Sunday, March 11, 2018

Paraprofessional Series: Training Paraprofessionals

There are SO many things that special education paraprofessionals need to be trained on... behaviors, data collection, AAC and communication, confidentiality, mobility equipment, academic instruction, and SO much more! There literally isn't enough time in the day to train paras on everything that they need to know. It seems that there are two major barriers to training paraprofessionals: time and resources.

When it comes to finding the time to train paraprofessionals, teachers have to be super creative. The toughest part of scheduling time for training paras is often para reporting/ contracted time. It's typical for paraprofessionals and students to have the same hours, so you're left having to find a way to train paras while students are present. Although it's tough to do, making the time to train paras will show paras that you value them, will make them more confident, and will improve student outcomes!

Ideas for making the time for training paraprofessionals:
Although it's hard to do, it's crucial that you find a way to make time to train your paraprofessionals. If it's particularly hard and stressful, just start small! You can start by doing 10-15 minute mini-training sessions or by just training one para at a time, but start somewhere! It's what's best for your students and it will make your life easier too!

Here are a few ideas for making the time to train paraprofessionals:

-Turn a movie or video on once a week or month. If you're going to do a training session while kids are watching a movie or video, you obviously need to make sure you're still keeping any eye on the kiddos or  you can ask someone like your principal, school psychologist or assistant principal to come in and watch the movie with the kiddos so you can completely focus on training your paras.

-Jenn from Teach Love Autism uses iPad time to make time for meeting with paras. This is a great idea because students are often so reinforced by iPad time! If you have the luxury of having a lot of iPads in your classroom, giving students extra iPad time so you can have time to train paras is an excellent option!

-If your students have a rest time, use that as a time to train paras. We have an incredibly long school day, so my students rest for about an hour a day. My paras are normally in and out of the classroom at that time for a variety of things (their lunches, the sensory room with students and general ed with students) however, it's a time that I'm able to train paras 1:1, if needed. If you want to read more about our rest time, check out this post.

-Request funding from your principal or district to pay for your paraprofessionals to stay 30-60 minutes late (or coming in 30-60 min. early) 1-2 times a month for training. If you work in a classroom with students who have severe behaviors or medical needs, you should be able to convince your principal to agree to this if you frame it in a way that your paraprofessionals need this training in order to keep your students safe. Of course, your paras would need to agree to staying late or coming early for the training, but they would be getting paid for it! I've never had a paraprofessional refuse to come early or stay late if they were going to get paid for it.

-If your administration or district is unable to come up with funding to pay your paras extra for coming in late/early for training, you still have another FREE option!! Another thing I've done is I've had para training sessions before or after school and then I let paras pick a day to come in late or leave early to make up that time that they did for the training session. Of course, I got this cleared with my administration and we scheduled it ahead of time so I never had two paras coming in late or leaving early on the same day, but it was a creative and free way that let me have some training sessions with my paras!

Here's an example of how it could look:
Monday afternoon: All 3 paras stayed 30 minutes after school
Tuesday afternoon: Para 1 leaves 30 minutes early
Wednesday afternoon: Para 2 leaves 30 minutes early
Thursday afternoon: Para 3 leaves 30 minutes early

Now that you have some ideas for scheduling and making time for training paras, let's jump to the next barrier to training paraprofessionals... resources!

Resources for training paraprofessionals:
Use Powerpoints
Powerpoints or other computer based presentations are great because you display them and also print them for staff. When making these presentations, make sure you make them interactive by including real-life examples from your classroom! We love to act things out, role play with specific behaviors and practice using data sheets during para training sessions.

You can find some good presentations for paras on good-ole google, but I find that a lot of the time, those presentations are more geared towards teachers and aren't great for paras who are new to the classroom. I've ended up making a lot of my own Powerpoints that are tailored to the specific needs of my paras and classroom. If you want a few free editable PPTs for training paras, click here, where I have a basic behavior PD and a prompting PD.

Behavior Management PD (on my TpT for free)

Prompting PD (on my TpT for free)

Use Videos of Yourself: 
If you just want to teach your paras a little technique or trick, record a short video of yourself explaining it or modeling the technique and have paras watch it. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just grab your cellphone or iPad and record a 1-3 minute video. This will give paras the opportunity to watch (and re-watch) you do the tasks/ technique and ask questions if needed!

Below are a few of the activities I've record myself doing for my paras:
-modeling how to use core vocab during independent play
-using communication during communication during recess and gross motor
-using a PECs system with a student
-reviewing a behavior chart with a student
-prompting during a writing activity for specific student
-prompting for transitioning student off of a task
-prompting during a fine motor activity for specific student

Use Modules and Websites:
There are a ton of great modules and websites out there for training paras, and the best ones are FREE! I have two free go-to websites that I love using with my paraprofessionals.

-The Pennsylvania Department of Ed has a ton of free modules for paras here. You have to make an account, but topics include reading comprehension and fluency, autism, IDEA, social skills, data collection, working with students who are deaf-blind and so much more!

-Autism Internet Modules is another awesome and free website that has a ton of great short modules for paras (and you, if you want!) to complete. These modules are great because some are short (15-30 minutes) and they include videos and questions that check for understanding. Just a few of the topics on the website include functional communication training, naturalistic intervention, discrete trial training, cognitive differences, pivotal response training, picture exchange communication system, and self-management.

Use YouTube or other videos:
I have no shame in my game, on numerous occasions, I've pulled up one of Chris's videos from Autism Classroom Resources and had my paras watch it. Using videos from other awesome special education professionals can be a great way for your paras to hear the information from someone else's mouth! At least once in your career you'll probably have a paraprofessional who doesn't agree with what you're saying/ what you want to do. In my experience, having paras hear the information from someone other than you can help in those situations.

Do you have any awesome tips or tricks for training paraprofessionals?

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