Paraprofessionals — you are kind of a big deal! You use your talents to inspire and to encourage students to discover their own strengths. Your role is unique, with limited time to plan with collaborating teachers, you passionately meet the needs of many students.

This article is for you, with the goal of strengthening your toolkit. I’ve compiled a list of practices under three critical elements of this dynamic role: knowing thy student(s), collecting data, and facilitating student independence.

No. 1: “Know Thy Student” is Essential

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

As a paraprofessional, why is this quote important? We need to build deep trusting relationships with our student. Deep trusting relationship that will set our students up for success. To build a relationship with our students we must get to know them.

Beyond IEP information, get to know who they are as an individual, their strength, interest, and learning barriers. Specifically, finding common interest and common ground improves the level of service we can provide. Try creating a profile page for each student. Include at least two strengths, two preferences and interests, and two needs or challenges.

To gather this information, try using a “Getting to Know You” or “How Do You Learn?” survey. There are tons of free surveys on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers to get you started. By investing this time to build a deep, authentic relationship, we can advocate and support our students with instructional strategies.

No. 2: Collection of Data is Integral

Collecting data helps our team analyze student’s progress and determine instructional strategies to support growth.

The following is one of my favorite data collection tools to support and track student growth.

No. 3: Facilitating Independence is Necessary

Accommodations and modifications are tangible supports to help students make progress in the classroom. And we use the insights from data collection to determine what kinds of supports are needed. Accommodations and Modifications are chosen by the team and determined based on data collected.

Accommodations are the “how” the curriculum is presented, they remove barriers to help students understand content. Modifications-change the “what” of the curriculum, what content is taught. We want to make sure that we are not unintentionally modifying the work by giving too much support or making the work easier, like hints or the answers.

As Micheal Giangreco supports, a paraprofessional’s goal is to fade support so that students need us as least as possible. Work with cooperating teacher to systematically fade supports. A great strategy to fade support is “time delay.”

Time delay is a procedure designed to result in errorless or near-errorless learning of skills by providing a time-based prompt to ensure the learner exhibits the correct response (time gradually increases between the direction and the prompt). To see “time delay” in action, visit Vanderbilt EBIP’s YouTube channel.

At this time in education, more now than ever, we cannot afford to underutilize anyone’s talent, especially that of our amazing instructional assistants. Here is to strengthening the entire village involved in supporting the whole child.