Special Education Careers

How to Train Paraprofessionals in a Special Education Classroom

The training your paraprofessionals receive can make or break your special education classroom. Well-trained paraprofessionals mean your students get the right support for their educational goals and you maintain a cohesive, organized classroom. 

Training your staff may seem like an overwhelming task, especially in a busy classroom. However, you can break down the training process to make things more manageable for you and your paraprofessionals. 

In this guide, I give you tips on training paraprofessionals in your special education classroom and show you how those practices can help you make the training process easy for everyone. I also talk about the role of a paraprofessional in special education, how you can help them succeed, and how the right training benefits your students.

Preparing Paraprofessionals for Success

  • What Does a Paraprofessional Do in a Special Education Classroom?
  • How Does the Right Training Benefit Your Students?
  • Training Paraprofessionals in Your Classroom
  • Create Goals and Encourage Teamwork
  • Put Together a Training Binder
  • Break Down Topics
  • Practice Skills in the Classroom
  • Provide Feedback

What Does a Paraprofessional Do in a Special Education Classroom?

A paraprofessional offers many different kinds of support in a special education classroom. They work with children who have an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan to provide instructional and behavioral support, as well as providing students’ related services. They also support children with physical disabilities or specific medical needs

Paraprofessionals often work one-on-one with students when the teacher can’t, offering individual support that students may otherwise not have. In this sense, they can work with children to provide more specialized support for their learning.

Paraprofessionals should know how to work with children with different learning needs and disabilities, which can mean having training in specialized techniques to support educational and behavioral development. Those specialized techniques allow the paraprofessional to support the teacher and students by employing learning strategies, encouraging child development with behavior and education, and helping children meet their curriculum and social goals.

Reinforce Learning

Paraprofessionals provide support to students during or after the teacher’s lesson to help them understand the material. By working one-on-one with students or in small groups, they reinforce classroom instruction in ways that would otherwise be impossible.

Paraprofessionals offer instructional support that the teacher may not be able to when they’re focused on the whole class and can’t stop to give students the individual attention and support they may need. In these cases, a paraprofessional may stay with a student or group of students to help them understand a difficult or complex lesson while the teacher moves on with other students to the next step.

Paraprofessionals may also provide support to English language learners. They help those students understand lessons by speaking in their native language and working with them to apply concepts in the classroom, achieve curriculum goals, and feel more comfortable in school.

Behavioral Support

If a student has a behavioral intervention plan (BIP) as part of their IEP, a paraprofessional can help with implementation. Paraprofessionals should know how to respond to specific positive and negative behaviors to either encourage those behaviors or modify them. 

They may also help document how certain interventions and techniques are working for students, as they have more one-on-one time with them and therefore have a more in-depth look at how the student is or isn’t meeting their goals. By communicating with teachers, paraprofessionals can help them better understand students’ behavioral needs and collaborate with the teacher to respond with empathy and productive solutions.

Support for Physical Disabilities

Paraprofessionals may offer support for students with physical and medical needs in the classroom by helping with adaptive skills, like self-care, safety, and following rules in the classroom. They can also work with students to develop social skills, communication, and help them make friends at school

When it comes to medical support, paraprofessionals don’t typically provide this support on their own. However, they may work with the school nurse to help children get the medical support they may need at school.

How Does the Right Training Benefit Your Students?

Training forms the foundation of paraprofessional effectiveness in your special education classroom. By working with your paraprofessionals to give them the tools and knowledge they need in addition to their education or certifications, you serve your students better, too. 

When a paraprofessional understands your expectations and their role in your classroom, they can better meet student needs. Clear expectations allow them to more fully understand how they can help students learn the material and meet curriculum goals.

With effective training, paraprofessionals communicate better with you and your students. That means they can help and support students with more targeted approaches based on specific students’ needs. They can also adhere more closely to students’ IEPs and offer support that helps them become more independent with their education, behavior, and social interactions. Successful training shows when your students receive the help they need and are able to meet their goals.

Training Paraprofessionals in Your Classroom

By following these steps, you can ensure that the paraprofessionals in your classroom have all the training they need to help your students achieve their goals. Use these tips to improve your experience with your paraprofessional and get them up to speed quickly.

Create Goals and Encourage Teamwork

Establishing goals early on helps paraprofessionals understand your expectations and their role in your classroom from the start. Setting goals and talking with your paraprofessionals about your classroom goals ensures that everyone works toward them together and maintains a cohesive classroom environment, which improves consistency and aids student progress. 

Show your paraprofessionals that you’re part of the same team by checking in, sharing information, and including them in your plans for your classroom and students. That means sharing student IEP information, staying updated on student progress, and communicating about individual student goals and how you and your paraprofessionals can work together help them succeed. 

This first step of training builds trust between you and your paraprofessionals. It helps them feel comfortable coming to you with questions and updates and facilitates a more efficient training process so that you can ask them for help as well.

Put Together a Training Binder

Putting together a training binder lets you organize all information and goals for your paraprofessionals. It also prevents you from having to remake materials each time you have to train again. You can find templates online to help you get started and tailor them to your classroom and training needs.

Your training binder should include information about:

  • Paraprofessional roles and duties
  • Classroom rules
  • Data collection
  • IEP and behavior plans
  • Class schedule
  • Classroom goals
  • Allergy and medical information
  • Visual aids and examples

This binder prevents you from forgetting useful information for your paraprofessionals and gives them something they can refer to whenever they need to. It also allows them to read the information when they have time, as it can be difficult to find that time during busy classroom activities. 

You can even add more information as the school year progresses to keep training manageable and make adjustments to the binder each year or as the information in it changes. 

Break Down Topics

You can break down topics in any way that works for you and your classroom schedule. I would suggest dedicating a month to each topic. Your paraprofessionals will learn through experience over the course of the school year, so by the time you go over these topics, they will likely have some knowledge of them.

You might dedicate specific time to topics like:

  • Classroom setup and paraprofessional roles
  • Scheduling
  • IEP plans
  • Behavior plans
  • Collecting data
  • Inclusion

Your breakdown may look different, depending on how you train and the needs of your students and classroom. Even if you spend just half an hour once a week specifically training on these topics, it makes a difference. 

That training can look like providing extra reinforcement time for students, which works to your and your paraprofessional’s advantage. Plus, you involve your students in their training, giving them hands-on experience.

Practice Skills in the Classroom

After you go over the information the paraprofessionals need, apply it to the classroom. Modeling is one of the best ways to train your paraprofessionals to fulfill their duties in a cohesive way for your classroom and procedures. For example, if you have data sheets you fill out to collect IEP data, you and the parapro can both fill them out, compare data to ensure it’s accurate, and share your observations. 

You can also provide visual resources around the classroom to help your paraprofessionals remember and utilize the information you give them.

Provide Feedback

Once you’ve completed a portion of your paraprofessional’s training, give feedback on where they did well and how they can improve. This feedback allows them to adjust their approach to benefit your students more fully and creates open communication between you and them. 

By offering feedback in a positive way, you encourage the team mindset you outlined from the start. You should also be open to accepting feedback from your paraprofessionals and know that they may have ideas, observations, or techniques that you can implement in your classroom.

Conclusion

Now that you have the information you need to train your paraprofessionals, you can work toward creating a team-oriented classroom environment for everyone. When you and your paraprofessionals have good communication and are working toward the same goals, your students benefit and you see results in your classroom.

I hope this guide gives you everything you need to successfully train your paraprofessionals. Do you have more ideas for how to make training even better? Let me know in the comments or send me an email! I’d love to hear from you!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

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