebrating paraeducators in our district’s e-newsletters really instills a sense of team. It helps people to feel better about their work - that it’s not just a job, it’s a profession.”
3. Conduct regular check-ins and surveys
Want to know how your paraeducators are feeling about their jobs? Ask them! Implementing a regular cadence of staff surveys and check-ins is an effective way to keep real-time tabs on the health and happiness of your paraeducators, pinpoint challenges and identify solutions that can then be shared with the entire staff.
“SEL check-ins are a big key to our success in retaining paraeducators,” says Jose Hinojosa, Director of Special Education at Edgewood ISD in Texas. “We ask them: ‘How are you feeling? What can we do differently to better support you?’ It’s about valuing individuals and helping them to avoid burnout and stay in the profession.” This approach cultivates an open and ongoing dialogue between administrators and paras, which leads to greater job satisfaction and less attrition.
4. Build partnerships between your district and local universities
A great way to support your paras is to provide them with a clear path to achieving their long-term professional goals. “Our district developed a partnership with Texas A&M University, in order to build a pipeline for our paraeducators that will give them opportunities to obtain continuing education credits, or get credit to put toward a teaching certification,” says Hinojosa. The result? Paras are more likely to stay in the district, either in their current roles or as teachers. This helps address the teacher shortage as well.
5. Provide paraeducators with the technology they need to be successful
One thing is universal: there’s never enough time in one workday to accomplish everything, especially when it comes to PD. Assuming your budget allows for it, providing paraeducators with tablets or laptops is a great way to give them access to online, self-paced training that fits into their day. It’s also important to provide paras with training on the same general technology that students will be using, so they feel confident in modeling how to use devices and software.
6. Create a culture of inclusion between paraeducators and teachers
By bringing paras and teachers together with a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities, paras feel a deeper sense of collaboration within the classroom and a more productive partnership with teachers. They report feeling less isolated in their roles, with greater confidence in tackling academic instruction and challenging student behavior.
Step up your paraeducator training
Take the first step with 321 Insight’s ParaSharp - an online PD platform builds confidence, improves effectiveness and increases job satisfaction. With bite-sized videos, interactive discussions, planning and tracking tools and more, this program helps your paraeducators feel supported and valued in their roles.