Let’s be honest, Preschool paraprofessionals are LIFESAVERS. If you are a general or special education preschool teacher, you might recall the dreaded feeling when you find out your paraprofessional is absent for the day. Really, I don’t think we could survive without the help of our wonderful aides. But, it isn’t always easy finding the perfect balance when working with other adults. It takes a lot of work and dedication to create a true TEAM that is on the same page, respectful, and most importantly doing what is best for the children.
Here are 5 tips to making a Successful Preschool Team:
1. Have a beginning of the year meeting. It’s really imperative to make time before the students arrive for a meeting with all the teachers and paraprofessionals that will be in your classroom. I know this might be the last thing from your mind as you probably are focused on your setting up your room, but trust me, this will save you a lot of time and stress. Use this meeting as a time to introduce your classroom and expectations. Show them around the classroom so everyone becomes familiar with the layout and materials. Even if you have veteran aides it is always good for them to have a refresher, and you mostly like have changed something from last year!
Find our amazing Paraprofessional Training Manual on The Elementary Helper’s Store! Use this to help guide your meeting and give a copy to each of your paraprofessionals. This packet will be editable so you can add or delete any information! Here is a quick look at the table of the contents and a few of the pages you will see in the manual! It is important that your training packet include clear and defined expectations, an overview of the classroom and importance of materials, information regarding your students (i.e. Diverse Learners, Bilingual students, etc), how and when to take data, and your overall goal for the school year. At the end of the manual, include a short review to check for understanding!
2. Show your Paraprofessionals their responsibilities. The second most important thing to setting up a successful team is demonstrating and training your aides. Everyone by now has had time to review the training packet and should feel comfortable with classroom expectations and responsibilities. But your aides probably don’t know exactly how you want things executed in your classroom. So spend time showing them how to complete their responsibilities. This could be anywhere from teaching them how to take data throughout the day, running their own small group lessons, using visuals and incentive systems, working individually with students who need extra support, to even little things like transitioning in the hallway. Quick Tip- The most effective and efficient way I have found to teach expectations is the I Do, We Do, and You Do model. Spend a few day demonstrating whatever it is you are training them on, and have them only watch you. The next few days let your aide take over part of the responsibility and be there to help guide them. The following days fade yourself out and let your aide take over completely. This will allow both you and them to feel most comfortable.
3. Set up weekly or bi-weekly check-in’s. Things are always changing with schedules, curriculums, assessments, and students! Your aides and yourself may not be made aware of some these changes, so it is imperative to have a time in which these kinds of matters can be discussed. And who are we kidding? Teaching and being a paraprofessional is an exhausting job. Sometimes emotions and stress can build up, and having a time and place where everyone feels comfortable expressing their feelings and concerns is so important. This could be during a shared break time or a set aside time before or after school. The school year gets hectic, but don’t forget to have these meetings, they are a key piece of the puzzle!
5. Give them Praise! To come full loop, Paraprofessionals are LIFESAVERS and they should be reminded of all the hard work they put into the classroom and students. Although teaching and being a paraprofessional is our job, it feels good when we are rewarded for our hard work. Simple Thank You’s or shout outs will go a long way. Sometimes, something a little extra like coffee or lunch is called for too :).
4. Be Honest. Always be honest with yourself and with your paraprofessionals. At the end of the day we are here for the students and not being honest, will only be detrimental to our kiddos. It can be difficult to confront another adult, especially if they are older than you. But if your paraprofessional isn’t following through with their responsibilities, you must speak up. It probably won’t be comfortable, but it is necessary. Quick Tip- I like to redirect uncomfortable confrontations to focus on the needs of students. If the conversation is more about remembering what is best for the students, they may not take it personally. It can be just as difficult to be honest with yourself. Sometimes as teachers we get caught up in thinking we know what is best for our students. But some of our paraprofessionals spend just as much time with these students, if not more. If they are doing their responsibilities as expected, and feel like something isn’t working, or has a suggestion to improve something, make sure you listen!