Classroom assistants/Paras - tips?

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by Bored of Ed, May 19, 2014.

  1. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    May 19, 2014

    Hello all,
    I should really get back here more often. I've been super busy but I miss the companionship and sharing!

    I will be giving a professional development workshop to teaching assistants next week, and this is really out of my element because most of the classes I've worked with in didn't have any assistants. I have plenty to share with teachers and tutors but to be really honest the assistants probably know more than I do about being an assistant! But this is what I've been asked to do, and I am going to rock it! Somehow.

    So, of course I'll be doing my own research and thinking, but I would really love to hear from those of you who have assistants or paras working with you.
    What do you wish they knew?
    What makes the difference between a great para and one who isn't?
    Something I've always wondered about is how do you determine boundaries such as who intervenes when there is a situation going on?
    What tips do you have for communicating, collaborating, and working as a team with the lead teacher?

    I'm also a little worried because I don't want to say something too basic that will make them feel insulted or underestimated. I'm really not sure how much these people already know or do. :unsure:
    I have about a half hour from start to finish so it can't be TOO deep, but I do want to give them something of substance. I'd hate for anyone to feel they've wasted a half hour.

    Any input is most appreciated!
     
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  3. Loomistrout

    Loomistrout Devotee

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    May 19, 2014

    Good to hear aides are receiving training. Too often aides are thrown into a classroom and, working with whatever skills they bring with them, are expected to demonstrate excellence in instruction and management.

    Consider a short autobiography for both aide and teacher. Nothing elaborate - highlights of likes and dislikes etc. This can go a long way to help with "assumptions", groundwork for pre conference, think time and matching aides with teachers. A "type A" paired with a "free to be you and me" is asking for trouble.

    Unless otherwise noted, most aides sign on to help with kids. Majority of the help will be some form of 1-on-1 or helping a student who is stuck. Without explicit training and with the best of intentions an aide can undo what the teacher has been trying to accomplish in seconds. This happened to me. I had been trying to ween the "helpless handraisers" into independent workers and my aide would promote dependency by the way she attempted to help. A demo by you showing the correct way to help a student 1-on-1 would work wonders for not only instruction but, also, discipline since most disruptions occur because the helping interaction takes too long.
     
  4. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    May 19, 2014

    Great, thanks for that! I suppose you're thinking along the lines of using effective prompting technique rather than explaining or walking through the work with them?

    The first part of what you said is something I could suggest but it's probably beyond my scope as I'm only going in for this one little presentation. It's a kind of weird situation! But I'm going to make something great of it!
     
  5. Loomistrout

    Loomistrout Devotee

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    May 22, 2014

    Ideally an aide should work her/himself out of a job. In other words, the goal is to make independent learners out of needy students. If an aide is helping the same students day after day until June as in September the program and/or instruction needs examination.

    Often needy students do not raise their hand for help on the lesson. They raise their hand to corner the aide (or teacher) all to themselves. And who can blame them? I wouldn't pay attention either if I knew after every lesson I would receiver private, 1-on-1 attention. I've seen aides pull up a chair knowing they will be helping Name for the next 15 minutes. None of this is intentional of course. An untrained aide is doing the best she/he can with whatever skills brought to the table.
     
  6. waterfall

    waterfall Maven

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    May 22, 2014

    I'm convinced I have the best para in the entire world. I feel like a lot of times, having a para is good for the kids, but creates more work for the teacher (and this is what I've experienced in the past). My para actually makes my workload a lot lighter. She takes just the right amount of initiative. She doesn't try to "take over" but I don't have to tell her every little thing either. If she has an extra few minutes with a group of kids, she'll get out their sight words or some other quick routine that we have. She doesn't come over and interrupt my lesson to ask what to do. If she has a question about something we're doing in class, she'll ask me after the kids leave. If she has an extra few minutes without students, she'll ask if I need copies made, or if I'm busy/not available she'll use that time to straighten the room or organize materials. Again, she doesn't have to come ask me what to do every two seconds. She's picked up her own teaching strategies over the years and she knows how to instruct/explain things to kids well. She picked up on my classroom routines quickly, and easily adapted to how I do things even though she's worked there for 20 years and this was my first year.

    The other thing I appreciate most about her is that she can handle the kids herself when it comes to discipline. She's strict with them and she follows my classroom management plan, but she doesn't have a problem calling kids out on behaviors or applying rewards or consequences. Last year I had a para who knew how to run a reading group (if I gave her detailed lesson plans), but did NO discipline whatsoever. I tried to make it very clear to the kids that we were both in charge of them and that she was a teacher (I don't make the teacher/para distinction with students), but they picked up on the fact that she was not going to discipline them in anyway very quickly and would not behave for her. We'd both be working with guided groups, and I'd have to be yelling across the room to tell the kids sitting a foot away from her to keep their hands to themselves, stop making so much noise, etc. I suppose she thought that classroom management was above her pay grade, but I think things would have been a lot easier on both of us if she would have been comfortable at least redirecting kids. I think the teacher should deal with major issues, but a para should be able to do things like redirect kids they're working with to pay attention. Strategies for basic classroom management might be good for your training.

    As far as collaborating with a lead teacher, I think it's just important to stress communication. You could give some different strategies for the paras to use to increase levels of communication if they feel that the teacher isn't communicating enough. I know some people have scheduled 10 minute meetings at the end of the day to go over things. My para and I get along really well, so it's more natural for us to discuss things as they come up between groups or before/after school whenever it's convenient. A formal meeting would seem weird to us, I think.

    Another idea is to set up some sort of survey for the teachers and paras to fill out for suggestions on what they want to cover in the training. What the paras need more guidance on probably varies hugely between buildings.
     
  7. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    May 22, 2014

    Thanks for all the ideas.

    I just got some more details that are making me nervous, turns out the ones I'll be talking with are all assistants in kindergarten and 1st grade. Just a handful of people, total, it's not a huge school. Thing is this is the grade that I have the least experience with! I was going to go with the first suggestion here and discuss how to make helping interactions more effective, not sitting down and going through everything over again, etc; but I suppose that looks pretty different when you're dealing with 5-year-olds who are not even at desks most of the day, having their first school experiences!

    Eek. This is so embarrassing. With all the topics I could be highly qualified to present, they had to give me the one farthest from my area of expertise. And I was so flattered that I'd been asked to present a workshop at all :p

    Oh, and it's less than an hour long, and only the assistants, not the lead teachers. So I really need to choose a specific focus.

    Help... :confused:
     
  8. Rox

    Rox Cohort

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    May 23, 2014

    Can you ask a couple of the paras what they would like to know now? Then that can help you find your focus.

    As for me, what makes a great para is one that respects and supports the guidelines and rules I have in the classroom. One of the things I learned about working with paras is that they function well when given a checklist or a schedule. Also, it may be helpful for paras to remember that every teacher is different. Some teachers want paras to handle all of the paperwork. Others want paras to only work with students.
     
  9. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    Jun 1, 2014

    Hello,
    Just wanted to report back that I took your suggestions and I think the presentation went well! It's hard to tell, I'm new at this... I focused on helping children become more independent, weaning them off our attention, while in the background emphasizing communication with the lead teacher (which I was told was an issue here) - so a lot of examples of how to apply the weaning towards independence while still respecting your different roles in the classroom.
    Thanks again for all your input, it really helped!
     
  10. CFClassroom

    CFClassroom Connoisseur

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    Jun 1, 2014

    One thing I always do when I have an aide or a student teacher is keep 2 notebooks. One is a running to do list and the other is for observations.

    When I think of something I need done that either I could do myself or a student teacher/para could do I list it in the notebook. This enables them to take the initiative to keep busy if/when they have a free moment. I like it because it empowers them to feel helpful and appreciated on their own and also because it frees me from always needing to say, "would you mind...?" The latter makes me feel more like a boss than a colleague so I love that they can just jump in and help.

    The observation notebook is for them to jot stuff in that they have noticed in the classroom. Because they often have shorter hours and duties to cover we don't have a lot of time to chat and its easy to forget to share something. They see and hear things that are valuable to know, but it isn't always appropriate for them to mention them to you while you are teaching or while the children are in the room.
     
  11. Lynn K.

    Lynn K. Habitué

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    Jun 1, 2014

    Love the notebook ideas! This was my first year with an aide in my classroom, and I was often at a loss as to what to do with her. Often, I would think of things that she could do to help and then either forget or be too busy to explain when I did see her. I'm going to make the notebooks now and leave them in my desk so I don't forget to do it next year.
     

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