4 Ways to Build Positive Relationships with Paraprofessionals

Special Education: Working with ParaprofessionalsThe relationships between a teacher and paraprofessionals can make or break a classroom. Many teachers literally spend more time with their classroom staff than they do with their family and those relationships directly impact the kiddos, so having positive relationships within the classroom is so important!
Don't get me wrong, I haven't always had it perfect with my paraprofessionals... I've had paras quit mid-year, I've had paras cuss and yell at me because they didn't agree with me, I've handled situations in ways I probably shouldn't have, I've dreading going to work because of a negative relationship with a para... Trust me, I've been there... but the only thing we can do is learn from our mistakes and continue to work on building POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS with our paraprofessionals! Here are a few of my favorite ways to build positive relationships with my classroom team:

1) Weekly/ monthly treats
I know that we aren't rolling in money as teachers, but spending a few bucks on your paras once a week or once a month will go a long way!  At the beginning of every year, I have my paras fill out little surveys about their interests and likes. Then I stock up on some of their favorite things and keep them stashed in our classroom for anytime someone might need a pick-me-up! I try to get little treats for my paras once a week or every other week. You don't have to spend a ton of money, treats can be as simple/ cheap as a pack of gum, chapstick, a muffin, etc. You can grab a free likes/interests survey from my TpT to learn more about your paras. 

Special Education: Working with Paraprofessionals

2) Include paras in important classroom decisions and ask for their input
I try to include my paras in a variety of classroom decisions. When it comes to scheduling, I try to give my paras input where I can- for example, my paras have the opportunity to decide at the beginning of the year if they want a 45 minute lunch or a 30 minute lunch and a 15 minute break. I also work with my paras to make a schedule that's fair for scheduling general ed specials. We also sit down as a classroom team and look at all the general ed field trips for the year and work together to plan out what staff are going on what trip based on their interests. I also pay attention to what lessons/ activities my paras enjoy in the classroom and try to build off of that. One year I had a para who LOVED art, so I let her take the lead and plan an art activity once a week. She really liked having the opportunity to be creative and plan a fun part of the week and it helped me to not have to plan the activity. Since classroom paras often don't have the opportunity to attend IEP meetings, I get their input before hand by having them write a little note about what they love about the kiddo. Parents always love when I share the positive note from paras in IEP meetings.

3) Give paras praise and coach them!
Training and coaching paras can be hard, especially for new teachers who are often young! During my first few years of teaching, I had paras who had been in the classroom longer than I had been alive and that was intimating! When it comes to training and coaching paras, make sure you give them PRAISE as you coach them. Just like with our students, give them positive praise every time you're giving them some kind of feedback/ thing to work on. Something I recently started doing was writing praise on stickies and putting it in my para's personal space to remind them that they are AWESOME!

Special Education: Working with Paraprofessionals

4) Make it a point to share the load
I'm a firm believer that I shouldn't expect my paras to do anything I wouldn't do... So, I change multiple diapers on a daily basis, I do g-tubes daily, I lift and transfer students in and out of equipment, I wipe down tables, etc... I literally do everything I expect my paras to do. For me, this has gone a long way in showing my paras that we are a team and I'm in this with them! Another good idea is to make a rotating schedule for any classroom tasks that staff dislike (like working with a specific student, cleaning toys, going to a weekly therapy group, etc.). This helps to make sure everyone is sharing the responsibility and also getting a break.

How do you build positive relationships with your paras? I always love to hear new and fun ideas!