Strengthening the Role of Certified Teachers Supervising Paraeducators

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Paraeducator: A paraeducator is an individual who provides instructional or related support to students under the direction and supervision of a certified teacher.

This is the definition of a paraeducator presented in Part 1 of this series. In Part 1, we focused on the roles and responsibilities of paraeducators in inclusive schools: how these roles have changed over time and have become more important, the distinctions between the role of a paraeducator and a teacher, and a tool for reviewing the effectiveness of the paraeducator in the many support roles they are assigned. When you review the definition of a paraeducator above, it is apparent that the role of the certified teacher is an integral feature. Part 2 of this series will focus on this often misunderstood, or sometimes ignored, role of the supervising teacher.

Many teacher preparation programs do not provide information to beginning teachers regarding their responsibilities and once teachers arrive in the classroom, the school’s staff development sessions rarely address their role of supervision of paraeducators. This is potentially a significant gap in teacher training because they are expected to know about their responsibilities and have the skills for carrying them out, including:

  • Providing direction regarding specific tasks and responsibilities;
  • Establishing detailed schedules that describe the tasks they are to accomplish throughout the day and week;
  • Modeling the tasks assigned to the paraeducator, especially those that are difficult or must be particularly consistent and structured, such as behavioral supports,
  • Regularly reviewing what the paraeducator is doing and making sure that the tasks are carried out as explained; and,
  • Providing constructive feedback and job‐embedded training.

Before the school year begins, if possible, the teacher and paraeducator should meet to build a clear and complete schedule of responsibilities. Remember that the specific roles of the paraeducator should be directly linked to instructional and/or behavioral goals of the student. While many paraeducators serve in school‐wide programs or for specific programs such as Title I, the expectations for teachers supervising paraeducators who support students with disabilities should take their direction from this clarifying statement from IDEA, Part B. Watch for the important words and phrases:

Paraeducators who are adequately trained and supervised may assist in the delivery of special education and related services, Sec. 612 (a) (15).

In addition to this definition from IDEA, remember that all support roles for paraeducators serving students receiving special education services must be derived from each student’s individualized education program (IEP). 

This schedule is easily adapted for your specific needs. It provides for each of the supervisory roles of the teacher as well as the schedule of duties for the paraeducator. 

On this format there are specific instructions for the role of the paraeducator and the supervisory responsibilities for the teacher are also built into the schedule. When the schedule is complete, there will be formal decisions about what training or modeling will be needed for the paraeducator and there will be a determination about the schedule for informal observation and monitoring by the teacher to ensure that the roles of the paraeducator are carried out appropriately and consistently.

When roles are spelled out this clearly, the relationship between the paraeducator and the supervising teacher is typically positive, trusting and mutually satisfying. The most important benefit, however, is the increased focus on services and supports that are designed to improve student learning and behavioral success in school. 

Download the Schedule for Paraeducator Staff here

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