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A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership
UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX February 2009
UMI Number: 3357432
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ABSTRACT The findings of this qualitative phenomenological study guided by the modified van Kaam method of analysis confirmed a relationship between training and efficacy. The study explored the perceptions and lived experiences of 20 special education paraeducators in Maryland. Collected data were analyzed using NVivo 8.0 software to identify themes regarding training and efficacy resulting in the identification of a perceived need for relevant training addressing the special education paraeducators’ changing roles and responsibilities. Collective and integrated themes revealed the paraeducators’ perception of two pertinent and interrelated forms of efficacy, organizational efficacy, and self-efficacy. Synthesis of the three established themes: (a) perceptions of role and responsibilities for efficacy development, (b) perceptions of organizational structure influencing efficacy, and (c) perceptions of relational structures influencing efficacy contributed to a comprehensive understanding of organizational efficacy development. The analytical synthesis of six established themes: (a) perceptions of job preparedness, (b) training topics influencing efficacy, (c) training methodology influencing efficacy, (d) training delivery models influencing efficacy, (e) training factors influencing efficacy, and (f) training factors inhibiting efficacy revealed a deeper understanding of self-efficacy development. Study recommendations include training strategies to optimize the utilization of special education paraeducators in order to enhance the educational programming for students with special needs.
DEDICATION I dedicate this work to my family, Mitch, Lindsey, Eric, and Katie. Your spirit and special love inspires my purpose. The value of inner serenity, tenacity, aptitude, and novel direction has deeper meaning. Your gifts made my moment in time possible and I am eternally grateful. What’s next? In fond memory of my Dad, Bill Levy, your essence is with me sustaining my smile. With humor and dignity, you ignited the fire of passion and the desire to explore my potential. You are always in my thoughts.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am honored and deeply indebted to Dr. Steve Seteroff for agreeing to mentor me in the middle of the process. Your expertise, sage advice, and wonderful momentum sustaining strategies are inimitable. Your support and talent of knowing how to ask the perfect question at the ideal time brought out the best in me. You are a gifted mentor and inspiring teacher. I sincerely appreciate your dedication to my study and my future directions. This journey was enhanced by the impeccable contributions of my committee. I would like to acknowledge the support of my committee members, Dr. Carol Woehler and Dr. MaryAnn Wangemann. Thank you for your encouragement, wonderful insights, and incredible responsiveness. I am so grateful. A special thanks to Dr. Dennis Clodi for going that extra mile to ensure my success. To my family, thank you for understanding and enduring all the sacrifices so that I could pursue my dream and achieve a personal goal. Your support and encouragement sustained me at every crossroad. To my wonderful husband, Mitch Giles, who knew just the right motivational sports quote or sports story for every occasion. Yes honey, the tough did get going. Lastly, I am grateful to all the wonderful special education paraprofessionals who contributed to this study. I am overwhelmed by your level of dedication and compassion. For you and students with special needs, we will make a difference.
TABLE OF CONTENTS LIST OF TABLES...................................................................................................xii LIST OF FIGURES ................................................................................................xiii CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION ..............................................................................1 Background of the Problem .......................................................................................2 Statement of the Problem...........................................................................................4 Purpose of the Study ..................................................................................................5 Significance of the Study ...........................................................................................5 Significance of the Study to Leadership ....................................................................6 Nature of the Study ....................................................................................................8 Research Questions....................................................................................................9 Theoretical Framework............................................................................................10 Social Cognitive Theory ...................................................................................11 Adult Learning Theory .....................................................................................11 Definition of Terms..................................................................................................12 Assumptions.............................................................................................................13 Scope of the Study ...................................................................................................14 Limitations ...............................................................................................................15 The Maryland District.......................................................................................15 Paraprofessional Varying Experiential Levels .................................................15 Training Opportunities Limitations ..................................................................16 Delimitations............................................................................................................16 Summary ..................................................................................................................17
CHAPTER 2: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ..................................................18 Title Search, Articles, Research Documents, and Journals Researched ..................18 Gaps in the Literature...............................................................................................20 Historical Overview .................................................................................................22 The Effect of Legislation on Paraprofessionals................................................26 Paraprofessional Role and Responsibilities .............................................................27 Current Findings ......................................................................................................29 Paraprofessional Job Performance Competencies ...................................................31 Self-Efficacy Theory................................................................................................33 Evolution of Self-Efficacy Theory ...................................................................34 Alternative Viewpoints to Bandura’s Theory...................................................35 Self–Efficacy and Paraprofessional Role Change ............................................37 Organizational Efficacy and Paraprofessional Role Changes ..........................40 Self-Efficacy Measurement ..............................................................................41 Paraprofessional Training ........................................................................................43 Professional Development Models ..........................................................................45 Adult Learning Theory ............................................................................................47 Current Paraprofessional State Initiatives................................................................48 Conclusion ...............................................................................................................50 Summary ..................................................................................................................51 CHAPTER 3: METHOD .........................................................................................53 Research Design.......................................................................................................53 Appropriateness of Design.......................................................................................54
Research Questions..................................................................................................57 Population ................................................................................................................58 Sampling Frame .......................................................................................................58 Informed Consent.....................................................................................................61 Confidentiality .........................................................................................................62 Geographic Location................................................................................................63 Data Collection ........................................................................................................64 Observation Memorandums..............................................................................67 Data Recording .................................................................................................67 Data Analysis ...........................................................................................................68 Modified van Kaam Method.............................................................................69 Validity and Reliability............................................................................................70 CHAPTER 4: RESULTS........................................................................................72 Sample......................................................................................................................72 Data Collection Process ...........................................................................................74 Transcription.....................................................................................................76 Data Analysis and Presentation of Findings ............................................................76 Listing and Preliminary Groupings ..................................................................77 Reduction and Elimination ...............................................................................78 Clustering and Thematizing the Invariant Constituent.....................................79 Final Identification of the Invariant Constituents.............................................90 Individual Textual Descriptions .......................................................................90 Individual Structural Descriptions....................................................................90
Composite Descriptions....................................................................................91 Textual-Structural Synthesis.............................................................................91 Summary ..................................................................................................................92 CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS...........................94 Conclusions..............................................................................................................95 Organizational Efficacy ...........................................................................................97 Perceptions of Role and Responsibility............................................................97 Perceptions of Organizational Structure...........................................................97 Perceptions of Relational Structure ..................................................................98 Self-Efficacy ............................................................................................................98 Perceptions of Job Preparedness.......................................................................99 Training Topics Influencing Efficacy...............................................................99 Training Methodology Influencing Efficacy ..................................................100 Training Delivery Models Influencing Efficacy.............................................100 Training Factors Influencing Efficacy............................................................100 Training Factors Inhibiting Efficacy ..............................................................101 Societal and Policy Implications............................................................................101 Implications for Paraprofessional Staff Developers ..............................................102 Significance of Findings to Leadership .................................................................103 Limitations .............................................................................................................103 Ethical Dimensions.........................................................................................104 Recommendations..................................................................................................105 Recommendations for Stakeholders ...............................................................105
Suggestions for Further Study ...............................................................................106 Summary ................................................................................................................107 References..............................................................................................................108 APPENDIX A: PERMISSION TO DISSEMINATE INVITATION – SEIU.......124 APPENDIX B: PERMISSION TO DISSEMINATE INVITATION – CEC ........126 APPENDIX D: INFORMED CONSENT .............................................................131 APPENDIX E: OBTAINING INFORMED CONSENT.......................................135 APPENDIX F: LISTING AND PRELIMINARY GROUPINGS .........................138 APPENDIX G: INDIVIDUAL TEXTUAL DESCRIPTIONS .............................141 APPENDIX H: INDIVIDUAL STRUCTURAL DESCRIPTIONS......................179 APPENDIX I: COMPOSITE DESCRIPTIONS ...................................................196 APPENDIX J: TEXTURAL-STRUCTURAL SYNTHESIS................................205
LIST OF TABLES Table 1 Summary of Literature Reviewed by Search Topic.....................................19 Table 2 Broad Open-ended Queries ........................................................................66 Table 3 Participant’s Age ........................................................................................73 Table 4 Participant’s Years of Experience ..............................................................74 Table 5 Participant’s Educational Preparation ......................................................75 Table 6 Theme 1: Perceptions of Role and Responsibilities for Efficacy Development ............................................................................................................80 Table 7 Theme 2: Perceptions of Organizational Structure Influencing Efficacy...81 Table 8 Theme 3: Perceptions of Relational Structures Influencing Efficacy.........82 Table 9 Theme 4: Perceptions of Job Preparedness ...............................................83 Table 10 Theme 5: Training Topics Influencing Efficacy .......................................85 Table 11 Theme 6: Training Methodology Influencing Efficacy .............................86 Table 12 Theme 7: Training Delivery Models Influencing Efficacy........................87 Table 13 Theme 8: Training Factors Influencing Efficacy......................................88 Table 14 Theme 9: Training Factors Inhibiting Efficacy ........................................89
LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1. Data collection and analysis process........................................................78 Figure 2. Training influences on paraeducator efficacy..........................................96
1 CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION School systems in the United States employ more than 500,000 full and part-time special education paraprofessionals (The National Clearinghouse for Professionals in Special Education (NCPSE), 2005). The primary mechanism for supporting students with disabilities in the general education classroom is the use of paraprofessionals (French, 2003; Broer, Doyle, & Giangreco, 2005). The frequent practice of using unqualified special education paraprofessionals as the primary support for students with disabilities is commonplace (Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young, & Roark, 2004). When reacting to the potential impact, French (2001) stated that the “effects of these circumstances jeopardize the instructional program for the students” (p. 52). The passage of Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) and No Child Left Behind Act of 2001(NCLB) emphasized the importance of student-centered and individualized instruction addressing diverse abilities and learning styles in order to promote access to the standards-based general education curriculum (Keller, Bucholz, & Brady, 2007). Instructing students with disabilities requires the development of a comprehensive and individualized learning plan that identifies and addresses the student’s unique learning needs (Mastroppieri & Scruggs, 2007). Paraprofessionals are an essential component of the instructional team when implementing the individualized learning plan. Initially, paraprofessionals, referred to as instructional aides, were responsible for clerical tasks such as monitoring students during unstructured times, taking attendance, and making copies (Doyle, 2002). However, increased responsibilities mirror the instructional duties of teachers including teaching small groups of students and
2 supporting students with disabilities in general education classes across content areas (Keller, Bucholz, & Brady, 2007). As a result, the term paraprofessional has replaced the job title instructional aide to reflect a position with increased professional expectations. As the paraprofessional’s responsibilities involve more instructional duties, the need for appropriate training to enhance quality job performance is vital. According to Wood (2006), children with special needs require trained professionals to diagnose the educational impact properly, develop and implement interventions, and monitor academic and social progress. Therefore, special education teachers are required to hold dedicated certifications, which indicate specific in-depth content study in the field of disabilities and best pedagogic practices for this unique population (Wood, 2006). Despite rigorous credential requirements to qualify as a special educator, specific required competencies or standardized trainings for special education paraprofessionals are lacking (Bugaj, 2002; French, 2001; Giangreco & Broer, 2005). The perceptions and experiences of special education paraprofessionals are explored in the current study in order to investigate the relationship of training and efficacy. Chapter 1 includes an introduction to the theoretical framework and the study background. Additionally, included in this chapter is a description of the problem statement, the purpose of the research, the nature of the study, and the significance of the study to leadership. Background of the Problem In order to promote access to the general education curriculum and foster social independence, IDEA mandated that instruction for students with disabilities occur in the least restrictive environment (Wood, 2006). Therefore, strategies addressing student
3 supports have dominated the field especially in the area of paraprofessional support within the general education classroom (Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young, & Roark, 2004; Ghere & York-Barr, 2007). The changing role of the paraprofessional include such duties as modifying curriculum, managing behavior, maintaining safety, assessing Individual Education Plan (IEP) goal and objective attainment, and supporting classroom participation. Frequent practices for acquiring the necessary skills to perform these duties include ad-hoc teacher conferences and trial and error (French, 2001; Pickett & Gerlach, 2004; Giangreco & Broer, 2005). The NCLB policy, which requires implementing a standards-based curriculum facilitated by highly qualified teachers, presents challenges in the areas of teacher supply and curricular access. NCLB mandates that school systems provide access to grade appropriate general education curriculum for special education students regardless of the nature and degree of the disability (Wood, 2006). Due to a national shortage of qualified special education teachers, school systems employ untrained paraprofessionals to provide the additional academic instruction with the objective of meeting mandated standards of annual yearly progress (AYP) as measured by statewide testing (Forester & Holbrook, 2005). Bugaj (2002) reported that “teacher aides seldom receive any specific preparation of formal training before they are employed . . . the minimal instruction that aides receive routinely comes from teachers or other paraeducators while on the job” (“Introduction” section, para. 2). French (2001) also highlighted concerns regarding the relationship between minimal paraprofessional training and positive educational practices. An examination of the literature indicated an overwhelming agreement regarding the need
4 for informed special education paraeducator training and standards (Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Ghere & York-Barr, 2007; Forester & Holbrook, 2005; Pickett & Gerlach, 2004). However, there is a lack of research addressing paraprofessional training and perceived efficacy. The utilization of paraprofessionals address several educational challenges such as; legal mandate compliance, addressing the special education teacher shortage, and supporting the inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education classroom. Devlin (2005) emphasized the issues stating that many paraprofessionals in the field “continue to struggle with how to include students with severe disabilities in general education environments” (p. 47). Examining special education paraprofessional training and efficacy from the perspective of the paraprofessional enhances an understanding of needed service delivery improvements within the field of special education. Statement of the Problem The problem is that approximately 70% to 90% of special education paraprofessionals are unqualified, affecting the quality of special education programming and ultimately the academic and social achievement of students with disabilities (Devlin, 2005; U.S. Department of Education, 2007). The specific problem is, in response to legal mandates, an increased practice of assigning paraprofessionals to students with special needs has created a phenomenon where the least qualified personnel are providing support to the most challenging and complicated students (Giangreco & Broer, 2005). The consequence of insufficient special education paraprofessional training is knowledge deficiencies addressing appropriate teaching methodologies (Foster & Holbrook, 2005). This qualitative phenomenological study explored the relationship between training and
5 paraprofessional efficacy investigating specific training content, methods, and delivery strategies influencing efficacy. The data that emerged from the perspectives and the lived experiences of paraprofessionals in Maryland will inform educational leaders regarding specific training methodologies that enhance paraprofessional efficacy in order to address the changing role and responsibilities. Purpose of the Study The purpose of the qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the relationship between training and special education paraprofessional efficacy that emerge from the perceptions and lived experiences of 20 special education paraprofessionals in Maryland. The qualitative phenomenological design allowed the systematic study and discernment of the paraprofessionals’ perceptions that is difficult to observe or measure through statistical means (Wilding & Whiteford, 2005). A phenomenological study addressed the gaps of knowledge by gaining an understanding of the problem through the perceptions and perspectives related to lived experiences (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). The patterns and themes revealed in this study informed the development of effective training programs in order to enhance special education paraprofessional efficacy and ultimately influence student programming. Significance of the Study There has been a steady increase of paraprofessional service in the field of special education. In 2005, paraprofessional employment was one of 20 occupations that made up half of all employment growth (NCPSE, 2005). The demand and need for paraprofessionals continues. It is estimated that one third of all teachers depend on paraeducator assistance (U.S. Department of Education, 2007; NCPSE, 2005). Given the
6 increased demand for special education paraprofessional services, providing educational leadership with an understanding of the paraprofessionals’ perceptions and lived experiences is significant by contributing to the development of effective training content, method, and delivery. Specifically, the current study adds to the research by focusing on the paraprofessionals’ perceptions of the training factors that supported and/or decreased existing efficacy. The literature indicated an extensive need for paraprofessional training and the implications for potential negative influences on children with special needs (Bugaj, 2002; Chopra, Carrol, Sandoval-Lucero, & DeBalderas, 2004; Devlin, 2005; French, 2001; Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young, & Roark, 2004; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Leblanc, Ricciardi, & Luiselli, 2005). Improving paraprofessional efficacy will enhance the students’ acquisition, application, and generalization of rigorous content through the implementation of effective interventions addressing the diverse needs of students with disabilities. Conversely, neglecting to comprehend paraprofessionals’ perceptions pertaining to self-efficacy may lead to dissatisfied school stakeholders, exhausted resources, and significantly less substantial learning opportunities for all students. The uniqueness of this study is the focus on the special education paraprofessionals’ perspective regarding the relationship between training and efficacy. The current study informs the development of transformational instructional practices addressing legal ramifications regarding special education programming and standards-based instruction. Significance of the Study to Leadership Despite NCLB (2001) requirements for all instructional support staff to complete at least two years of higher education, there are no national standards for special
7 education paraprofessional competencies (Giangreco & Broer, 2005). Gaining insight into the relationship between paraprofessional training and efficacy provides the foundation for transformational leadership decisions addressing organizational initiatives and resource allocation in order to develop the capacity of the special education paraprofessional workforce. Giangreco and Broer (2005) posited, “the limited available research base on paraprofessional in special education suggests that such rudimentary steps to support the work of paraprofessionals have been the exception rather than the norm in American schools” (p. 11). When studying special education paraprofessional practices, the lack of skills and knowledge is frequently identified coupled with the need for continued study regarding the scope of paraprofessional training and the identification of job standards (Bugaj, 2002; Chopra, Carroll, Sandoval-Lucero, & DeBalderas, 2004; Devlin, 2005; French, 2001; Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young-Tillery, & Roark, 2004; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Doyle, 2002; Leblanc, Ricciardi, & Luiselli, 2005). Results of this study will inform leaders when determining standardized performance competencies and effective corresponding training for the special education paraprofessional. Transformational leadership engages in problem solving through intellectual challenges and stimulation within a climate that is supportive and empowering (Bass, 1999). Similarly, the role of a special education paraprofessional is to support and empower students with disabilities. Dewey (1933) described education as the “reconstruction of experiences that leads to the direction and control of subsequent experience. Education as a process has no end beyond growth” (p. 98). Educational leaders must continually ensure that the practice of using paraprofessionals to support
8 children with special needs also promote the overall educational goal of providing growth experiences. Nature of the Study The objective of the qualitative phenomenology study was to explore special education paraprofessionals’ perspectives and experiences regarding the relationship between training and efficacy. The qualitative method was appropriate because the data was collected in naturalistic settings revealing emerging patterns and themes driven by the research question (Creswell, 2006; Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006). Phenomenology regards perception as a primary source of information (Moustakas, 1994) and determines reality as is “subjectively experienced by individuals” (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005, p. 325). The perceptions and lived experiences of special education paraprofessionals were primarily used for analysis in this study. Maxwell (2005) stated, “the strengths of qualitative research derive primarily from its inductive approach, its focus on specific situations or people, it its emphasis on words rather than numbers” (p. 22). Quantitative research was considered and rejected because quantitative method is used to describe the relationship or correlation between variables (Creswell, 2006). The nature of the problem in this study required understanding the why and how behind the phenomenon, rather than a statistical measurement of two variables associated with a particular behavior. According to Leedy and Ormond (2005), qualitative research is typically used “to answer questions about the complex nature of phenomena, often with the purpose of describing and understanding the phenomena from the participants’ point of view” (p. 101).
9 The modified van Kaam method of analysis by Moustakas (1994) was appropriate to facilitate the study’s goals because the process isolated and determined the meaning of the participants’ experiences and perceptions of the phenomenon. The modified van Kaam method employs a systematic analysis to derive universal meaning from individual descriptions revealing “the essences or structures of the experience” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 13). The current study involved exploring a small number of special education paraprofessionals to discover themes and develop relationships of meaning. Research Questions The purpose of the phenomenological study was to explore the relationship between training and special education paraprofessional efficacy that emerge from the perceptions and lived experiences of special education paraprofessionals in Maryland. All participants were required to have at least three years of classroom experience so that they were familiar with the role. The research question supported the purpose of the study in order to explore the perceived relationship between training and efficacy. The qualitative phenomenological study investigated the following emerging research question: RQ1. What are the perceptions and lived experiences of special education paraprofessionals regarding training and efficacy? The research question was open-ended and non-directional in order to obtain the lived experiences of the adult participants and encourage identification of alternative perspectives. Leedy and Ormrod (2005) stated, “qualitative researchers construct interpretive narratives from their data and try to capture the complexity of the
10 phenomenon under study” (p. 103). This approach may expose more questions than it answers thus forming a basis for future research (Creswell, 2006). Theoretical Framework Social cognitive theory relating to efficacy and adult learning theory conceptualized the theoretical framework for the study. Each of the theories addressed different dimensions of human behavior relating to understanding the relationship between training and efficacy. Social cognitive theory examined the interactions between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences on human behavior (Bandura, 1997). Self-efficacy is a key construct to social cognitive theory and is highly correlated with achievement (Bandura, 1997; McCormick, Ayres, & Beechey, 2006). Adult learning theory provided a foundational understanding of the adult learner needs facilitating exploration of effective training components (Knowles, 1984). A holistic systems approach was utilized when exploring the training needs that influenced efficacy. Senge (1990) posited that organizational failure was typically due to a weak link within the organizational system. Leadership requires “a shift of mind from seeing parts to seeing wholes, from seeing people as helpless reactors to seeing them as active participants in shaping their reality, from reacting to the present to create the future” (Senge, 1990, p. 69). Special education paraprofessionals are one part that comprises the whole of the educational organization. Therefore, integrating systems theory as a leadership framework with social cognitive and adult learning theory was fitting as the findings of this study contributed to the functioning of the larger educational organization.
11 Social Cognitive Theory Bandura’s (1997) social cognitive theory of efficacy was instrumental to the theoretical framework of this study. Self-efficacy relates to the people’s belief that they are capable of an action (Bandura, 1997). Expanding on the concept of efficacy, Almudever, Croity-Belz, and Hajjar, (2007) found a relationship between teacher efficacy and performance. Teacher efficacy is described as the teacher’s belief in the capacity to influence student achievement (Almudever, Croity-Belz, & Hajjar, 2007). Generalizing this definition to special education paraprofessionals, paraprofessional efficacy is the paraeducator’s belief in the capacity to support the achievement of students with disabilities. The way people perceive themselves can affect the way they act as beliefs drive decision patterns. According to Welch (1995), a key component of self-perception influencing an individual’s conduct is self-efficacy. Therefore, considering self-efficacy beliefs was essential when examining motivation, self-directed learning, and performance (Pajares & Urdan, 2005). Bandura (1997) indicated that self-efficacy relates to the individuals’ judgments of their capabilities to organize and implement a course of action required to achieve designated types of performance. If training empowers special education paraprofessionals to believe in their capabilities to perform, or elevated selfefficacy, the results could extend beyond attitudes to increase action and effectiveness when supporting children with disabilities. Adult Learning Theory Professional development programs that promote continuous learning incorporate principles of adult learning into the instructional training design. Specifically, instruction
12 should be relevant to the learner’s experiences or concerns as well as have immediate application to the adult learner (Gordon, 2004). Adult learners seek a collaborative environment where risk-taking and innovation is valued, facilitating opportunities to share and build networks (Ellinger, 2004; Knowles, 1984). Implementing collaborative strategies prescribed within learning organizations support the development of all stakeholders. DuFour and Eaker (1998) emphasized that learning communities construct knowledge through interpersonal interaction. Adult learners demonstrate an awareness of learning preferences and seek opportunities that support personal learning approaches (Ellinger, 2004; Gordon, 2004). An understanding of learning preferences and style allows the adult learner to be actively responsible for choosing what to learn, how to learn, and the pacing of the learning (Yazici, 2005). Adult learners benefit from opportunities to enhance knowledge through new ways of learning (Gordon, 2004; Knowles, 1984). Therefore, the relevancy of professional development is determined by the perception of the self-directed adult learner (Gordon, 2004; Knowles, 1984). Understanding the perceived relationship between paraprofessional training and efficacy is essential for determining effective training practices supported by principles of adult learning theory. Definition of Terms For the purpose of clarity, the study used the following definitions throughout the research process: Effective: For the purposes of the current study, effective is defined as learning, that elicits improved practice, as reflective in paraprofessional’s perception of classroom applicability (Devlin, 2005).
13 Efficacy: Self-efficacy is the “beliefs in one’s own capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (Bandura, 1997, p. 3). Inherent in Bandura’s (1997) definition is an individual’s beliefs about one’s abilities to take action to change a situation, because “if people believe they have no power to produce results, they will not attempt to make things happen” (p. 3) Job Performance: Job performance is the focused and determined activity that harnesses the capabilities of the individual in achieving a degree of some end (Csoka, 1995). Paraprofessional/Paraeducator: For the purposes of the current study, paraprofessional is defined as dictated in the Individual with Disability Act (IDEA 2004), which emphasizes learner-centered instruction. Therefore, the paraprofessional’s role and responsibilities include supporting instructional tasks in general education content and IEP specific content as well as clerical and student monitoring duties. The terms paraprofessional and paraeducator will be used interchangeably. Training: For the purposes of the current study, training referred to those learning processes that improve the job-related knowledge, skills, or attributes of school employees (Hannon, 2008). Assumptions Ellinger (2004) challenged organizations to “harness adult learners’ propensity to be self-directed learners and not create barriers that prevent or discourage it” (p. 167). A primary assumption was that the individuals who participated in this study were interested in pursuing professional growth. Each participant possessed a self-awareness of personal learning needs and strengths approaching the opportunity for training
14 experiences with diligence and commitment. Therefore, the participants were interested in participating in the study and contributing their knowledge of the phenomenon. Individual’s self-perceptions of efficacy levels may deviate from actuality (Neuman, 2005). It was assumed that the chosen approach of phenomenological study would yield rich and accurate results enabling leaders to expand and improve paraprofessional job performance. Given the voluntary nature and assurance of anonymity and confidentiality, additional assumptions were that all participants responded to the interview questions with integrity and that the participants represented the diversity of the selected geographic area through the use of non-random sampling to obtain the study population. Scope of the Study The scope of a research study establishes the boundaries the researcher has determined for the study (Simon, 2006). The study explored the perceptions and lived experiences of a purposive sample of special education paraprofessionals in Maryland. The paraprofessionals achieved at least three years of classroom experience and were employed as a special education paraprofessional at the time of the study. The qualitative phenomenological study used a modified van Kaam method of analysis by Moustakas (1994) with conversational, recorded, and transcribed interviews. Interviews are appropriate when investigating the inner experience (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005). The intent of the interviews was to explore the perceptions and lived experiences of special education paraprofessionals surrounding the relational phenomenon of training and paraprofessional efficacy. Transcribed data were analyzed using NVivo 8.0 (2008) software in order to identify consistent patterns and trends until reaching saturation.
15 Limitations The limitations identify the potential weakness of the study that cannot be completely controlled (Simon, 2006). Three limitations were anticipated. The limitations included: (a) the Maryland district may not accurately reflect generalized national results, (b) the paraprofessionals’ varying experiential levels may affect accurate data collection, and (c) training opportunity limitations may influence long-term change. The Maryland District The study was conducted in Montgomery County, Maryland. Interview data were collected from paraprofessionals across the district representing demographic diversity and varying levels of paraprofessional experiences in order to replicate the national population. However, the diversity of demographics and experiences are influenced by the educational demands of the region and are not necessarily reflective of the unique regional needs across the nation. Paraprofessional Varying Experiential Levels Paraprofessional shortages and attrition “are attributed to low wages, limited opportunities for advancement, and lack of supervisory support” (Causton-Theoharis, Giangreco, Doyle, & Vadasy, 2007, p. 56). The current study was limited by the compromising effect of paraprofessional turnover and experiential levels. The collection of demographic data, which included years of service and level of education, was used to identify this limitation. Further, the voluntary requirement for participation necessitates the consideration that study participation is potentially limited to paraeducators with strong feelings on the issue.
16 Training Opportunities Limitations The modest number of training opportunities in the district limited the study. Ghere and York-Barr (2007) emphasized the need for paraprofessional training to be an ongoing process. Therefore, exposure to limited training opportunities needs to be considered when assessing immediate or long-term change and the ability to generalize the results. Delimitations Delimitations are used to narrow the scope of the study by indicating what is not included in the study (Creswell, 2006). The study was confined to paraprofessionals who are over the age of 18 with at least three years of classroom experience. Sampling was limited to paraprofessionals working in Maryland. Sampling selection method was nonrandom, based on the participant’s homogeneous lived experiences, convenience, and availability (Simon, 2006). Maxwell (2005) stated, “qualitative researchers typically study a relatively small number of individuals or situations, and preserve the individuality of each of these in their analysis” (p. 22). The study included the affective perceptions and experiences of 20 special education paraprofessionals. According to Patton (2002), in qualitative research the researcher is the instrument. Credibility depends on the researcher’s ability to document systematically and apply proper interviewing methods. Qualitative research requires the researcher to understand the philosophical perspective behind the phenomenological approach and develop interview questions that mitigate any preconceived ideas while investigating the meaning of lived experiences of the participants.
17 Summary In response to legislative mandates, unqualified special education paraprofessionals are increasingly responsible for supporting the instruction of students with disabilities (Ghere & York-Barr, 2007). The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the relationship between training and special education paraprofessional efficacy that emerged from the perceptions and lived experiences of 20 special education paraprofessionals in Maryland. In-depth interviews were the primary data collection. The seven steps of the modified van Kaam method of analysis of phenomenological data guided the study (Moustakas, 1994). The research makes a significant contribution to educational leadership regarding special education paraprofessional competencies and effective training. The purpose of the literature review was to consider how the meaning of the perceived relationship between paraprofessional training and efficacy connects to the literature in the field. Gaining an understanding of the paraprofessionals’ perceptions and lived experiences regarding the relationship between training and efficacy commenced with a thorough literature review. The literature review addressed the evolution of special education influencing the role of paraprofessionals, self-efficacy theory, adult learning theory, and paraprofessional development models and initiatives. Comparative theoretical perspectives within the existing literature are reported in chapter 2 as well as the identification of gaps of knowledge.
18 CHAPTER 2: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE Due to legislative acts, special education paraprofessionals are required to take an increasingly prominent role in the instruction of students with disabilities (Ghere & YorkBarr, 2007). However, a lack of national standards, job competencies, and required participation in special education training has created the phenomenon of unqualified personnel providing instruction to the most complex and demanding students (Bugaj, 2002; Chopra, Carroll, Sandoval-Lucero, & DeBalderas, 2004; Devlin, 2005; French, 2001; Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young-Tillery, & Roark, 2004; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Leblanc, Ricciardi, & Luiselli, 2005). The qualitative phenomenological study explored the relationship between training and special education paraprofessional efficacy that emerge from the perceptions and lived experiences of special education paraprofessionals in Maryland. The purpose of the literature review in chapter 2 is to consider the connections revealed in the literature in order to enhance an understanding of paraprofessional training and efficacy. The literature review highlighted research pertaining to the evolution of the role of paraprofessional from a historical perspective, self-efficacy theory, adult learning theory, and paraprofessional development theories and models. Included in chapter 2 is a discussion comparing theoretical perspectives and the identification of gaps of knowledge. Title Search, Articles, Research Documents, and Journals Researched The primary objective of the literature review was to establish credence to the research problem by revealing historical information, theories, and gaps in knowledge of the paraprofessional role and responsibilities, paraprofessional development, and self-
19 efficacy. As a vital component of the dissertation, the literature review summarized research regarding the identified problem, provided a logical flow of information for readability and organization, and established a need for the continued study (Cone & Foster, 2005; Creswell, 2006). Information was gathered from major article databases such as ProQuest, EBSCOhost, Thomson Gale Power Search database, the online ProQuest dissertation and thesis library, and various professional educational organization WebPages and publications. In addition, the selection of relevant information from peer-reviewed articles and books were reviewed and summarized. Keywords used for the preliminary literature search included: paraprofessional, paraeducator, special education, students with disabilities, teacher assistants; training; professional development; adult learning; change; paraprofessional competencies, paraprofessional job standards, self-efficacy, special education law, and special education history. Although not all the literature searched was applicable to the research study, Table 1 represents a summation of the literature categories searched. Table 1 Summary of Literature Reviewed by Search Topic Search Topics Peerreviewed Articles History and Litigation 3 7 8 18 Books and Dissertations WebPages Total
20 Table 1 (continued) Paraprofessional roles and responsibilities Self-efficacy Theories Paraprofessional Training Professional Development Models/Theories Paraprofessional Competencies Leadership Phenomenological Approach Qualitative Method Total 66 Gaps in the Literature An examination of the research reveals a paucity of literature that addresses the lived experiences and perceptions of special education paraprofessionals regarding specific training. Articles and research reviewed through a literature search primarily addresses the employment of special education paraprofessionals and the identification of 8 39 20 8 139 5 5 5 5 1 6 7 15 9 24 15 1 16 13 7 3 23 25 5 3 33
21 training needs. In response to the reauthorization of the Individual with Disability Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) aligning policies with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the roles and responsibilities of special education paraprofessionals are evolving producing a gap in the literature regarding paraprofessional utilization and training (French & Chopra, 2004; Giangreco & Broer, 2005). The literature review indicated a pause in the research addressing special education paraeducator reforms immediately after the implementation of NCLB (Bugaj, 2002; French, 2003; Giangreco, & Broer, 2002; Pickett, 2002). Special education paraprofessionals’ responsibilities were undefined and inconsistent indicating a need for further research regarding paraprofessional utilization, training, and the impact of paraprofessional roles on students with special needs (Bugaj, 2002; French, 2003; Giangreco, & Broer, 2002; Pickett, 2002). Research waned until the reauthorization of IDEA and the increased reliance on paraprofessionals to support students with disabilities in the general education classroom (Chopra, Carrol, Sandoval-Lucero, & DeBalderas, 2004; Devlin, 2005; Forster & Holbrook, 2005; Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young, & Roark, 2004; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Leblanc, Ricciardi, & Luiselli, 2005). Limited studies conducted in 2006 and 2007 focused on the lack of training and competency standards (Causton-Theoharris & Malmgren, 2007; Council for Exceptional Children, 2006; Giangreco & Broer, 2007; Keller, Bucholz, & Brady, 2007). Due to the recent and ongoing changes in legislation and special education practices influencing the employment of paraprofessionals, comprehensive research addressing the phenomenon is sporadic and minimal establishing a need for continued research.
22 Historical Overview Programs serving students with disabilities are the single largest employer of paraeducators (French, 2003). The number of paraeducators employed in U.S. schools has significantly increased during the 1990s. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES, 2000), paraprofessional employment growth average in the public school system has increased by 48%, with a dramatic increase in the western states such as Idaho, reporting a 94% increase. Comparatively, during the same time students with special needs increased by 13% and teacher employment growth only increased by 18%. This vital shift in special education service delivery is in response to evolving legal mandates and litigious interpretations intent on providing equal educational access and non-discriminatory practices (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007). The quest for equal educational opportunities for all children is the fundamental concept driving legislation addressing accommodating individuals with exceptionalities. Defining equal educational opportunities extends beyond opening the schoolhouse door as mandated in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) to laws and policies that prevent exclusionary practices such as; the Individual with Disability Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Although the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution implies that the provision of education is the business of the states, federal laws guarantee the educational rights of individuals with exceptionalities. Encouraged by premises derived through the interpretation of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), establishing the rights of all children to an equal opportunity to
23 education, advocates for individuals with disabilities called for desegregated practices (LaMorte, 2005). Paralleling the separate is not equal ruling, advocates alleged that children with disabilities were being excluded from public schools and denied equal protection and due process rights (Wood, 2006). In 1972, two landmark decisions, Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Pennsylvania (1972) and Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia (1972), changed educational practices for children with disabilities, (Alexander & Alexander, 2005). An outcome of Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Pennsylvania (1972) was a consent agreement indicating that children with mental retardation should be provided equal opportunities to a: free public program of education and training appropriate to the child’s capacity . . . placement in a regular public school class is preferable to placement in a special public school class and placement in a special public school class is preferable to placement in any other type of program of education and training. (Alexander & Alexander, 2005, p. 486) The decision in Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia (1972) extended this doctrine to all school age children with disabilities and emphasized that the district’s interest in “educating the excluded children must outweigh its interest in preserving its financial resources” (Alexander & Alexander, 2005, p. 489). Several parent advocacy groups rallied calling for reforms in special education, which were reflective of court rulings leading to the Congressional passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, prohibiting discrimination against persons with a disability receiving federal funds. In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All
24 Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142) a comprehensive act ensuring children with disabilities basic educational rights (Essex, 2005). This landmark legislation provided for: (a) a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), (b) an individualized education program (IEP), (c) special education services, (d) related services, (e) due process procedures, and (f) services provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE) (Alexander & Alexander, 2005). While mandating FAPE, Congress did not specify what constitutes a free appropriate public education resulting in a major litigation focus between school districts and parents of children with disabilities seeking parameters of appropriate education. The Supreme Court in Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley (1982) ruled that FAPE consists of “educational instruction specially designed to meet the unique needs of the handicapped child, supported by such services as are necessary to permit the child to benefit from the instruction” (LaMorte, 2005, p. 330). Furthermore, the court ruled that the primary responsibility for formulating the education and choosing educational methods most suitable was left by PL 94.142 to the state and local educational agency in cooperation with the parents (Alexander & Alexander, 2005). Litigation challenging the substantive intent of the term “benefit” as well as defining the nature of “specialized services” continued across the nation guided by rulings in several landmark cases. For example, Irving Independence School District v. Tatro (1984) clarified the definition of related services as a service necessary to allow a student to stay in school. The decision in Timothy W. v. Rochester School District (1989) preserved the rights of a student with a disability to a public education regardless of the severity of the disability. Inclusive of this right to a public education are students whose
25 behavior is a manifestation of their disability as ruled in Honig v. Doe (1988). In addition, when an appropriate education is not provided by the public schools, they are required to pay for a private school placement as ruled in Burlington School Committee v. Department of Education of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1984). These landmark cases served to clarify practices and resulted in the passage of new legislation. In 1990, PL 94-142 was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1990 (IDEA) with the addition of substantive changes such as provisions for transition services, changes in terminology from handicapped children to children with disabilities, and the inclusion of two disabling conditions, traumatic brain injury and autism. That same year, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) that extended antidiscrimination protections similar to Section 504 protections in public institutions to private sector areas, including “employment, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications” (LaMorte, 2005, p. 324). IDEA has been reauthorized several times in response to significant court rulings. For example, in 1997, reauthorization addressed three major issues: the escalating costs regarding lawyers’ fees and private school placements, discipline, and inclusion (Smith, Polloway, Patton, & Dowdy, 2006). The reauthorization clarified inclusion and the least restrictive environment as defined in Doe v. Withers (1993) requiring teachers to implement accommodations specified in the IEP and Oberti v. Board of education of Clementon School District (1993) clarifying the mainstreaming requirement in IDEA (Alexander & Alexander, 2005). The reauthorization of IDEA retained support for a continuum of services while encouraging participation in general education assessments
26 and curriculum with the implementation of supplementary aids and supports specified in the students IEP (Smith, Polloway, Patton, & Dowdy, 2006). The primary intent of the reauthorization in 2004 was to align IDEA with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) emphasizing accountability and researched teaching methods. The reauthorization changed the intent of specialized instruction from promoting access to general education curriculum to standardizing outcomes for all students underscoring the need for individualized instruction (French, 2003). Similarly, NCLB shifted instructional methodologies for at risk students in order to standardized learning opportunities and accountability by requiring districts to report the annual yearly progress of all students, including special education students (Griffin-Shirley & Matlock, 2004). In addition, NCLB outlines significant changes to teacher certification requirements and paraeducator credential requirements (Werts, Culatta, & Tompkins, 2007). The Effect of Legislation on Paraprofessionals The least restrictive environment provision described in IDEA, required students with disabilities to receive specialized services in the general education classroom as much as possible. In order to provide effective instruction, supplementary aides and services are delineated in the students Individual Education Plan (IEP) (Smith, Polloway, Patton, & Dowdy, 2006). Paraprofessional support is one of the possible supplementary aides and services specifically mentioned in the law. To assure access to general education curriculum, paraprofessionals were required to provide individualized student supports under the direction of qualified teachers in both the general education and special education (Wood, 2006). According to French (2003), school stakeholders
27 “believe that the inclusion of students with disabilities is more acceptable when the child is accompanied by a paraeducator and that paraeducators are a necessary component of inclusion” (p. 2). A persistent national shortage of special education teachers is well-documented (American Association of Employment in Education, 1999; Study of Personnel needs in Special Education, (SPeNSE), 2002; White, 2004). Due to the rigorous highly qualified teacher certification requirements outlined in NCLB, the special education teacher candidate pool has been minimized necessitating an increased employment of special education paraeducators in order to stretch and optimize the professional workforce (Giangreco & Broer, 2002). Paraprofessional roles remain unclear as responsibilities expand to include teacher-type activities such as planning and modifying curriculum and instruction. The increased practice of assigning untrained paraprofessionals to support students with special needs has resulted in a phenomenon where the least qualified personnel is providing supports to the most challenging and complicated students (Giangreco & Broer, 2005). Paraprofessional Role and Responsibilities The literature persistently establishes a vital reliance on paraprofessionals for school functioning when addressing the needs of students with special needs (Ayers & Kenyon, 2003; French, 2001; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; White, 2004). However, due to changes in legislation and specific student needs in inclusive settings, consistent and clear role and responsibility definitions are deficient (Doyle, 2002). Giangreco and Broer (2002) stated, “current research suggests that the roles of paraprofessionals have steadily
28 expanded to include teacher-type activities, (e.g., planning, modifying curriculum, instructing) yet their roles remain unclear” (p. 1). As mandated by IDEA (2004) and NCLB (2001) to be under the direction of qualified professionals and receive appropriate training, paraprofessionals serve a variety of roles. Paraprofessionals assist with recording keeping, perform clerical duties, and prepare instructional materials in order to facilitate additional instructional time for the teacher (Burns, 2003; Gerlach, 2008; Pickett, 2002). In addition, paraprofessionals provide reinforcement instruction such as re-teaching, small group instruction, or one-toone tutoring (Burns, 2003; Gerlach, 2008). Responsibilities also include enhancing participation in classroom activities by supporting social interactions, implementing and monitoring behavior support plans, and providing social scripts (Doyle, 2002; French, 2003; Yuan, McKenzie, Cameron, & Fialka, 2005). Further, paraprofessionals provide assistance with personal care (i.e. eating, dressing, toileting, mobility) fostering independence (Burns, 2003; Carroll, 2001; Harkness, 2002; Pickett, 2002). Most important, paraprofessionals serve as a role model for all students (Gerlach, 2008). Paraprofessionals and those who work closely with paraprofessionals report that role overload and role conflict tend to be the norm rather than the exception (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). The U. S. Department of Education (1999) stated: Although paraeducators have been increasingly used to provide instruction and other direct services to students, their job descriptions often do not reflect this. The delineation of the roles of paraeducators needs to come from at least two sources. First, state and local agencies need to provide standards and guidelines.
29 Second, roles need to be defined depending upon the needs of the students and teachers in specific classrooms and schools. (p. 13) Several studies attempted to delineate paraprofessional roles and responsibilities by interviewing various school-based stakeholders (Broer, Doyle, & Giangreco, 2005; Chopra, Sandoval-Lucero, Avagon, Bernal, DeBalderas, & Carroll, 2004; Downing, Ryndak, & Clark, 2000; French & Chopra, 2004; Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young-Tillery, & Roark, 2004; Griffin-Shirley & Matlock, 2004; Riggs & Mueller, 2001). The studies analyzed differing perspectives yielding valuable considerations regarding role perceptions. Paraprofessionals reported that 50% to 75% of their time was spent providing direct academic instruction (Riggs & Mueller, 2001). Current Findings Giangreco and Broer (2005) conducted a quantitative study regarding paraprofessional utilization and preparation. Data was collected from 737 respondents, including 367 general education teachers, 153 special education paraprofessionals, 123 parents, 62 special educators, and 32 school administrators. The data indicated that nearly 53% of the paraprofessionals reported providing most of the instruction to students with disabilities rather than instruction being provided by special or general education teachers. Nearly 70% reported functioning at a high level of autonomy, determining curricular and instructional decisions without supervision or guidance. Downing, Ryndak, and Clark (2000) interviewed 19 paraprofessionals who described a diverse range of duties. The responsibilities closely paralleled the special educator role including clerical tasks, student personal care, adapting and modifying curricula, materials, or activities, providing behavioral supports, parent communication,
30 and Individual Education Plan (IEP) development. In addition, Downing, Ryndak, and Clark (2000) outlined paraprofessional concerns regarding the level of responsibility and the lack of adequate training or preparation. Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young-Tillery, and Roark (2004) interviewed 28 parents of students with disabilities regarding their perception of the role of the paraprofessional. The majority of the parents indicated that the primary duty of the paraprofessional was to provide academic support and facilitate participation within an inclusive setting. The parents interviewed indicated that opportunities for inclusion were enhanced with the utilization of a dedicated paraprofessional. Parents of students with severe disabilities reported that paraprofessionals were more frequently the home-school contact, rather than the teacher (Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young-Tillery, and Roark, 2004). Griffin-Shirley and Matlock (2004) surveyed teachers and paraprofessionals who work specifically with students with visual impairments. Paraprofessional responsibilities included assisting teachers with instruction, material preparation, providing individualized support to a specific child, job coaching, and assisting with rehabilitation. The data indicated that 86% of the paraprofessionals reported that they had not received any formal training. Griffin-Shirley and Matlock concluded that the paraprofessionals that responded to the study required training in the functional implications of visual diseases and developmental skills of children with visual impairments. Chopra, Carroll, Sandoval-Lucero, and DeBalderas (2004), surveyed 49 paraeducators to determine their role in connecting school and community. The study indicated that paraprofessionals were more accessible to students compared to other school personnel. Paraprofessionals reported that they were often the contact person for
31 parents and indicated that they had a deeper understanding of the children and parents than other school employees did. The paraprofessionals reported that they frequently acted as links between parents and teachers. Paraprofessionals indicated that the lack of training hindered their role as connector. Boer, Doyle, and Giangreco (2005) interviewed 16 secondary students about their experiences with paraprofessional supports while attending general education classes. The study participants revealed that the paraprofessional rather than the classroom teacher functioned as their primary teacher. The majority of the students reported that receiving support from the paraprofessional while in the classroom was isolating and stigmatizing, which resulted in embarrassment. Boer, Doyle, and Giangreco recommended that school leadership initiate dialogues regarding teacher involvement for students with disabilities in order to promote inclusive practices. Paraprofessional Job Performance Competencies According to the U. S. Department of Education (1997), employment guidelines and credentialing practices vary widely across individual districts and states. However, most of the guidelines simply call for minimal legal educational requirements, which were not tied to specific competencies or standards. In 2003-2004, of all schools in districts that hired instructional paraprofessionals, 93% required a high school diploma or equivalent; 39% required at least 2 years of college; 18% required an associate’s or higher degree; and 37% required the passage of a state or local test (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007). NCLB (2001) required paraprofessionals to meet at least one of the following criteria: (a) completion of at least two years of study at an institution of higher education;
32 (b) obtainment of an associate’s (or higher) degree; or (c) demonstration of, through a formal state or local assessment, the knowledge of and ability to assist in the instruction of reading, math, and writing. Additionally, special education paraprofessionals should not provide direct instruction to students with disabilities unless supervised by a fully qualified teacher and has demonstrated the ability to effectively provide reading, writing, or math instruction. Each local education agency is required to verify in writing if the requirements in each school were met in order to assure compliance (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Riggs and Mueller (2001) interviewed 23 paraprofessionals to investigate the degree of job competency communication. The study revealed that 47% of paraprofessionals interviewed indicated that they had not been provided written job standards. The majority of states and local agencies do not have laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines that promote appropriate utilization of paraprofessionals. Picket, Gerlach, Morgan, Likins, and Wallace (2007) emphasized that despite the increasing instructional role, most state departments and local agencies have not set employment standards that reflect the changing role of the paraeducator. When standards are established for NCLB compliance, they are typically decided without input from paraeducators or teachers (Pickett, Gerlach, Morgan, Likins, & Wallace, 2007). Paraprofessional bargaining units encourage work-related professional development, promote legislation regarding credentialing standards, establish career ladders, clarify roles and responsibilities, and provide information to the public about paraprofessionals. Approximately 100,000 paraprofessionals belong to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) affiliates. The National Education Association (NEA)
33 affiliates paraprofessional membership is approximately 120,000 (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). In 2006, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) in collaboration with the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals (NRCP) proposed standards for special education paraprofessionals. The standards included knowledge and skills paraeducators need as part of an instructional team to deliver supports to students with exceptionalities (Council for Exceptional Children, 2006). In addition, standards for the preparation of special educators to supervise and support paraeducators were developed. The paraeducator standards addressed various aspects of pedagogy and provided training guidelines addressing the skills paraeducators should master in order to be effective (Council for Exceptional Children, 2006). Self-Efficacy Theory Bandura (1997) defined self-efficacy as “one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (p. 3). Therefore, an individual’s behavior is influenced and directed by the beliefs held about their abilities to achieve rather than the actual skills and competencies. Self-efficacy beliefs establish the paraprofessional’s actions regarding the use of their knowledge and skills. Bandura (1997) suggested that without an adequate level of self-efficacy, performance may be hindered or even avoided, even if the person knows what to do and how it should be done. Therefore, one’s efficacy beliefs are strong predictors of behavior influencing action selection, the effort exerted toward the action, and the degree of perseverance displayed toward the action (Bandura, 1997). The extent that paraprofessionals benefit from specific training is dependent on the development of self-efficacy.
34 The concept of self-efficacy has been examined across a broad range of fields, including business, athletics, medicine, and education (Pajares, 2002). According to Manz (1992), self-efficacy judgments determine one’s ability to contend effectively with the world, and that one’s perceptions regarding their ability to manage challenges affected performance. Manz (1992) described how anxiety and stress created by lower self-efficacy impacts the quality of individual performance. Conversely, Gardner and Pierce (1998) stated that, “high self-efficacious employees believe that they are likely to be successful at most of all of their job duties and responsibilities” (p. 3). Self-efficacy information is not judgments of competency but rather the outcomes of events that supply the information on which judgments are based. The selection, interpretation, and recollection of information influence judgments of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986). Evolution of Self-Efficacy Theory Bandura’s social cognitive theory originated as the social learning theory, which described learning as an active process where the learner constructs knowledge influenced by social networks and structures (Pajares, 2002). Learning is internally constructed based on prior experiences and shaped by social interactions where the individual adjusts his or her learning to accommodate new experiences (Bandura, 1977). Bandura’s social cognitive theory maintained that learning is the result of continuous interaction between cognition, social experiences, and behaviors. Mental models are continuously shaped through imitating the behavior of others. Bandura (1977) introduced self-efficacy to explain the motivational force behind ones actions, which became the foundation for the social cognitive theory. Bandura postulated that individuals possess an inner system that facilitates control over one’s
35 thoughts, motivations, feelings, and actions. Self-efficacy augmented the social learning theory by acknowledging cognitive, vicarious, self-regulatory, and self-reflective processes as vital to adaptability and change. Learning is a result of continuous interactions between the individual’s personal system and external sources of influence (Bandura, 1986; Pajares, 2002). According to Maddux (1995), Bandura refined the concept of self-efficacy from “people’s beliefs about their capabilities to exercise control over events that affect their lives” (p. 7) to “people’s beliefs in their capabilities to mobilize the motivation, cognitive resources, and courses of action needed to exercise control over task demands” (p. 7). Bandura (1991) argued that many authors’ perceptions regarding changes in self-efficacy were misguided. Although Bandura acknowledged theory evolution, the foundation of the definition and measurement of self-efficacy had remained consistent. Bandura (1991) summarized the evolution of the theory as “perceived capabilities to exercise control over one’s own thought processes and affective states, to the self-regulation of goal-directed pursuits and impulsive and additive behavior, to the exercise of control over social environments, and to collective efficacy” (p. 3). Alternative Viewpoints to Bandura’s Theory Despite Bandura’s (1991) position that the definition of self-efficacy had remained unchanged, a review of the literature revealed alternative viewpoints and understandings. Exploring various interpretations and opinions served to eliminate confusion regarding the scope of self-efficacy. Examining related terms and constructs substantiated the exploration of efficacy when determining themes regarding the perceived relationship between paraprofessional training and self-efficacy.
36 Gardner and Pierce (1998) stated that Bandura’s definition of self-efficacy was limited as it reflected “an individual’s momentary belief in his or her capability to perform a specific task at a specific level of performance” (p. 3). Gardner and Pierce highlighted self-concept as a valid predictor of performance rather than general selfefficacy. Self-concept or self-esteem contrasts from self-efficacy, as self-concept is one’s perception of their own competence and self-worth, and self-efficacy relates to one’s belief about their ability to actively pursue an undertaking (Gardner & Pierce, 1998). Bandura (1997) stated that to do well in given pursuits requires more than high self-esteem. Self-esteem does not influence goals or performance inherent in the definition of self-efficacy. Parker (2000) distinguished self-esteem and self-efficacy, defining self-esteem as a constant attribute, while self-efficacy is responsive to change. Pajares (2002) defines self-efficacy as “a context-specific assessment of competence to perform a specific task” while describing self-esteem to include “the feelings of selfworth associated with the behaviors in question” (p. 14). A comprehensive examination of self-efficacy includes the consideration of selfreflection. Dewey (1933) emphasized the need for educators to be self-reflective in order to evaluate individual experiences. Gardner and Pierce (1998) accentuated the need for self-reflection as fundamental in “determining the initial decision to perform a task, the amount of effort that gets expended, and the level of persistence that emerges in the face of adversity” (p. 3). Bandura (2000) described self-reflection as a “vital personal resource” regarding ones potential to determine the course of action necessary for future management (p. 79). Saphier and Gower (1997) aligned this practice, referred to as “selfstudy,” with educators by encouraging self-processing to be analytical rather than
37 judgmental (p. 564). Anderson and Anderson (2001) expanded the act of reflection to a “way of being” labeling this practice as “self-mastery” (p. 88). Self-reflection, inherent in the concept of self-efficacy, is a precursor to related performance (Anderson & Anderson, 2001; Bandura, 2000; Dewey, 1933; Gardner & Pierce, 1998; Saphier & Gower, 1997). Self–Efficacy and Paraprofessional Role Change Several researchers indicated an increased practice of utilizing under-prepared paraprofessionals to instruct students with disabilities in response to standards-based mandates outlined in NCLB (Bugaj, 2002; Chopra, Carroll, Sandoval-Lucero, & DeBalderas, 2004; Devlin, 2005; French, 2001; Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young-Tillery, & Roark, 2004; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Leblanc, Ricciardi, & Luiselli, 2005). Sergiovanni (2004) stated, Instead of standards and accountability being derived from the needs, purposes, and interests of parents, teachers, and students in each school, the standards and accountability systems determine what the needs, purposes, and interests are, and scripts the behavior of teachers and students accordingly. (p. 88) Anderson and Anderson (2001) indicated that reactionary practices tend to have a narrow focus, which is problem oriented rather than forward thinking. Relationships with an organization must be formed in order to allow the individual to move forward in the change process (Fullan, 2001). Required organizational changes begin with acknowledging restricting mindsets coupled with supports that refocus special education paraprofessional responsibilities in order to unify student needs with the paraprofessional’s expertise (Doyle, 2002; Fullan, 2001; Giangreco & Broer, 2002).
38 Fullan (2001) characterized the change process as a “wildness” which “lies in wait” (p. xi). The goal of effective change is to align innovations with change forces. Reforms designed to optimize the role of paraprofessionals must consider political mandates, psychological needs of students and school staff, and organizational structural supports (Gerlach, 2008; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Kezar, 2001). Paraprofessional role change facilitated through learning organizations, study groups, continuous staff development, and structured dialogues connect individual learning to organizational values achieving consensus and change adoption (Kezar, 2001; Senge, 1990). Bandura (1997) considered positive efficacy development as key to learning and changing. Self-efficacy has consistently been connected as the best predictor of achievement (Bandura, 1997; McCormick & McPherson, 2003). Therefore, paraprofessionals must recognize their state of efficacy and leadership must support paraprofessional efficacy with feedback for successful performance (Gerlach, 2008). Bandura (1997) identified sources of self-efficacy beliefs as: (a) mastery experiences, including the ability to persevere; (b) vicarious experiences, a means of learning by observing and modeling the behavior others; (c) social persuasion, where the learner and the environment continually interact; and (d) physiological and affective states, including the degree of vulnerability to dysfunction. Manz (1992) concluded that success in challenging situations could elevate self-efficacy perceptions, while failure could undermine self-efficacy perceptions. As a result, self-efficacy is based upon expectations and influenced by prior behaviors (McCormick, Ayres, & Beechey, 2006). Self-efficacy theory explored how individuals learn from the consequence of their own or others behavior in a social environment (Walker & Carr-Stewart, 2006). Bandura
39 (1986) considered prior behavior as mastery experiences and “the most influential source of efficacy information” (p. 399). According to McCormick, Ayres, and Beechey (2006) effective paraprofessional role change is highly dependent on mastery experiences. For example, if the paraprofessional has experienced past success in delivering instruction to students with disabilities, he or she is likely to have high self-efficacy and therefore, more likely to generalize this responsibility. According to Senge (1990), vicarious experiences constructed in learning organizations facilitate opportunities for individuals to recreate themselves so that “adaptive learning is joined by generative learning, learning that enhances our capacity to create” (p. 14). Vicarious experiences are obtained through observing and modeling the behaviors of others. Efficacy beliefs influence the paraprofessional’s processing, persistence, and affective state, collectively affecting performance (Gerlach, 2008). Bandura (1997) stated, “efficacy beliefs operate as a key factor in a generative system of human competence” (p. 36). Reform is an outcome of the individual’s need to expand skills through learning and behavior change (Kezar, 2001). Bandura (2001) theorized that individuals have the capacity to exercise control over personal destinies. Personal destinies are the outcomes of “accessing and deliberative processing of information for selecting, constructing, regulating, and evaluating courses of action” (p. 3). Strategies such as facilitated study groups and needs based staff development opportunities provide and manage pertinent information while engaging key stakeholders (Kezar, 2001). The social cognition model facilitates sensemaking opportunities by exploring the nature of the impending change, change meaning and impact, and change adoption strategies leading to stakeholder destinies.
40 According to Weick (1995), the essence of sensemaking is “found in the frames which summarizes past experience, in cues which contain specifics of present experiences, and in the ways these two occurrences are connected” (p. 111). The social cognition model facilitates interactions between teachers, special education paraprofessionals, and administration to collectively identify ineffective paradigms, determine outcome expectancy, and explore connections that stimulate creative strategies designed to optimize paraprofessional roles (Kezar, 2001; Walker & Carr-Stewart, 2006). Implementing change plans, which include sensemaking strategies such as structured conversations and constructing mental models supports the development of shared identities through open and collaborative critical reflection (Kezar, 2001). Therefore, “change occurs because individuals see a need to grow, learn, and change their behavior” (Kezar, 2001, p. v). Organizational Efficacy and Paraprofessional Role Changes Implementing reforms based on the social cognition model facilitates an awareness of cognitive dissonance and organizational discrepancies (Kezar, 2001). Bandura (1997) emphasized the value of organizational efficacy as “the group’s resiliency in the face of difficulties” (p. 468). School improvement initiatives such as paraprofessional role changes are influenced by the collective perceptions of organizational efficacy (Gerlach, 2008). “The stronger the beliefs people hold about their collective capabilities, the more they achieve” (Bandura, 1997, p. 480). Bandura (1997) indicated that collective efficacy is enhanced when trust establishes that each member will fulfill his or her responsibility and perform tasks required by their role, thereby affecting the mission of the organization. Exploring
41 organizational efficacy is especially pertinent when changes in the paraprofessional role challenge the educational organizational structures. According to Ghere and York-Barr (2007) within the educational hierarchical structure, the paraprofessional role is considered subordinate. Giangreco, Edelman, and Broer (2001) interviewed 56 general education teachers, paraprofessionals, and special educators regarding the organizational acknowledgement of paraprofessionals. The study identified the participant’s perceived lack of respect reflected in low wages, limited opportunities for advancement, and a lack of administrative supports. According to Caine and Caine (1997), individuals regress when they feel devalued, “reverting to early programming or instinctive behaviors and lose much of their capacity to think creatively and tolerate risk, uncertainty, and ambiguity” (p. 95). Self-Efficacy Measurement An extensive literature review indicated a void in the research regarding paraprofessional efficacy. Studies that focus on required elements to ensure paraprofessional success reveal gaps in knowledge and a consensus that continued study is essential (Bugaj, 2002; Chopra, Carroll, Sandoval-Lucero, & DeBalderas, 2004; Devlin, 2005; French, 2001; Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young-Tillery, & Roark, 2004; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Leblanc, Ricciardi, & Luiselli, 2005). Werts, Zigmond, and Leeper, (2001) indicated a need for extensive research to determine the effectiveness of paraprofessionals. Examining theories and identifying gaps of knowledge regarding selfefficacy measurement within the field of education provides a comprehensive foundation when exploring paraprofessional perceived self-efficacy.
42 Measuring perceived self-efficacy could be challenging and problematic requiring sensitivities and care (Bandura, 2001; Pajares, 2002). Wheatley (2002) described the measurement process as attempts to identify influences of individual beliefs regarding a specific topic or experience. Bandura (2001) recommended avoiding efficacy scales that are too limited in scope. Due to the lack of literature regarding paraprofessional efficacy, research addressing teacher-efficacy was reviewed as classroom experiences are similar to paraprofessionals and responsibilities overlap. Keenan (2005) conducted a phenomenological case study to examine factors that teachers perceived as influencing personal learning. Teachers were interviewed to determine the impact of self-efficacy on professional development. The teachers reported that self-efficacy influences their learning and willingness to change. The study revealed that group efficacy indicators had a strong affect on learning and implementation. Arnold (2005) researched factors that contributed to self-efficacy for teachers working in classrooms where students with disabilities were included. Variables such as teacher age, gender, years of teaching experience, and level of education and certification were correlated to self-efficacy ratings for 250 teachers surveyed. The study indicated that the degree of training and levels of certification were the strongest predictor of selfefficacy. Henson, Kogan, and Vacha-Haase (2001) described the Teacher Efficacy Scale (TES) developed by Gibson and Dembo (1984) as the predominate measure of teacher efficacy. Coladarici and Breton revised the scale in 1997 to measure self-efficacy of special education teachers in Maine. Revisions included the inclusion of a six-point scale and replaced the term teacher with resource room teacher, asserting that reliability or
43 validity was not compromised by the minor changes (Henson, Kogan, & Vacha-Haase, 2001). Bosscher and Smit (1998) developed the General Self-Efficacy Scale (GES). The GES is a five point Likert-type scale to rate a 12 statement survey to measure perceived efficacy. Initiative, effort, and persistence subscales aligned with Bandura’s (1997) definition of self-efficacy (Bosscher & Smit, 1998). Tschannen-Moran and Woolfolk-Hoy (2001) developed the Teachers’ Sense of Efficacy Scale (TSES). The TSES is a nine point Likert-type scale made up of 24 items to assess perceived job performance. The TSES reliability scores range from 0.87 to 0.94 (Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk-Hoy, 2001). Internal validity reveals consistency regarding three correlated factors: efficacy in student engagement, efficacy in instructional practice, and efficacy in classroom management (Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk-Hoy, 2001). Paraprofessional Training Although paraprofessional development has become a mandated focus for many school districts, there are deficiencies in the literature addressing training implementation strategies. However, several articles documented challenges regarding special education paraprofessional development. The challenges included: (a) the rapid increase in the workforce resulting from the widening practice of paraprofessional utilization (GesslerWerts, Harris, Young-Tillery, & Roark, 2004; French, 2003; NCES, 2000), (b) deficiencies in training content due to minimal performance standards or role guidelines (Giangreco & Broer, 2005), and (c) a lack of qualified supervision and mentoring (Ashbaker & Morgan, 2006; French, 2003; Keller, Bucholz, & Brady, 2007).
44 According to Causton-Theoharris and Malmgren (2005), the majority of paraprofessionals receive no training prior to employment initiation. Causton-Theoharris and Malmgren indicated that job skills were typically obtained by modeling and consulting paraprofessional colleagues at the school location. In order to address federal requirements and provide adequate job preparation, Ashbaker and Morgan (2006) suggested instituting ongoing competency-based training coupled with job-embedded coaching with general and special education teachers. Trautman (2004) identified three levels of training including pre-service training, on-the-job training, and continuing opportunities for specified in-service content development. Trautman (2004) suggested that the paraprofessional should acquire knowledge in student learning needs as manifested by the characteristics of various disabilities prior to employment. While on the job, special education paraprofessionals should read pertinent documentation, acquire knowledge in instructional methodology, and understand expected roles and responsibilities (Gerlach, 2008). The identification appropriate training content dominated the focus of peer-review articles. However, there is a dearth of research exploring effective training delivery models. French (2003) strongly stated, “the gap between administrators’ interest in training paraeducators and their wherewithal to deliver is, unfortunately, a grand canyon” (p. 10). Several researchers proposed on the job training models that facilitate individualized feedback including specific strategies to enhance performance (French, 2001; Trautman, 2004; Warger, 2003). Trautman (2004) and Harkess (2002) suggested providing opportunities for paraprofessionals to self-assess performance needs and select corresponding instruction through ongoing in-service training. Despite the legislative
45 requirements for direct paraprofessional preparation and supervision, teachers and administrators are often not prepared to monitor, train, or evaluate special education paraeducators, thus creating inconsistent and possibly ineffective development (CaustonTheoharis, Giangreco, Doyle, & Vadasy, 2007; Stahl, 2005). Professional Development Models Professional development models address a continuum of learning approaches ranging from structured and self-directed to collaborative and reflective methods (Fullan, 2003; Glickman, 2002; Joyce & Showers, 2002). Bandura (1997) indicated that the consideration of factors that enhance conducive learning environments promote the development of “instruction efficacy” required for effective training (p. 258). Giangreco and Broer (2005) described the most common paraprofessional training model as the Institute Model. The Institute Model is characterized as single session training intended to convey systemic agendas and priorities emphasizing theoretical rather than practical content (Giangreco & Broer, 2005). Typically, a follow-up component is not emphasized yielding weak learning and skill transfer (Fullan, 2003; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Glickman, 2002; Joyce & Showers, 2002). Joyce and Showers’ (2002) germinal work regarding professional development identified key elements of training as information, theory, modeling, practice, feedback, and coaching affirming the approach. According to Lasater, Johnson, and Fitzgerald (2000), special education paraprofessionals require opportunities to develop instructional and behavioral strategies through an “ongoing process, where paraprofessionals can return to discuss their experiences when implementing these strategies, explore the pros and cons of various strategies, and problem solve with partner teachers and other
46 paraeducators” (p. 48). Sousa (2006) found that the application of similar brain-based learning strategies resulted in emotional reactions derived from the learning experiences, which triggered mental dialogues facilitating self-awareness and self-efficacy. Selecting the curriculum appropriate for paraprofessional development presents challenges as the literature addressing decision criteria is lacking (French, 2003; Keller, Bucholz, Brady, 2007). Several researchers in the literature suggested content considerations when planning paraprofessional training programs (French, 2003; Keller, Bucholz, & Brady, 2007). Planning considerations included coordinating knowledge and concepts to identified paraprofessional training needs, maintaining consistency of the training philosophy with the district mission, exploring the breadth and accuracy of the content, examining the content comprehensiveness providing a range of information including multiple perspectives, and the inclusion of follow-up accountability components (French, 2003; Keller, Bucholz, & Brady, 2007). Due to the unique needs of special education paraprofessionals, the professional developer’s consideration of training time, location, compensation, and trainer selection are critical (Chopra, 2004). Training sessions conducted during the school day affect the consistency of services delivered to the students. However, training beyond the workday requires additional compensation and may be challenging since many paraprofessionals hold second jobs to supplement their income (Chopra, 2004). Funding for paraprofessional training continues to be problematic for many districts and may come from multiple sources affecting the quality and frequency of training (French, 2003).
47 Adult Learning Theory Efficacy beliefs influence thought processes, persistency, and learning motivation (Bandura, 1997). According to Bandura (1997), adults with deficient skills and self-doubt find learning to be difficult, aversive, and depressing. Therefore, exploration of adult learning theory as it pertains to self-directed characteristics is necessary in order to gain a deep understanding of the perceived relationship between paraprofessional training and efficacy. Knowles (1984) argued that self-directed learning is appropriate for adult development and essential for survival in an environment of rapid change. Ellinger (2004) challenged organizations to “harness adult learners’ propensity to be self-directed learners and not create barriers that prevent or discourage it” (p.167). Merriam (2004) indicated the goal of self-directed transformational learning is independent thinking and strategies that foster thinking autonomy and enhances critical reflection. Effective selfdirected learners are aware of their learning strengths and challenges, strive for deeper understandings through skillful thinking and reflection, and value the opportunities to learn with and from others (Costa, 2001; Cross, 1992; Gordon, 2004; Maehl, 2000). According to Ellinger (2004), self-directed learners are aware of personal motivational factors and learning barriers influencing goal development. Tools that enable learners towards goal attainment include learning contracts, performance plans, and learning logs. Each tool promotes self-monitoring of learning patterns and trajectory. Merriam (2004) stated, “critical awareness and self-knowledge is a key dimension to selfdirectedness” (p. 162).
48 Gordon (2004) indicated that self-directed learners utilize strategies when selecting content to ensure relevancy. Gordon stated, “adults are motivated to learn when the learning will meet a need or interest they are experiencing in their personal or work lives” (p. 19). Bandura (1997) described “a sense of instructional efficacy” as vital for effective staff development (p. 258). “Staff members are more likely to adopt new practices and continue to use them if they have a sense of ownership of the program (Bandura, 1997, p. 258). Leib (1991) emphasized the need to provide the adult learner an opportunity to reflect on the identification of learning objectives prior to training in order to enable the self-directed learner to determine applicability and consequently construct their learning trajectory. Current Paraprofessional State Initiatives The emergence of state programs or initiatives is developing to address and support the requirements of the mandated paraprofessional role change. Examining various systemic training approaches and expectations reveal commonalities that contribute to the standardization of job performance, expectations, and measurement. The examination of commonalities in relation to paraprofessional perceived efficacy supports the generalizability of the study. Minnesota Department of Education (2007) developed the Minnesota’s Rubric for the Evaluation of Paraprofessional Portfolios to standardize evaluation criteria. The rubric is used to provide supervisory guidance for assessment of present skills and accountability of developing skills. The rubric addresses competency areas including, legal foundations, student learning characteristics, instructional content, collaboration, behavior management, and ethical practices. The Minnesota Department of Education
49 encourages paraprofessional training but does not specify programs or curriculums (Minnesota Department of Education, 2007). Similarly, Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) has developed supports for paraprofessionals referred to as teacher assistants (TA). RIDE annually collects data, which tracks the qualifications, assignments, and professional development of all teacher assistants in the state (Rhode Island Department of Education, 2007). The data shows maintenance or growth of teacher training for effective TA use, TA recruitment, and retention. Further, RIDE has identified entry-level competencies that are taught in RIDE approved teacher assistant training programs. State standards identified required knowledge and skills in the areas of: (a) professionalism and collaboration, (b) instructional opportunities, (c) learning environments that encouraged appropriate standards of behavior, and (d) safety and emergency procedures (Rhode Island Department of Education, 2007). The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2007) developed a web-based study program for paraprofessional training referred to as Project PARA. The purpose of the project was to provide pre-service training for paraeducators in school settings. However, connections to federal requirements or state mandates were not established. Although originally launched in 1993, ongoing upgrades enhanced presentations and expanded specific content addressing autism spectrum disorders, early childhood, and job coaching (University of Nebraska, 2007).
50 Conclusion The field of special education is evolving as changing legislation directs practices. According to the literature, one implication of new legislation is a significant increase in the utilization of paraprofessionals to support students with special needs (French, 2003; Giangreco & Broer, 2005). Further, the role and responsibilities of the special education paraprofessional have expanded however, the literature indicated that job descriptions are inconsistent and undefined (Broer, Doyle, & Giangreco, 2005; Downing, Ryndak, & Clark; 2000; French & Chopra, 2004; Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young-Tillery, & Roark, 2004). Although NCLB mandates training and competencies, the literature review established that compliance has been minimal. Documents reviewed indicated emerging performance competencies (CEC, 2006; Minnesota Department of Education, 2007; Rhode Island Department of Education, 2007; University of Nebraska, 2007) and suggested training content (French, 2001; Trautman, 2004; Warger, 2003), but indicated a lacked information regarding effective training methodology, content selection criteria, and accountability (Causton-Theoharris & Malmgren, 2005; French, 2003; Giangreco, Doyle, & Vadasy, 2007). Training challenges include a rapid employment increase, minimal role guidelines, and a lack of qualified trainers (Ashbaker & Morgan, 2006; Keller, Bucholz, & Brady, 2007). Due to the identified deficiencies in the research regarding paraeducator training (French, 2003), the literature review included information regarding efficacy, adult learning styles, and professional development models to provide a theoretical foundation regarding training practices. The gaps of knowledge revealed in the literature review provided justification for the implementation
51 of the qualitative phenomenological study exploring the perceived relationship between special education paraprofessional training and efficacy. Summary The literature review contributed to the study by providing information regarding the history, theories, and gaps of knowledge relevant to paraprofessional roles, training, and self-efficacy. The review began by providing an overview of special education, landmark legal decisions, and the impact of these decisions on paraprofessional utilization. The research indicated an unclear delineation of paraprofessional roles and responsibilities and job competencies (Chopra, 2004; Werts, Culatta, & Tompkins, 2007). Furthermore, the literature review revealed that special education paraprofessional roles and responsibilities are expanding in order for school systems to address new legal mandates and teacher shortages (Smith, Polloway, Patton, & Dowdy, 2006; Wood, 2006). However, paraprofessionals are unprepared for new responsibilities and require additional training (Giangreco & Broer, 2005). In addition, the literature review included an overview of self-efficacy theory and outlined the influence of efficacy on performance and learning. The research revealed connections between training effectiveness and efficacy (Bandura, 2001), highlighting the need for further data to understand the continual relationship between special education paraprofessional training and efficacy. Effective paraprofessional utilization and student programming is hindered when not informed about the perceived relationship between efficacy and training. The selection and rationale for the study’s specific research design, methodology, and research tools is included in chapter 3. A description of the population sample and
52 sampling frame is discussed. Additionally, included in the chapter is the presentation of the data collection process, analysis procedures, and data interpretation.
53 CHAPTER 3: METHOD The focus of the qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the relationship between training and efficacy that emerged from the perceptions and lived experiences of 20 special education paraprofessionals in Maryland. Participants with at least three years of experience were interviewed. Themes regarding what perceived training factors may or may not be necessary in order to influence existing efficacy was identified. Paraprofessionals have innumerable roles and responsibilities for which they are under-prepared (Giangreco & Broer, 2007) however, research regarding specific training and supports influencing efficacy is minimal (Forster & Holbrook, 2005; Keller, Bucholz, & Brady, 2007). Chapter 2 included a description of the literature pertaining to the utilization of paraprofessionals, revealing a gap in the literature regarding effective paraprofessional training. Chapter 3 includes an outline of the methods chosen to identify emerging patterns and themes revealing the special education paraprofessionals’ perceptions and experiences regarding training and efficacy. In addition, the chapter will include a discussion of the appropriateness of the selected method, including the review of qualitative and phenomenological methodologies, a description of the population, sampling, data collection methods, the instrument, and data analysis procedures. Research Design The qualitative, phenomenological research design used in the study provided added insight into the nature of a phenomenon in order to derive themes and patterns to describe new ideas and interpret theoretical perspectives (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005; Mertler & Charles, 2008; Moustakas, 1994). Qualitative methodologies are used when
54 gaining insights into a particular phenomenon of interests (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006; Mertler & Charles, 2008). The foundation of qualitative research is inductive analysis, which is appropriate when the research focus is discovering and understanding the phenomena from the participants’ perspective (Creswell, 2006; Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006; Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). The phenomenological researcher determines what each participant constitutes as reality and captures the essence of the experience for each individual (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006; Moustakas, 1994; Neuman, 2005). The participants in the study responded to a lead interview question and additional follow-up questions, when necessary, which were based on their experiences as paraprofessionals and their perceptions developed through reflection of the experience. Moustakas (1994) stated, “the method of reflection that occurs throughout the phenomenological approach provides a logical, systematic, and coherent resource for carrying out the analysis and synthesis needed to arrive at essential descriptions of experience” (p. 47). Appropriateness of Design The selection of the appropriate research method involved determining the approach that offers the “best fit” (Maxwell, 2005, p. 17). Several factors guided the selection of the research method for this study including the research topic, the purpose of the study, and the research question. A comprehensive literature review revealed a paucity of studies that focused on the development and utilization of the special education paraprofessional. Despite the indicated need for research, (Bugaj, 2002; French, 2001; Giangreco & Broer, 2005), no studies were found that examined training and efficacy of special education paraprofessionals.
55 Qualitative methodology is used when exploring real-world phenomena occurring in a natural setting (Neuman, 2005). Creswell (2006) indicated that qualitative methodology seeks a holistic view of the subject, which includes personal interactions. Qualitative phenomenological research evolves as an “understanding of the research context and participants deepens” (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006, p. 9). Qualitative researchers depend on interpretive or critical social sciences presenting authentic explanations that are “sensitive to specific social-historical contexts” (Neuman, 2005, p.139). Given the phenomenon of the changing role and responsibilities of the paraprofessional (Forester & Holbrook, 2005; Ghere & York-Barr, 2007; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Pickett & Gerlach, 2004), exploring the personal perspective and individual points of view regarding training and efficacy provided authentic and meaningful data. A qualitative research method was appropriate because the method investigates subjective elements. Qualitative research typically investigates questions about the central nature of phenomenon within the social context with the purpose of describing and understanding the participants’ perspective (Creswell, 2006). Qualitative researchers capture the intricacy of the phenomenon through the construction of interpretive narratives (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005; Mertler & Charles, 2008). A quantitative method is used when the data are analyzed using a fixed pattern among variables to determine relationships (Creswell, 2006) therefore, a quantitative research method was rejected. Quantitative research is the collection and statistical analysis of data in order to explain or manipulate the phenomena of interest (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006). Quantitative research was not appropriate, as the focus of this study
56 was the perceptions and lived experiences of special education paraprofessionals in Maryland yielding no numerical data to analyze. Of the qualitative designs reviewed, the phenomenological research design was most appropriate to guide the present study. Phenomenological research designs are appropriate when the researcher seeks to understand the lived experiences of groups or individuals (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005; Moustakas, 1994). Since paraprofessionals are categorized as a single entity under NCLB, a case study design appeared to be relevant, however, a case study design explores a single entity for the purposes of developing an in-depth description (Creswell, 2006; Mertler & Charles, 2008) and does not facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the paraprofessionals’ perspectives and lived experiences. Phenomenological research describes and interprets the individual perspectives regarding a particular phenomenon (Mertler & Charles, 2008). Moustakas (1994) indicated that phenomenological inquiry determines what has meaning for a person and through personalized experiential and perceptual descriptions “general or universal meanings are derived” (p. 13). Utilizing the qualitative, phenomenological method was beneficial to the study as the approach provided avenues for discovering how the participants derived meaning from their experiences. The selection of the phenomenological method provided the opportunity for the participants to disclose openly experiences and reveal interpretations that would not emerge through quantitative methodology.
57 Research Questions The purpose of the study was to understand the perceptions and meanings held by the participants about their own efficacy and the implication of training influences. The intent was not to identify a best perception or right meaning but rather to explore patterns and trends that may provide in-depth meaning of the social phenomenon. Through interviews, the researcher engaged the “total self of the participant” in order to reveal the “essences and meanings” of the paraprofessional’s experience (Moustakas, 1994, p. 105). Specifically, the researcher examined the relationship between perceived training elements and the influence on paraprofessional efficacy development. Although there is a recognized need for special education paraprofessional training (Giangreco & Broer, 2005), there is a lack of research regarding the required training needed to influence paraprofessional efficacy (Keller, Bucholz, & Brady, 2007), especially research derived from perceptions and lived experiences of the paraprofessionals. Further study will increase insights into the training elements and factors contributing to the special education paraprofessional’s belief regarding their personal capabilities to perform assigned roles and responsibilities. In addition, further study will inform future paraprofessional training practices. The question guiding the study was: What are the perceptions and lived experiences of special education paraprofessionals regarding training and efficacy? In phenomenological research, the interview questions grow as the richness of the topic emerged (Moustakas, 1994). Examples of possible follow-up queries to facilitate full disclosure included:
58 Describe the training topics that supported your ability to carry out your duties as a special education paraprofessional. Describe the training topics that inhibited your ability to carry out your duties as a special education paraprofessional. Describe the training methodologies used at past trainings. The curiosity of the researcher inspires the search through accounts of the participants’ personal experiences and reflection elicited through rigorous and engaging dialogue. Population The population consisted of special education paraprofessionals in Maryland. Due to the systematic and rigorous methodology, using a small sample size is appropriate for qualitative researchers (Moustakas, 1994). Participation in the study was voluntary. Each participant was invited to participate in the study “without threat and undue inducement” (Bickman & Rog, 1998, p. 130) and may drop out of the study at any time for any reason. All participants must be at least 18 years of age. To ensure role and responsibility familiarity, the participants were required to have a minimum of 3 years experience supporting students with special needs. In order to capture the special education paraprofessionals’ experiences and perceptions in a comprehensive manner, the study did not limit participant selection by grade level assignments, student disability categories supported, or assigned instructional programming models. Sampling Frame A purposeful nonprobability sampling method was used based on the participant’s homogeneous lived experiences, convenience, and availability (Mertler & Charles, 2008; Simon, 2006). Patton (2002) explained that purposeful sampling is used when a
59 researcher deliberately selects participants who represent diverse and rich perspectives to elucidate the phenomenon under study. Homogeneous sampling involves the selection of individuals who are members of a subgroup with defining characteristics (Creswell, 2006; Simon, 2006). The sample in the study possessed in-depth knowledge and experiences regarding the role and responsibility of a special education paraprofessional. In addition, the selected individuals apply their knowledge daily in response to the demands of the paraprofessional role. Demographic characteristics such as race, age, religion, or gender were not considered during analysis, but were captured for potential future use as sort criteria. Participants with at least three years of paraprofessional experience, are inherently interested in the phenomenon, and employed in Maryland were recruited for inclusion in the research study. The adequate number of participants to address the central research question was reached at the point of information saturation and redundancy (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006). Patton (2002) recommended specifying a minimum sample size based on reasonable expectations needed to address the purpose of the study. The final sample size was determined based upon sample saturation and essential attributes (Creswell, 2006; Simon, 2006). For purposes of the current study, interviews of 20 special education paraprofessional continued until no new themes emerged. Three organizations were contacted to determine the possibility of disseminating an invitation to participate in the study letter, the Service Employees International Unit (SEIU local 500), the Maryland Chapter 246 of Council of Exceptional Children (CEC), and the Maryland Chapter of the Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD). Each organization has a strong reputation for reliable and credible contributions to the field of
60 special education. The selection of the organizations is applicable to the study as each of the organizations facilitates special education paraprofessional communication and development programs. Some participant selection occurred though paraprofessional recommendation of colleagues who may be interested in participating in the study. Final participant selection occurred in the order of obtained consent to participate in the study and continued until sufficient data to address the research question were achieved as indicated by sample saturation. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500 (see Appendix A) granted permission to disseminate an invitation for participation in the study. Prior to the dissertation proposal approval, the Maryland Chapter of Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) granted permission to access their membership to disseminate an invitation for participation in the study (see Appendix B), however did not provide documented permission. Upon receiving the documented permission, invitations to participate were disseminated at a chapter meeting in order to contribute to the richness of the sample. Although this led to a self-selected sample, the paraprofessional’s interest in the study facilitated additional benefits to the study. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 500 supports public service workers in Maryland and Washington, D.C. (SEIU Local 500, 2008). The paraeducator chapter serves public school paraeducators in Montgomery County. The paraeducator chapter has 2,400 members (S. Murek, personal communication, June 20, 2008). The paraeducator chapter of SEIU 500 represents paraeducators by maintaining accountability of negotiated employment agreements and facilitating career advancements (S. Murek,
61 personal communication, June 20, 2008). SEIU 500 provides continual communication through newsletters, bulletins, the SEIU 500 webpage, and email messages. The Council for Exceptional Children is the largest professional organization for teachers, administrators, students, parents, paraprofessionals, and related support service providers (CEC, 2008). CEC provides information, communication, professional development opportunities, and resources to support and improve educational outcomes for individual with exceptionalities. The 246 Chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children is the local branch of the Maryland Chapter (Md. CEC, 2008). The 246 chapter located in Montgomery County has 500 members and provides professional networking opportunities (L. Hempke, personal communication, June 14, 2008). The chapter sponsors an annual conference and conducts several professional development events per year. In addition, the Montgomery County chapter publishes a bimonthly newsletter (L. Hempke, personal communication, June 14, 2008). Informed Consent The research followed all criteria set by the Protection of Human Research Subjects standards in the preparation and administration of the interviews, non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements, and the data collection and treatment processes. Study communications were limited to those participants who had volunteered to participate and had provided contact details or have requested additional information. The purpose, structure, and format of the study including all confidentiality and anonymity procedures were explained in the letter of solicitation (see Appendix C). Each participant was informed that there was no personal risk resulting from this study. After being given an opportunity to clarify any questions regarding the study, participants were asked to
62 complete an informed consent form. The informed consent form indicated the participants’ permission to participate in the study, as well as to be recorded, prior to the interview taking place (see Appendix D). This approach conformed to a two-part process for informed consent and was confirmed along with permission to record the interview. Each interview commenced with friendly conversation to support the participants’ comfort in the interview process, to express appreciation for their participation, and to offer the results of the research at the conclusion. After starting the recorder, the interviewer used a structured procedure (see Appendix E) in order to confirm and document each participant’s understanding of the study, voluntary participation, consent to record, and confidential and anonymity procedures described in the informed consent form. To ensure confidentiality, interviews took place in a mutually convenient location and at a mutually convenient time. The interview setting ensured participant comfort, minimal interruptions, and minimal background noise facilitating interactive dialogue and accurate documentation. Confidentiality To encourage honesty in responding to interview queries, confidentiality was guaranteed to every participant as indicated in the informed consent statement (see Appendix D). Participant names were replaced with an identification code to ensure anonymity. Any additional identifiable information was eliminated in the transcribing process. All research data, including notes, recordings, observational records, artifacts, consent forms, interview transcripts, analysis, and electronic files were kept in locked storage and maintained for not less than three years from the last use of the data. At the end of the three-year holding period, the requirement for holding will be reviewed and, if
63 the holding period remains unchanged or is for a shorter time, all materials will be destroyed by the most efficient method available at that time and suitable for the destruction of sensitive personal information. For purposes of ensuring the process, all paper was cross-shredded, mixed, and saturated. All electronic media was double erased using an industry standard security process, overwritten, and physically destroyed, if necessary. More rigorous methods will be used if state of the art requires. Geographic Location Paraprofessionals in Montgomery County, Maryland were interviewed until no new themes emerged or the achievement of sample saturation. Montgomery County, Maryland was selected for the geographic convenience to the researcher in order to facilitate comprehensive interviews. Montgomery County is a metropolitan area neighboring Washington D.C. The local public school system is the sixteenth largest school system in the nation and the largest school system in the State of Maryland (Montgomery County Public Schools, 2008). During the 2007-2008 school year, the local school system employed 2,367 paraprofessionals working in 194 schools (Montgomery County Public Schools, 2008). The size and location provided many opportunities to select diverse and knowledgeable participants in order to ensure the rigor of the study. Conducting interviews in naturalistic settings reinforced the focus of the phenomenological study on the perceptions and meanings constructed by the participants. A central or common site was not used for the in-depth interviews or observations. Instead, data collection methods were conducted at multiple sites to accommodate the participant and assure the confidential nature of their responses.
64 Data Collection In-depth interviews were the primary data collection method. In phenomenological studies, interviews resemble an informal conversation and queries are generated spontaneously as a natural flow of the interaction (Berg, 2006; Patton, 2002). Patton (2002) recommended that the interview questions flow from the context of the conversations and dependent on the information that emerges. The purpose of each query was to seek elaborations and elucidations from the individual perceptions and experiences of each participant. In qualitative research, the reciprocal and open-minded nature of the researcher is essential as the data collection instrument (Maxwell, 2005). Therefore, the researcher must maintain unbiased flexibility taking a “stance of neutrality” while collecting authentic data (Patton, 2002, p. 51). During one-to-one interviews, a comfortable and trusting climate was created that elicited truthful and comprehensive disclosures (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). The researcher’s responsibility and obligation is to seek and accurately report rich personal accounts while maintaining ethical standards that protect the rights, values, and integrity of each participant (Creswell, 2006; Moustakas, 1994; Patton, 2002). Interviewing Process Moustakas (1994) indicated that phenomenological interviews typically begin with causal introductory conversation aimed at establishing a rapport with the participant prior to asking the lead interview question. Through-out the interview process empathy and understanding was conveyed while reserving judgment (Patton, 2002). Participant rapport was established in a manner that did not compromise researcher neutrality.
65 When a trusting and respectful atmosphere was established, the researcher focused the paraprofessional on the phenomenon by asking the following lead openended interview question: Please describe how your training experiences have influenced your efficacy as a paraprofessional. The participants were given the opportunity to express their perspectives and thoughts freely with no interruptions. However, neutral prompts to maintain the flow such as; please tell me more, what do you mean by that, and other appropriate encouragement were used when necessary. These prompts for more information were used when in-depth perceptions had not emerged in order to explore fully the paraeducators’ perceptions about the phenomenon. If needed, inquiries were made spontaneously during the interview for clarification or richer descriptions. Table 2 illustrates possible broad open-ended queries when particular areas of the phenomenon required further focus to elicit non-emerged perceptions. Field notes regarding body language and rationale for follow-up prompts or questions were noted to assist in recapturing the situation that may not be apparent from the transcript. The strength of the phenomenological interviewing approach is the allowance for the researcher to maintain flexibility, having no presuppositions about the phenomenon (Berg, 2006; Patton, 2002). Rather than predetermined interview questions, the questions are individualized establishing in-depth communication (Creswell, 2006). Full disclosure of the participants experience was facilitated through the responsive wording and timing of prompts and follow-up inquiries (Moustakas, 1994).
66 Table 2 Broad Open-ended Queries Central Research Question: What are the perceptions and lived experiences of special education paraprofessionals regarding specific training and efficacy? Lead Interview Question: Please describe how your training experiences have influenced your efficacy as a paraprofessional Possible areas of nonemerged perceptions Efficacy Describe your perception of your role and responsibilities. Describe how training has influenced your ability to perform these. Training content Describe the training topics that supported your ability to carry out your duties as a special education paraprofessional. Describe the training topics that will inhibited your ability to carry out your duties as a special education paraprofessional. Training methodology Describe the training methodologies used at past trainings. Please elaborate on the effectiveness of the past training methodologies and changes if any you would recommend. Describe the style of training program that you believe would be beneficial to paraprofessionals. Training delivery What types of training delivery do you believe might affect your capacity to implement your responsibilities as a paraprofessional? Possible inquiries
67 Observation Memorandums After each interview, an observation memorandum was generated to facilitate a deeper understanding of the context of the revealed phenomenon (Creswell, 2006). The memorandum summarized the impressions of the researcher and took into consideration the field notes addressing body language and the rationale for any prompts and follow-up questions in order to obtain a complete observation. Merriam (2002) reported that observations are used in conjunction with interviews to triangulate and substantiate emerging data. Observational data examined the contextual psychological and social conditions that generate different decisions and practices (Simon, 2006). Given the varied roles and responsibilities of the paraprofessionals (Giangreco & Broer, 2007), firsthand data collected through observation contributed to the central underlying meaning of the divulged experience and a deeper understanding of the intentionality of consciousness (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005; Moustakas, 1994). In-depth understanding of a particular situation may transfer to similar situations. Data collected in authentic situations yields information with broader applicability (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Data Recording The interviews were recorded using a digital audio recorder. In order to preserve confidentiality, a new digital file was established for each participant. Each audio file was transcribed by an independent transcriber into a Microsoft Word document, refining the content of the data and eliminating identifying information. The transcriber signed a confidentiality agreement prior to obtaining the recordings. Researcher notes, field notes, and observation memoranda, supplemented the audio recording, capturing nonverbal
68 communication, key words or phrases, behavioral observations, and information that may not be clearly documented by the recorder. Participants were given the option of receiving a copy of the transcript. Data Analysis Qualitative data analysis is an inductive process, starting with large sets of data and progressively narrowing the data into distinct sets of key data (Creswell, 2006). Patton (2002) stated: The challenge of qualitative analysis lies in making sense of massive amounts of data. This involves reducing the volume of raw information, sifting trivia from significance, identifying significant patterns, and constructing framework for communicating the essence of what the data reveal. (p. 432) In phenomenological studies, data are analyzed throughout the data collection process (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Early data analysis enables the identification of emerging patterns and focuses the interviews and observations (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006). Qualitative data analysis involves a systematic approach (Berg, 2006). The seven steps of the modified van Kaam method of analysis of phenomenological data (Moustakas, 1994) guided the study. The identification of emerged themes and patterns were facilitated using NVivo 8 (2008) qualitative analysis software. NVivo 8 (2008) is a robust software program designed to examine data at increasing levels of understanding (www.qsrinternational.com).
69 Modified van Kaam Method Upon completion of transcript and researcher field notes review for accuracy confirmation, all textual expressions were listed by relevancy to the study. Overlapping, redundant, and vague expressions were reduced or eliminated to determine the remaining invariant constituents. Moustakas (1994) outlined two requirements for determining invariant constituents: a. Does it contain a moment of the experience that is a necessary and sufficient constituent for understanding it? b. Is it possible to abstract and label it? (p. 121) The invariant constituents were clustered by core themes of the experience. The final identification of invariant constituents and themes were validated against the interview transcript and field notes of the participant and analyzed to determine explicit expression in the complete transcript. If the invariant constituents were not explicitly expressed, compatibility was assessed. If analysis revealed that the invariant constituents and accompanying themes were not explicit or compatible, they were deleted as they would not be relevant to the participant’s experience. Moustakas (1994) defined textural components of an experience as the “what” of the phenomenon (p. 79). An individual textual description of the experience was constructed using the relevant and validated invariant constituents and themes. Verbatim examples from the transcribed interview were included in the individual textual description (Moustakas, 1994). An individual structural description was constructed for each participant. The individual structural description is the reflective reference of an experience or the “how”
70 of the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994, p. 79). Each description was based on the individual textural descriptions and imaginative variations (Moustakas, 1994). According to Moustakas (1994), the relationship of the texture and structure is “the appearance and the hidden coming together to create a fullness in understanding the essence of a phenomenon or experience” (p.79). A textual-structural description of the experience was constructed for each participant. Individual textural and structural descriptions obtained through observational data of each interview session were incorporated in the invariant constituents and themes, to capture the essence of each selfreported experience and perspective. Using the individual textual–structural descriptions, a group composite description was developed of the phenomenon representing the total group. Validity and Reliability In qualitative research, validity is the degree to which the findings accurately measure the phenomenon (Creswell, 2006; Patton, 2002; Simon, 2006). Gay, Mills, and Airasian, (2006) identified four validity criteria for qualitative research as credibility, dependability, conformability, and transferability. Credibility and dependability were established in the present study by setting aside bias and preconceived ideas through the utilization of epoché and bracketing (Moustakas, 1994). Additionally, the application of open-ended interview questions strengthens credibility by maintaining researcher neutrality and objectivity (Patton, 2002). The conformability and reliability of the interview data was addressed using triangulation and searching for disconfirming evidence. Triangulation is “the process of using multiple methods, data collection strategies, and data sources to obtain a complete
71 picture of what is being studied and to cross-check the information” (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006, p.405). Triangulation provided for a broader and more in-depth understanding of the investigated phenomenon (Maxwell, 2005). Transferability was addressed through the development of detailed contextrelative descriptive data (Creswell, 2006; Neuman, 2005). In this qualitative phenomenological study, transferability entailed the discovery of the unifying meaning of the essential invariant structure of the phenomenon that is relevant to the audience of the research (Creswell, 2006; Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006; Moustakas, 1994). Summary An overview of the research methods that align with the purpose of study, exploring the perceived relationship between training and special education paraprofessional efficacy was presented in chapter 3. The qualitative phenomenological research study discerned the perceptions and lived experiences of 20 special education paraprofessionals in Maryland. The ethical standards of research were properly implemented with all participants assuring confidentiality as outlined in the informed consent form. The primary data collection tool was face-to-face interviews that were recorded using a digital audio recorder. The participants as co-researchers were given an opportunity to verify the interview transcripts and observational notes to ensure accuracy. Validity and reliability was addressed using triangulation. Text data was entered into the NVivo 8 software to facilitate theme identification and was analyzed guided by Moustakas’ (1994) modified van Kaam method of analysis. Included in chapter 4 is the description of the specific emerged themes and patterns discovered during the data analysis process.
72 CHAPTER 4: RESULTS The purpose of the qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the lived experiences and perceptions of special education paraeducators in order to identify themes and patterns revealing a deeper understanding of the influence of training on efficacy. The research design and methodology was described in chapter 3. The research results that emerged from the application of the data collection methods and data analysis procedures are presented in chapter 4. Findings detailed in chapter 4 include the descriptive statistics of the sample, data collection and coding procedures, data analysis and presentation, and a summary of the results. Data collection entailed recorded in-depth conversational interviews until information addressing the central research question had reached the point of redundancy and saturation. Observational memorandums captured the impressions of the researcher and rationale for follow-up interview queries. The modified van Kaam method (Moustakas, 1994) and NVivo 8 software (www.qsrinternational.com) guided data analysis to identify emerging themes and patterns. Sample The sample consisted of 20 special education paraprofessionals who were over the age of 18 with at least 3 years of experience and volunteered to be interviewed. In order to represent a diverse perspective, the sample included paraprofessionals whose roles and responsibilities involved supporting various grade levels, student disability categories, and instructional models on the elementary and secondary level. Participants were urged to share perspectives and experiences honestly as co-researchers and were
73 assured that all information would remain confidential. To preserve anonymity participants were assigned numbers ranging from P 1 to P 20. Demographic information was collected to document age, gender, years of experience, educational preparation, and job placement for potential sorting criteria during analysis. Job placement criteria were limited to elementary or secondary school assignments. Data was not collected distinguishing specific grade level assignment, student disability categories supported, or specific instructional program model. Participants ranging in age from 22-35 represented 25% of the total sample, those from 36-45 represented 30%, and those from 46-62 represented 45% of the sample (see Table 3). Of the total sample, 15 were female representing 75% of the study population. Table 3 Participant’s Age Age 22-35 36-45 46-65 Total n 5 6 9 20 Percent 25% 30% 45% 100%
All participants worked in a large public school system in Maryland. The participants were evenly split with 50% working in an elementary setting (Kindergarten grade 5) and 50% working in a secondary setting (grade 6 - grade 12). The sample included a range of work experience (see Table 4). Participants with 3-5 years of paraprofessional experience represented 40% of the sample, participants with 5-10 years
74 of experience represented 35% of the sample, and participants with over 10 years of experience represented 25% of the sample. Table 4 Participant’s Years of Experience Years 3-5 5-10 10+ Total n 8 7 5 20 Percent 40% 35% 25% 100%
The educational preparation of the participants was diverse ranging from the completion of high school to achieving a Master’s degree (see Table 5). The participants completing high school or some college represented 35% of the sample, participants holding an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree represented 50%, and 15% of the sample held a Master’s degree. However, only 2 participants or 10% reported educational preparation in the field of education. Data Collection Process The data collection process consisted of open-ended one-on-one interviews to capture the participant’s lived experiences and perceptions. Interviews were scheduled over a 12-week period between August 8, 2008 and November 10, 2008 and each interview lasted between 45 and 90 minutes. All interviews were conducted in a mutually agreed upon time and location, outside of the participant’s working environment.
75 Table 5 Participant’s Educational Preparation Education High School Some College Associate Degree Bachelor’s Degree Master’s Degree Total n 4 3 2 8 3 20 Percent 20% 15% 10% 40% 15% 100%
Prior to the commencement of the interview the participant signed the informed consent form (see Appendix D) and verbally responded to a structured protocol (see Appendix E) to verify their understanding of the sample criteria, interview process, confidentiality procedures, and confirm permission to be recorded. Each interview began with casual conversation to establish a respectful atmosphere. When rapport was established, the participants were given the opportunity to express freely their thoughts to the following lead research question: Please describe how your training experiences have influenced your efficacy as a paraprofessional. The interviews continued with individualized and spontaneous probes and queries evolving as a natural flow of the interaction rather than pre-determined interview questions. According to Moustakas (1994), in phenomenological research, the development of the interview questions are inspired by the curiosity of the researcher as the richness of the perceptions and experiences are revealed. Probes and follow-up
76 questions seeking elaborations and elucidations were employed when necessary to fully capture the participant’s perceptions and feelings about the phenomenon. Additionally, field notes were taken during the interview to document nonverbal language and expressions that may not be adequately captured in the recording. After each interview, an observation memorandum was generated that summarized the researcher’s impressions of the interview in order to facilitate an in-depth understanding of the context. Transcription Each audio interview file was transcribed by an independent transcriber in order to enhance textual data validity and to eliminate potential researcher bias. Prior to the transcriber obtaining recordings, all participant identifiers were eliminated. The independent transcriber signed a confidentiality agreement. All completed transcripts in the form of Microsoft Word documents were validated against the digital recordings and verified against corresponding field notes. In a follow-up thank you email, each participant was given the option of reviewing the transcripts prior to inclusion into the study. All participants waived this option. To assist the process of phenomenological reduction, the textual data was imported into NVivo 8 textual analysis software. An individual source case was created for each coded interview and participant demographic attributes were captured. The modified van Kaam method guided data analysis (Moustakas, 1994). Data Analysis and Presentation of Findings Interview and field note data were analyzed throughout the data collection process (see Figure 1). The seven step modified van Kaam method provided a systematic and
77 inductive approach that facilitated the development of meaning through emerging patterns and themes derived from the shared experiences and perceptions of the phenomenon. Moustakas (1994) described the data analysis steps as: (a) bracketing relevant data for preliminary grouping; (b) reducing and eliminating irrelevant statements through horizonalization to reveal the invariant constituents; (c) clustering and thematizing the invariant constituents to develop a textual description of emerging core themes of the experience; (d) confirming and validating explicit or compatible invariant constituents and accompanying themes; (e) developing individual textual descriptions of the experience for each co-researcher; (f) using the imaginative variation process, construct individual structural descriptions of the experience for each co-researcher; and (g) developing a unified and composite description of the phenomenon capturing the meaning and essence of the individual textual-structural descriptions. Listing and Preliminary Groupings During phenomenological reduction the “focus of the research is placed in brackets, everything else is set aside so that the entire research process is rooted solely on the topic and question” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 97). Equal consideration of each statement contributed to the understanding of the essence of the paraeducators’ perceptions and lived experiences. The transcribed interviews were bracketed to identify statements relevant to the central research question. Significant statements were assigned a descriptive code in order to categorize and preserve the data. During coding, interview similarities and differences were captured in annotations and memos identifying emerging associative links in the data.
78 Data Collection Conducted individual interviews Independent transcription of recorded interviews Phenomenological Reduction Bracketed relevant data for preliminary groupings Clustering and Thematizing Clustered horizons to develop textual descriptions of core themes Validated invariant constituents and themes Employed imaginative variation for structural descriptions
Authenticated transcript accuracy
Horizonalization revealed invariant constituents
Developed unified and composite description Figure 1. Data collection and analysis process. Reduction and Elimination Coded constituents were reviewed utilizing two reflective questions in order to identify the horizons of the experience. 1) Does it contain a moment of experience that is a necessary and sufficient constituent for understanding it?
79 2) Is it possible to abstract and label it? (Moustakas, 1994, p. 121) Constituents were renamed with terms that were more descriptive or merged when concepts overlapped. Repetitive constituents were eliminated. During the horizonalization process, 50 invariant constituents were identified as the horizons of the paraeducators’ perceptions and lived experiences regarding training and efficacy (see Appendix F). Clustering and Thematizing the Invariant Constituent Clustering was determined by implementing NVivo 8 data queries as well as analyzing coding density stripes and node summary reports. Core themes were established when consistencies and associations were identified within the cluster of invariant constituents. The following nine core themes emerged: (a) perceptions of role and responsibilities for efficacy development, (b) perceptions of structural organization influencing efficacy, (c) perceptions of relational structures influencing efficacy, (d) perceptions of job preparedness, (e) training topics influencing efficacy, (f) training methodology influencing efficacy, (g) training delivery models influencing efficacy, (h) training factors influencing efficacy, and (i) training factors inhibiting efficacy. Themes and associate invariant constituents captured the collective essence of the paraeducators’ perceptions and experiences describing the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994). To preserve the essence of each paraeducator’s perceptions and lived experiences, using [sic] to identify incorrect grammar was not used due to the large number of such elements within the verbatim examples. Including [sic] would detract from the readability of the statements as quoted.
80 Theme 1, perceptions of role and responsibilities for efficacy development, consisted of four invariant constituents (see Table 6): (a) undefined responsibilities (14 of 20 participants), (b) supports students (8 of 20 participants), (c) supports teachers (6 of 20 participants), and (d) varied responsibilities (2 of 20 participants). When describing perceived roles and responsibilities, 80% of the elementary paraeducators perceived their role as supporting the teacher and 20% perceived their role as supporting students. Conversely, 70% of the secondary paraeducators perceived their role as supporting students and 30% perceived their role as supporting the teacher. Table 6 Theme 1: Perceptions of Role and Responsibilities for Efficacy Development Invariant constituents Undefined Responsibilities Supports Students Supports Teachers Varied Responsibilities 8 6 2 40% 30% 10% n 14 Percent 70%
The majority of the participants perceived their responsibilities as undefined. The participants believed that assigned teachers within the classroom flexibly determined their role and responsibilities rather than adhering to a standard job description. For example, Paraeducator # 20 stated, “I don’t believe that our lines of what we are suppose to do or suppose to know are there. The boundaries that the professionals can ask us to do are not drawn at all.” Paraeducator # 8 explained, “part of the efficacy piece for paraeducators is really having a defined role.” Paraeducator # 9 shared, “it could be
81 different if I’m with one teacher this year and another teacher the next year, the roles could be totally different based on the teacher.” Theme 2, perceptions of organizational structure influencing efficacy, was determined from three invariant constituents (see Table 7): (a) hierarchical (11 of 20 participants), (b) cooperative (5 out of 20 participants), and (c) collaborative (4 of 20 participants). Table 7 Theme 2: Perceptions of Organizational Structure Influencing Efficacy Invariant constituents Hierarchical Cooperative Collaborative 11 5 4 55% 25% 20% n Percent
The participants’ indicated that the organizational structure and management style within the classroom affected their motivation and initiative. More than half of the paraeducators believed that the hierarchical structure within the school influenced their efficacy. Paraeducator # 6 stated, “I think in many situations though, the teacher likes to have the control of the classroom and the para is secondary in there.” Paraeducator # 9 shared her reluctance to implement skills learned due to her perception of the organizational authoritative structure, “I don’t know if I would feel comfortable telling the teacher. I know that I am not really equal, but it would be nice to say this is what I learned and what I think would work.”
82 Theme 3, perceptions of relational structures influencing efficacy, included 6 invariant constituents (see Table 8): (a) need for collegial relationships (16 of 20 participants), (b) lack of parity (16 of 20 participants), (c) lack of communication (13 of 20 participants), (d) lack of respect (12 of 20 participants), (e) good communication (6 of 20 participants), and (f) valued (5 of 20 participants). Table 8 Theme 3: Perceptions of Relational Structures Influencing Efficacy Invariant constituents Need for collegial relationship Lack of parity Lack of communication Lack of respect Good communication Valued n 16 16 13 12 6 5 Percent 80% 80% 65% 60% 30% 25%
Most of the paraeducators felt that efficacy was associated with the relationship they had with other staff members, in particular the classroom teacher. Some of the participants indicated negative relational experiences conversely others revealed positive relationships. Paraeducator # 13 explained, “it’s important for the teacher to have a clear understanding of what the goals are and what we’re working for so that we’re not working against each other, so that we’re hand in hand, and that better helps our students.” Paraeducator # 8 shared her strategy, “if you establish a rapport with the
83 teacher at the beginning of the year, and then, once you do that, most of them are only too happy to hear your input and it is nice to be included.” Despite the perceived need for a collegial relationship, the same number of participants also reported feeling a lack of parity. Paraeducator # 3 stated, “some teachers won’t even let you open your mouth. So it winds up having people being underutilized.” Additionally, Paraeducator # 16 revealed, “it really starts with being accepted as an equal. I am not being respected for the knowledge and talents I bring to the job.” Theme 4, perceptions of job preparedness, consisted of seven invariant constituents (see Table 9): (a) lack of pre-service training (16 of 20 participants), (b) trial and error (11 of 20 participants), (c) instinct (5 of 20 participants), (d) peer support (5 of 20 participants), (e) past experiences (3 of 20 participants), (f) pre-service training (3 of 20 participants), and (g) supervisor support (2 of 20 participants). Table 9 Theme 4: Perceptions of Job Preparedness Invariant constituents Lack of pre-service training Trial and error Instinct Peer support Past experiences Pre-service training Supervisory support n 16 11 5 5 3 3 2 Percent 80% 55% 25% 25% 15% 15% 10%
84 In response to the lead interview question, the participants’ described their experiences acquiring skills in order to fulfill designated responsibilities influencing efficacy development. The majority of the paraeducators indicated a lack of pre-service training. For example, paraeducator # 2 responded, “in the beginning, there was no training at all. It was just on the job, learning from whoever else was in the classroom.” Paraeducator # 4 revealed, “so the primary comment is the frustration that when you come right in, there’s no initial training, so you basically come in blind.” Paraeducator # 10 captured her concerns, “they just expect you to do your thing and work with the kids. But, I had no direction to work with the kids, none, squat, nothing.” Over half of the paraeducators indicated that they learned how to accomplish job expectations and responsibilities by trial and error. Theme 5, training topics influencing efficacy, was determined from five invariant constituents (see Table 10): (a) instructional interventions (17 of 20 participants), (b) behavior and classroom management (10 of 20 participants), (c) characteristics of disabilities (10 of 20 participants), (d) collaborative skills (10 of 20 participants), and (e) understanding the curriculum (4 of 20 participants). Participants revealed five training topics that they perceived would influence efficacy. A common topic revealed was training addressing instructional interventions. For example, paraeducator # 3 stated, “I love my students and I really want to help them. So, if I know how to better help them, then the whole purpose of being a para is more rewarding.” Paraeducator # 7 offered, “I need training really in how to work more effectively with the content. When you have a kid who hits academic roadblocks, what strategies can you use to get them over that?” Additionally, behavior and classroom
85 management, characteristics of disabilities, and collaborative skills were equally identified as influential training topics by half of the participants. Table 10 Theme 5: Training Topics Influencing Efficacy Invariant constituents Instructional interventions Behavior and classroom management Characteristics of disabilities Collaborative skills Understanding the curriculum n 17 10 10 10 4 Percent 85% 50% 50% 50% 20%
Theme 6, training methodology influencing efficacy, consisted of seven invariant constituents (see Table 11): (a) interactive with teachers (15 of 20 participants), (b) interactive with other paraeducators (13 of 20 participants), (c) modeling (12 of 20 participants), (d) lecture (6 of 20 participants), (e) case study (6 of 20 participants), (f) hands-on activities (5 of 20 participants), and (g) role-play (4 of 20 participants). The paraeducators described training methodology or presentation style that they perceived would benefit skill acquisition and efficacy. Interactive discussion with teachers or other paraeducators was offered by the majority of the paraeducators. Paraeducator # 15 explained her perceptions of the benefit of training that facilitated interaction with the teacher, “if we’re on the same page with the teacher, than obviously, we know where they’re going, and maybe we can contribute or know when not to contribute.” Paraeducator # 4 stated, “I prefer the training with the teacher, because then
86 the teacher would allow you to have the freedom of your perspective. And then, based on the information at the training, you could make some decisions.” Table 11 Theme 6: Training Methodology Influencing Efficacy Invariant constituents Interactive with teachers Interactive with other paraeducators Modeling Lecture Case study Hands-on activities Role play n 15 13 12 6 6 5 4 Percent 75% 65% 60% 30% 30% 25% 20%
The training presentation methodology that facilitated interactive discussion with other paraeducators was revealed as influential by 65% the participants of the study. Paraeducator # 18 explained, I think it is extremely valid to hear from another para, someone who’s been there, done it, and to share in a way that, I’ve done this. It has worked for me, not like this is how you have to do it. Paraeducator # 5 shared, “obviously, I would like to be with other paraeducators because we all learn from each other. I think a lot of us look to each other for ideas.” Theme 7, training delivery models influencing efficacy, was determined by five invariant constituents (see Table 12): (a) job-embedded coaching (13 of 20 participants),
87 (b) mentoring (10 of 20 participants), (c) in-house workshops (8 of 20 participants), (d) small group (7 of 20 participants), and (e) large group (2 of 20 participants). Table 12 Theme 7: Training Delivery Models Influencing Efficacy Invariant constituents Job-embedded coaching Mentoring In-house workshops Small group Large group N 13 10 8 7 2 Percent 65% 50% 40% 35% 10%
The majority of the paraeducators believed that training delivered on the job site in the form of coaching or mentoring would most influence efficacy. Paraeducator # 10 described her experience, “the most beneficial training has actually been on the job training where you’ve got the teacher guiding you or working with you on how best to meet the needs of the kids.” Paraeducator # 3 stated, “for me the coaching is better, like what do I do in this situation. And they can really help me to see my weak points, and they can help me, so I can improve myself.” Theme 8, training factors influencing efficacy, consisted of five invariant constituents (see Table 13): (a) content relevancy (17 of 20 participants), (b) paraeducator networking (15 of 20 participants), (c) frequency of training (13 of 20 participants), (d) performance feedback (8 of 20 participants), and (e) expertise of the trainer (4 of 20 participants).
88 Table 13 Theme 8: Training Factors Influencing Efficacy Invariant constituents Content relevancy Paraeducator networking Frequency of training Performance feedback Expertise of the trainer N 17 15 13 8 4 Percent 85% 75% 65% 40% 20%
Common factors that influenced efficacy were revealed as crucial for training effectiveness. The majority of the paraeducators indicated that training influenced efficacy when they perceived the content to be relevant to their role and responsibilities. Paraeducator # 4 stated, “we’ve tried all the standard techniques that work with regular education students, but what we really need are training on specific techniques to the special needs population we have.” Many paraeducators felt the content should also be relevant to specific grade levels. For example, paraeducator # 9 explained, I think it would be beneficial if they had different trainings for elementary, middle, and high school because the ones I’ve been to, have been kind of general and then it wasn’t effective. We’re not all on the same page when we are dealing with the high school student as opposed to an elementary student. Another essential factor was the opportunity to network with other paraeducators. Paraeducator # 18 elucidated, “so when you are with someone who has been in the trenches, who has been there like you are, day in and day out, it’s definitely more beneficial to hear from that point of view, from peer to peer.” Paraeducator # 4 stated, “I
89 have found it to be helpful to have a situation where the paras can get together at a training, and share their roles and responsibilities, as you talk you learn that our roles and responsibilities are very diverse.” Theme 9, training factors inhibiting efficacy, was determined by five invariant constituents (see Table 14): (a) lack of accessibility (13 of 20 participants), (b) lack of follow-up training (10 of 20 participants, (c) lack of content depth (9 of 20 participants), (d) lack of compensation (8 of 20 participants), and (e) lack of choices (6 of 20 participants). The participants shared experiences and emphasized factors regarding training they perceived as inhibiting efficacy development. Over half of the paraeducators indicated that a lack of training accessibility prohibited participation. The lack of accessibility included experiences revealing a lack of training availability or a lack of opportunities to participate. Paraeducator # 1 explained, “several of them are hard to get in to, they need to increase the availability of training.” Paraeducator # 13 stated, “training is very limited for paras. So, if they were a little bit more flexible on the times, or stuff like that, I think more paras would be willing to take courses.” Table 14 Theme 9: Training Factors Inhibiting Efficacy Invariant constituents Lack of accessibility Lack of follow-up training Lack of content depth Lack of compensation Lack of choices N 13 10 9 8 6 Percent 65% 50% 45% 40% 30%
Final Identification of the Invariant Constituents The invariant constituents and accompanying themes were validated against the interview recording, transcript, field notes, and observational memorandum of each research participant. The complete record review was performed to verify that the each statement or horizon was explicitly or compatibly expressed. Validation was completed using the following inquiry process: 1. Are they expressed explicitly in the complete transcription? 2. Are they compatible if not explicitly expressed? 3. If they are not explicit or compatible, they are not relevant to the coresearcher’s experience and should be deleted (Moustakas, 1994, p.121). Individual Textual Descriptions The textual descriptions summarize each special education paraeducator’s unique perceptions, feelings, insights, and concerns regarding their training experiences influencing efficacy (see Appendix G). Each participant’s verbatim-transcribed interviews and keywords identified in the field notes were reviewed to develop the individual textual descriptions. To ensure authenticity and readability, the use of [sic] to identify incorrect grammar was not used. The descriptions portray the nature of the phenomenon and evoke images, thoughts, and feelings of the experiences (Moustakas, 1994). Individual Structural Descriptions The individual structural descriptions capture the special education paraeducators’ deep and underlying feelings, reflections, and emotions associated with their training experiences and perceived efficacy (see Appendix H). According to Moustakas (1994),
91 “the individual structural description provides a vivid account of the underlying dynamics of the experience, the themes and qualities account for the “how” feelings and thoughts connected with the phenomenon, what conditions evoked the experience” (p. 135). The individual structural descriptions were constructed using imaginative variation identified in the field note impressions that permeated the participant’s experiences to reflect the essence of the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994). Composite Descriptions The composite descriptions are an integration of the paraeducators’ perceptions and lived experiences representing the group as a whole (Moustakas, 1994). Composite descriptions are derived from the individual textual and structural descriptions (see Appendix I). Invariant meanings and themes are presented in the textual composite descriptions revealing a cumulative and comprehensive description of the phenomenon. The structural composite description captures the essence of the phenomenon. The collective description facilitates an understanding of how the participants, as a group, experienced what they experienced (Moustakas, 1994). A universal understanding is discovered by integrating the imaginative variations revealed in the individual structural descriptions. Textual-Structural Synthesis The textual-structural synthesis is the final step in the analytical process (see Appendix J). The textual-structural synthesis presents a “unity of texture and structure” of the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994, p. 151). The synthesis describes the meaning and essence of the special education paraeducators’ perceptions and lived experiences of training and efficacy.
92 Analysis of emerged themes indicated a consistent experiential and perceptual focus on two distinct and interrelated forms of efficacy: (a) organizational efficacy and (b) self-efficacy. An in-depth understanding of organizational efficacy was revealed through the analytical synthesis of three themes: (a) perceptions of role and responsibilities for efficacy development, (b) perceptions of organizational structure influencing efficacy, and (c) perceptions of relational structures influencing efficacy. A deeper understanding of self-efficacy was discovered through the analytical synthesis of six themes: (a) perceptions of job preparedness, (b) training topics influencing efficacy, (c) training methodology influencing efficacy, (d) training delivery models influencing efficacy, (e) training factors influencing efficacy, and (f) training factors inhibiting efficacy. Summary Chapter 4 includes a presentation of the study findings that emerged from the implementation of the data collective methods and data analysis procedures exploring the perceptions and lived experiences regarding training and efficacy of 20 special education paraeducators in Maryland. Data collection entailed in-depth conversational interviews, using the following lead question: Please describe how your training experiences have influenced your efficacy as a paraprofessional. The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and coded until information addressing the central research question had reached the point of redundancy and saturation. Observational memorandums and field notes were used to capture structural data.
93 Verified data were imported into NVivo 8 software (www.qsrinternational.com) to assist phenomenological reduction and was systematically analyzed guided by the seven step modified van Kaam data analysis method (Moustakas, 1994). Data analysis revealed the following nine significant themes: (a) perceptions of role and responsibilities for efficacy development, (b) perceptions of organizational structure influencing efficacy, (c) perceptions of relational structures influencing efficacy, (d) perceptions of job preparedness, (e) training topics influencing efficacy, (f) training methodology influencing efficacy, (g) training delivery models influencing efficacy, (h) training factors influencing efficacy, and (i) training factors inhibiting efficacy. Each participant’s unique perceptions and feelings were summarized using verbatim examples in the individual textual and structural descriptions. A unified description of the essence and meaning of the themes pertaining to the paraeducators’ perceptions and lived experience of training and efficacy was presented in the composite descriptions. The collective and integrated themes presented in the textual-structural synthesis revealed the paraeducators’ perception of two pertinent and interrelated forms of efficacy, organizational efficacy and self-efficacy. Chapter 5 consists of a review of the purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological study and aligns the purpose with the revealed data findings. Conclusions and impressions garnered from the literature review and data analysis are presented. Additionally, study limitations and research design scope are discussed. The implications and recommendations for educational leadership regarding the influence of paraeducator training and efficacy are offered. Chapter 5 concludes with suggestions for future research.
94 CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The majority of special education paraprofessionals are underprepared and unqualified to perform the role and responsibilities of supporting the challenging learning needs of students with disabilities (Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Leblanc, Ricciardi, & Luiselli, 2005). In response to legal mandates and the special education teacher shortage, the practice of assigning paraprofessionals to students with disabilities is increasing thereby, creating the sociological phenomenon where the least qualified personnel are educating the most complicated students (Devlin, 2005; Ghere &York-Barr, 2007; U.S. Department of Education, 2007). Therefore, the purpose of the qualitative, phenomenological study was to understand the relationship between training and special education paraprofessional efficacy that emerge from the perceptions and lived experiences of 20 special education paraprofessionals in Maryland. The intent of chapter 5 is to summarize the interpretation of the data findings presented in chapter 4 and discuss the conclusions and implications discovered from the literature review and data analysis. A review of emerged themes, study limitations, and study significance are included. Chapter 5 concludes with recommendations for educational leadership regarding the influence of paraeducator training and efficacy and potential avenues for future research is delineated. The need for special education paraprofessional training was established in the literature review (Causton-Theoharris & Malmgren, 2005; French, 2003; Giangreco, Doyle, & Vadasy, 2007). However, a thorough literature review revealed minimal research regarding the required training needed to influence paraprofessional efficacy (Keller, Bucholz, & Brady, 2007), particularly research derived from perceptions and
95 lived experiences of the paraprofessionals. Phenomenological research describes and interprets the individual perspectives regarding a particular phenomenon (Mertler & Charles, 2008). Therefore, utilizing the qualitative phenomenological method benefitted the study by facilitating avenues for exploring how the participants derived meaning from their experiences. The determination of universal meaning was derived through individual experiential and perceptual descriptions (Moustakas, 1994). In-depth interviews were the primary data collection method guided by the research question: what are the perceptions and lived experiences of special education paraprofessionals regarding training and efficacy? Data analysis was facilitated by the seven steps of the modified van Kaam method of analysis of phenomenological data (Moustakas, 1994) and the use of NVivo 8 software (www.qsrinternational.com) tool. The goal of data collection and analysis was not to identify the best perception or right meaning but rather to seek and accurately report personal accounts in order to reveal collective patterns and trends providing a comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon. Conclusions The findings of the study addressing the research question indicate a relational phenomenon between training and efficacy. Analytical synthesis of the identified themes revealed training influences on two interrelated forms of efficacy: (a) organizational efficacy and (b) self-efficacy (see Figure 2). Organizational efficacy refers to the beliefs held by the paraeducators about their collective capabilities within the organization (Bandura, 1997; Gerlach, 2008; Kezar, 2001). Self-efficacy refers to the paraeducators individual beliefs about their capabilities to achieve (Bandura, 1997; Pajares, 2002).
96 Experiences and perceptions shared by the paraeducators as co-researchers indicated a necessary interplay between organizational efficacy and self-efficacy. Selfefficacy development is influenced by perceived collective efficacy and conversely organizational efficacy development is influenced by perceptions of individual capabilities. Training influencing efficacy development requires the consideration of both forms of efficacy, confirming a relationship between training and efficacy.
What are the perceptions and lived experiences of special education paraprofessionals regarding training and efficacy?
Themes Role and Responsibility Organizational Structure Relational Structure
Themes Job Preparedness Training Topics Training Methodology Training Delivery Models Influencing Training Factors Inhibiting Training Factors
Figure 2. Training influences on paraeducator efficacy.
97 Organizational Efficacy The analytical synthesis of the three established themes: (a) perceptions of role and responsibilities for efficacy development, (b) perceptions of organizational structure influencing efficacy, and (c) perceptions of relational structures influencing efficacy contributed to a comprehensive understanding of organizational efficacy development. Bandura (1997) indicated that organizational efficacy is established through the collective trust that each member will effectively perform assigned duties relating to the organizational mission. The presentation of relevant literature associated with the identified themes contributed to the study conclusions. Perceptions of Role and Responsibility The literature review yielded several studies concluding that special education paraeducator job descriptions are inconsistent and undefined despite the expansion of the role and responsibilities (Broer, Doyle, & Giangreco, 2005; Downing, Ryndak, & Clark; 2000; French & Chopra, 2004; Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young-Tillery, & Roark, 2004 ). According to the United States Department of Education (1997), paraprofessionals report that role overload and role conflicts tend to be the norm rather than the exception. Similarly, the majority of the paraeducators in the study revealed that a consistent and definitive role and responsibility description is critical to efficacy development. Most of the participants (70%) experienced unclear or undefined role and responsibility descriptions contributing to collective beliefs of frustration. Perceptions of Organizational Structure Ghere and York-Barr (2007) stated that within the educational hierarchical structure, paraprofessional roles are considered subordinate. Comparatively, the majority
98 of the participants participating in the study (80%) believed that the organizational structure was either hierarchical or cooperative and within their work environment they were perceived as inferior. Findings in a study conducted by Caine and Caine (1997) indicated that individuals regressed when feeling devalued. As a group, the paraeducators participating in this study revealed that a collaborative organizational structure would enhance efficacy. Perceptions of Relational Structure Nearly all of the paraeducators participating in the study (80%) indicated that the degree and type of collegial relationship within the work environment influenced efficacy. A lack of parity (80%), lack of communication (65%), and lack of respect (60%) were frequently experienced, contributing to the collective perception of being “invisible” and isolated. Paralleling this study, Giangreco, Edelman, and Broer (2001) conducted a study examining the organizational acknowledgement of paraprofessionals and similarly found a perceived lack of respect. Self-Efficacy The analytical synthesis of six established themes: (a) perceptions of job preparedness, (b) training topics influencing efficacy, (c) training methodology influencing efficacy, (d) training delivery models influencing efficacy, (e) training factors influencing efficacy, and (f) training factors inhibiting efficacy revealed a deeper understanding of self-efficacy development. Perceived self-efficacy established the paraeducator’s actions regarding the implementation of knowledge and skills acquired through effective training experiences (Bandura, 1997; Doyle, 2002). The conclusions are
99 determined by the presentation of relevant literature associated with the identified themes. Perceptions of Job Preparedness The paraeducators enrolled in the study achieved a variety of educational foundation, ranging from completion of high school to achieving a Master’s degree. Conversely, the majority of the paraeducators (80%) participating in the study indicated as new employees, they felt unprepared to perform effectively the job. Similarly, Picket, Gerlach, Morgan, Likins, and Wallace, (2007) found that most state departments and local agencies have not set adequate employment standards despite paraeducator role demands requiring increased instructional responsibilities. Special education paraeducators participating in the study believed that initial feelings of inadequacy influenced their efficacy development. Manz (1992) indicated that successful experiences could elevate efficacy perceptions, while failure could undermine efficacy perceptions. Training Topics Influencing Efficacy Several of the peer-reviewed articles identified in the literature suggested training topics including understanding the characteristics of disabilities, interpreting pertinent documents, and acquiring instructional methodology (Ashbaker & Morgan, 2006; Causton-Theoharris & Malmgren, 2005; Gerlach, 2008; Trautman, 2004). Most of the special education paraeducators participating in the study (85%) indicated that they benefited from and sought training that taught instructional intervention options for struggling students. Gaining an understanding of how to select and implement different strategies promoting student intervention problem-solving strategies enhanced the participants’ ability to perform their job and influenced self-efficacy.
100 Training Methodology Influencing Efficacy A thorough literature review produced no studies that directly addressed the special education paraeducators’ perceptions and experiences of effective training methodologies. The majority of the paraeducators participating in the study (75%) indicated value in methodologies that facilitated interaction with teachers and other paraeducators. Modeling was indicated by 60% of the participants as an effective methodology. The paraeducators indicated that self-efficacy development was enhanced by exposure to differing perspectives yielding a mutual understanding. Training Delivery Models Influencing Efficacy Although the literature describing effective training delivery models for paraprofessionals is relatively silent, Giangreco and Broer (2005) referred to the Institute Model as the most common paraprofessional training delivery model, characterized as a single session training model emphasizing theoretical content. Conversely, the majority of the paraeducators participating in the study indicated that training delivered through job-embedded coaching and peer mentoring was most effective. The participants’ collective experience revealed that job-embedded coaching and peer mentoring influenced self-efficacy by customizing training to address personal job performance needs. Training Factors Influencing Efficacy Several factors generic to all special education paraeducator training was described by the study participants as crucial for influencing efficacy. The factors included: (a) content relevancy, revealed by 85% of the participants; (b) opportunities for paraeducator networking, revealed by 75% of the participants; and (c) frequent training
101 including follow-up activities, revealed by 65% of the participants. The literature review revealed a paucity of studies examining influential training factors. Lasater, Johnson, and Fitzgerald (2000) proposed analogous training factors in order to facilitate the paraeducators’ development of instructional and behavioral strategies. Training Factors Inhibiting Efficacy According to Chopra (2004), due to the unique needs of the paraeducator, the professional developer’s consideration of training time, location, compensation, and trainer selection are critical and challenging. In addition, funding for paraprofessional training continues to be problematic affecting the quality and frequency of training (French, 2003). The majority of the paraeducators participating in the study (65%) confirmed that training participation was inhibited by limited training availability or a lack of opportunities to access provided training. Additionally, half of the participants noted that the lack of follow-up training inhibited desires to participate in training opportunities. Less than half (40%) of the paraeducators interviewed indicated lack of compensation as an inhibitor to training participation revealing the strong commitment and desire to expand skills and efficacy. Societal and Policy Implications In response to legislative mandates derived from IDEA (2004) and NCLB (2001), society increasingly relies on special education paraeducators as an essential support and vital program component for educating students with disabilities (Doyle, 2002; Keller, Bucholz, & Brady, 2007). The special education paraeducators participating in the study confirmed the literature findings that indicated role and responsibility confusion, insufficient preparation, and needed competency standards with corresponding training
102 (Chopra, Carrol, Sandoval-Lucero, & DeBalderas, 2004; Devlin, 2005; Forster & Holbrook, 2005; Gessler-Werts, Harris, Young, & Roark, 2004; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Leblanc, Ricciardi, & Luiselli, 2005). The development of performance competencies are being investigated in states such as Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Nebraska as well as professional organizations such as the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals (NRCP). However, the utilization of performance competencies continues to be limited. Expanding the development and implementation of needed policies in order to establish performance standards requires the consideration of the paraprofessionals’ perspective. Incorporating this valuable and authentic information will optimize the utilization of special education paraeducators and ultimately enhance the educational programming for all students with special needs. Implications for Paraprofessional Staff Developers Effective training approaches are needed to improve the special education paraprofessional workforce ensuring accurate and effective individualized supports and interventions for students with special needs (Bugaj, 2002; French, 2003; Giangreco, & Broer, 2002; Pickett, 2002). Participants in this study reported feeling unprepared and unqualified for the role. Refining paraeducator training incorporating the special education paraeducators’ perspectives, experiences, and learning preferences will increase skill generalization therefore, benefitting special education practices. Effective staff development programs consist of training designs that encourage continuous learning through the incorporation of adult learning principles (Gordon, 2004). The adherence to the principles of adult learning theory is evident in training
103 outcomes, which reflect the adult learner’s empowerment to apply acquired knowledge and skills (Ellinger, 2004; Knowles, 1984). Correspondingly, the findings in this study confirmed the relationship between special education paraeducator training and efficacy development. The relevancy and effectiveness of the paraprofessional development training is determined by the perceptions of the paraeducators as adult learners. Study findings and conclusions will inform staff developers regarding effective training content, methodology, and delivery models influencing paraeducator efficacy development. Therefore, effective training is evident by outcomes that enhance the special education paraeducators’ capacity to perform their job. Significance of Findings to Leadership Giangreco and Broer (2005) posited that the limited available research addressing special education paraeducators utilization indicated rudimentary supports and practices. The insights that emerged from the results of the study are significant to educational leadership by contributing to the identified gaps of knowledge through the investigation of the perceptions and experiences of paraeducators regarding training and efficacy. The synthesis of the composite textural-structural descriptions revealed an influential relationship between training, organizational efficacy, and self-efficacy. Understanding the relationship between training and efficacy will inform leadership decisions regarding organizational initiatives and resource allocations in order to maximize the collective potential of the special education paraprofessional workforce. Limitations The limitation of the study is evident in the generalizability of the sample. All participants were volunteers. The majority expressed appreciation for the opportunity to
104 share their perspective, possibly indicating that only those paraeducators with strong perceptions and experiences participated. Due to the purposeful sampling method and geographic convenience, all but one participant worked for the same school system sharing similar training opportunities and experiences potentially limiting the applicability to other special paraeducators in other educational settings. Although the sample was demographically diverse, replication of the national population is limited as school system experiences are influenced by the educational demands of geographical location rather than reflecting generic across the nation. Ethical Dimensions According to Creswell (2006), the exploratory nature of qualitative phenomenological research risks subjectivity and researcher bias. Therefore, study validity is defined by the degree the findings accurately measure the phenomenon. In qualitative research, the researcher is the measurement instrument (Patton, 2002). In order to preserve credibility, an intense study of the philosophical foundations of the phenomenological approach was conducted prior to data collection and honored throughout the study. Research bias was controlled by rigidly adhering to appropriate interviewing methods, which included open-ended questions maintaining researcher neutrality and the development of objective follow-up queries in order to mitigate any preconceived ideas. In addition, impartiality and confidentiality was maintained through the use of an independent transcriber coupled with systematic and thorough data organization and documentation techniques.
105 Recommendations The passage of NCLB (2001) and the alignment of IDEA (2004) was the catalyst for special education paraprofessional reforms. The paraprofessional transformation included changes to the title, required qualifications, role, responsibilities, and accountability. Further, reliance on the special education paraeducator has intensified due to the increasing number of students identified with disabilities, a critical special education teacher shortage, and mandated special education service delivery models that emphasize inclusionary practices, placing more students with disabilities in the general education classroom. The literature review revealed limited research. Studies reviewed primarily focused on the nature of the phenomenon and there were no studies discovered examining the paraprofessional’s perspective. The following recommendations were derived from the perceptions and experiences of special education paraeducators reflecting the uniqueness of the study. Recommendations for Stakeholders Maximizing paraeducator contributions to special education programming and service delivery requires a collaborative approach. The paraprofessionals perceived themselves as vital members of a school team facilitated by positive communication and relational strategies that support organizational efficacy development. Considering paraprofessionals from the perspective of team membership rather than as subordinates establishes a collective scope of the roles and responsibilities contributing to a shared goal. Examining the phenomenon of paraeducator training and efficacy revealed a deeper understanding and necessity for training strategies that enhance the relational
106 development of organizational efficacy and self-efficacy. Therefore, effective staff development transfers the focus from isolated and generic seminars to job-embedded, relevant, and continuous training strengthening the self-efficacy of every team member. Suggestions for Further Study In order to expand knowledge and discover continued revelations, further studies exploring the utilization of the special education paraeducator are warranted. An unanticipated finding of this study was the contrasting description of perceived role and responsibility between the elementary based paraeducators and the secondary based paraeducators. The majority of the elementary paraeducators described their primary responsibility as supporting the teacher, while the majority of the secondary paraeducators indicated that assisting students was a primary responsibility. Since efficacy development relates to perceived job responsibilities, further studies examining the elementary and secondary special education paraeducators as two distinct samples is suggested in order to illuminate efficacy development commonalities and differences. In order to extend findings beyond job placement data, suggested studies examining the influences of specific training on efficacy development by distinguishing roles and responsibilities regarding the paraeducators’ specific assigned grade levels, disability categories supported, or assigned instructional program models would provide further clarification. While confirming a relationship between training and efficacy development, this study identified the special education paraeducators’ perceptions of training factors contributing to efficacy development, but fell short of establishing how the paraeducators determined or measured their capabilities to perform their job. The paraeducators did not
107 offer effectiveness criteria. Continued research exploring performance competencies from the paraeducators’ perspective will yield valuable data informing special education programming. Summary Paraprofessionals are increasingly being utilized to address the changing demands in the field of special education. However, perceptions and experiences of special education paraprofessionals participating in the study confirmed the literature findings indicating a lack of adequate training and effective supports affecting their capacity to perform their job. Revealed themes were synthesized to establish the essential descriptions of the paraeducators’ reality guided by Moustakas’ (1994) modified van Kaam method of analysis. Emerging from the descriptions are the study conclusions, implications, and recommendations related to the research question. The interpretations and conclusions will be share with educational leadership in order to optimize the talents, compassion, and dedication of a very valuable educational asset, the paraprofessional.
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124 APPENDIX A: PERMISSION TO DISSEMINATE INVITATION – SEIU
125 PERMISSION TO DISSEMINATE INVITATION – SEIU
Removed to preserve confidentiality
126 APPENDIX B: PERMISSION TO DISSEMINATE INVITATION – CEC
127 PERMISSION TO DISSEMINATE INVITATION – CEC
Removed to preserve confidentiality
128 APPENDIX C: INFORMATION LETTER
129 INFORMATION LETTER Dear special education paraprofessional, You are invited to participate in a research study exploring the relationship between training and special education paraprofessional efficacy. A review of the literature reveals that little information is available documenting the perceptions and lived experiences of special education paraprofessionals. Therefore, your participation is very important in understanding training and strategies influencing paraprofessional efficacy and potentially stronger programming for students with special needs. Your valuable participation will involve availing yourself to a short (estimated 60-minute) face-to-face recorded and transcribed interview at a mutually agreed upon time and place. Your participation in this study is voluntary and if desired, you may withdraw from this study at any time. The interview will be recorded and transcribed to ensure accuracy. I will also take notes during the interview to assist me in understanding your comments during the analysis phase of the study. The results of the research study may be published, but your name will not be used and your interview will be maintained in confidence, as only aggregate data will be reported, although brief quotations may be used as illustrative examples, but these will not be attributed to any specific individual. In this research, there are no foreseeable risks to you. The results of the research study will be published, but your name will not be used and your results will be maintained in confidence. If interested, please read carefully and return the attached informed consent form with your dated signature, and requested information or you may call me at xxx xxx-xxxx or email me at XXX.com to schedule an
130 appointment or for additional information. Thank you in advance for your consideration to participate in this study, your unique perspectives, and experiences are highly valued. Sincerely,
131 APPENDIX D: INFORMED CONSENT
132 INFORMED CONSENT Date: Dear Participant ___________________________________, I am a student at the University of Phoenix working on a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership. I am conducting a research study entitled: A Phenomenological Study of Paraprofessionals’ Perceptions of Training and Efficacy. The purpose of the research project is to explore the relationship between training and special education paraprofessional efficacy that emerge from the perceptions and lived experiences of approximately 20 special education paraprofessionals in Maryland. A phenomenological qualitative study will be conducted and will consist of a semi-structured, taped interview. Your participation will involve availing yourself to a recorded and transcribed face-to-face interview and completion of a demographic questionnaire. The interview will be recorded and transcribed to ensure accuracy. I will also take notes during the interview to assist me in understanding your comments during the analysis phase of the study. Your participation in this study is voluntary. You may choose not to participate or to withdraw from the study at any time, and you may do so without penalty or loss of benefit to yourself. The results of the research study may be published, but your name will not be used and your interview will be maintained in confidence, as only aggregate data will be reported, although brief quotations may be used as illustrative examples, but these will not be attributed to any specific individual. In this research, there are no foreseeable risks to you. Although there may be no direct benefit to you, the possible benefit of your participation is the discovery of common themes among paraprofessionals that may affect
133 effective training programs that contribute to paraprofessional efficacy influencing student programming in the future. If you have any questions concerning the research study, please call me at XXX or email me at XXXX. The return of your demographic questionnaire with this informed consent form, signed and dated, indicates your willingness to participate in this study. Thank you for considering this request.
134 INFORMED CONSENT (CONTINUED) PARTICIPANT RESPONSE FORM By signing this form I acknowledge that I understand the nature of the study, the potential risks to me as a participant, and the means by which my identity will be kept confidential. My signature on this form also indicates that I am 18 years or older and that I give my permission to voluntarily serve as a participant in the study described.
Signature_________________________________ Date: _______________________ Print Name: _________________________________________________________ I am available for an interview ___________________________________________ You may contact me to schedule an interview by calling me ____________________ And the most convenient time to call me is __________________________________ Gender: Female ___ Male___ (check) Age: 18-21 ___ 22-35___36-45___ 46-62___63-65___ 66-75___ 76+___ (check) Education: MS ___ HS ___ Some college ___ Associate ___ Professional ___ Bachelors ___ Masters ___ Doctorate ___ (check) Years of Experience: 3-5 years ___ 5-10 years ____ 10+ years ___ (check) Permission to record interview: yes ______ no_____ (check)
135 APPENDIX E: OBTAINING INFORMED CONSENT
136 OBTAINING INFORMED CONSENT In order to document and confirm each participant’s consent to participate the following scripted procedure will be uniformly implemented: Before starting the recorder: Thank you for agreeing to participate in this study, your insights are extremely valuable in order to inform the field of special education. You have signed the informed consent form and we are about to begin the interview. Before proceeding further, I will start the recorder. After starting the recorder: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Please confirm that you have signed the informed consent form. Do you affirm that you are a volunteer and that you have received no enticements or promises of a reward for your participation? Do you affirm your understanding that you may choose not to participate or to withdraw from the study at any time, and you may do so without penalty or loss of benefit to yourself? Thank your for allowing me to be accurate by allowing the recording of this interview. Do you affirm your consent to have this interview recorded? If yes, the interview will continue if no, the participant will be thanked before the recorder is stopped, and interview terminated. Do you affirm your understanding that the results of the research study will be published, but your name will not be used and your interview will be maintained in confidence, as only aggregate data will be reported, although brief quotations may be used as illustrative examples, but these will not be attributed to any specific individual?
137 If at anytime the participant replies no to a question, clarification will be provided and confirmation of continued participation will be reestablished. When all questions have been affirmed, the interview will proceed with the lead interview question. Please describe how your training experiences have influenced your efficacy as a paraprofessional.
138 APPENDIX F: LISTING AND PRELIMINARY GROUPINGS
139 LISTING AND PRELIMINARY GROUPINGS Name Number of Sources Number of References
Group 1: Role and responsibility (4 subcategories) Undefined Varied responsibilities Supports students Supports teachers 14 9 12 11 22 17 20 16
Group 2: Training topic (5 subcategories) Behavior management Instructional interventions Understanding curriculum Characteristics of disabilities Collaborative skills 10 17 4 10 10 14 40 7 14 13
Group 3: Training methodology (7 subcategories) Lecture Interactive with other paraeducators Interactive with school staff Modeling Hands-on activities Role-play Case study 6 13 15 12 5 4 6 9 23 27 16 5 8 6
Group 4: Organizational structure (3 subcategories) Hierarchical Cooperative Collaborative 11 5 4 13 11 9
Group 5: Training delivery models (5 subcategories) In-house workshops Job embedded coaching Large group Mentoring Small group 8 13 2 10 7 9 20 3 14 9
Group 6: Inhibiting factors (5 subcategories) Lack of compensation Lack of accessibility Lack of choices Lack of follow-up Lack of content depth 8 13 6 10 9 14 13 9 17 18
Group 7: Influential factors (5 subcategories) Frequency Relevancy Networking Feedback Expertise 13 17 15 8 4 22 30 19 8 5
Group 8: Job preparedness (7 subcategories) Lack of pre-training Instinct Past experiences Supervisory support Trial and error Pre-service training Peer support 15 5 3 2 11 3 5 28 9 5 2 15 4 5
Group 9: Teamwork (6 subcategories) Valued member Lack of parity Need for collegial relationship Good communication Lack of communication Lack of respect 5 16 16 6 13 12 14 22 27 10 25 18
141 APPENDIX G: INDIVIDUAL TEXTUAL DESCRIPTIONS
142 INDIVIDUAL TEXTUAL DESCRIPTIONS The textual descriptions summarize each paraeducator’s unique perceptions, feelings, insights, and concerns regarding their experiences with training influencing efficacy. Each participant’s verbatim-transcribed interviews and keywords identified in the field notes were reviewed to develop the individual textual descriptions. The descriptions portray the nature of the phenomenon and evoke images, thoughts, and feelings of the experiences (Moustakas, 1994). Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 1 Paraeducator # 1 has 7 years experience as a special education paraprofessional, working on the elementary level. She has some college training unrelated to education. She indicated that she had little training prior to starting her job and that most of her training was through trial and error and mentoring from the special education teacher. “I learned while doing it, on the job. I think that’s your (pause) well, if your have the knowledge, experience is your best teacher.” She described her primary role as supporting the teacher. Defining the responsibilities within her role varied with each teacher-paraeducator relationship. She shared, “Well, to support the teacher and I feel over the years that that’s grown to support her. I work with the children…the teacher’s responsible for all the lesson plans and explaining it and I will follow through.” She shared her feelings of accomplishment, “When we go in, (pause) when your in with the teacher and they need another hand. Well, I get personal satisfaction out of it when (pause) I help any child and then the get it.” To influence efficacy, training opportunities needed to be more frequent and relevant. “I don’t think it would be bad to have refresher courses every summer, once a
143 year. I don’t think it would be bad just to refresh things or if anything new (pause) because new concepts come all the time. I mean it changes daily with different disorders and everything.” She felt that her training experiences lacked practical strategies that could be implemented in the classroom. “The training was all theory and then I went into the classroom (pause) all theory really wouldn’t help.” Paraeducator # 1 shared her experiences, “behavior management is becoming more of an issue (pause) because they’re cutting so much in special education. She shared her concerns “Sometimes it’s not with the disability, it’s more just the emotional end that interferes. You can’t sometimes decipher where the disability starts and the emotional begins (pause) they’re intertwined so deeply that one affects the other.” She revealed that she could not be effective with the students until she could address the behaviors and indicated that training focusing on behavior management strategies have been valuable. She preferred trainings that helped her problem-solve specific interventions for students that were challenging. She indicated that job-specific training that included modeling and provided performance feedback have a greater impact on her professional development and influence efficacy than trainings outside the school. She explained, “if you work with a wonderful teacher, brainstorming at the end of the day and treating you as an equal, that you know, that your input is just as important because we all come for different walks of life and everything is (pause) we all perceive and look at things at a different angle.” Paraeducator #1 felt that training with the teacher would help establish clearer role delineation and promote communication.
144 Summarized textual description for Paraeducator 2 Paraeducator # 2 has 6 years experience as a secondary special education paraprofessional. She has an Associate’s degree in early childhood education. She indicated that when she started as a paraprofessional she had no training and learned from “whoever was willing to teach her.” She described her role and responsibilities as changing from year to year depending on the degree of respect and level of collaboration from the classroom teacher. The range of responsibilities varied based on the teachers’ attitude towards paraeducators. At times, she has felt like she contributed a “major role” in the classroom “as an equal” and at other times she has felt more like a babysitter “waiting to be told what to do.” Training that has been beneficial to her have emphasized specific interventions such as wheelchair training and restraint training. She would like additional training that helped her understand the big picture associated with her role. For example, she suggested training in the characteristics of Autism and Down’s Syndrome as well as gaining an understanding of the background of specific students and the overall goal of their education. She explained, “I think it’s important to know what the student’s goals are for the whole six years of high school programming and where they are heading after they graduate.” She is concerned that there are too many performance restrictions regarding her role, inhibiting her from implementing information acquired at training. She stated, “It is frustrating for us because we get all pumped up and excited when we take the class, and wow, that would really work well. But we couldn’t do it because the teacher doesn’t go for it.” She felt that some preliminary training should be mandated so that each
145 paraprofessional has the same core skills. Participant #2 felt that small group training at the work place was beneficial. However, she indicated that the content must be relevant to particular educational demands in order to increase efficacy. Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 3 Paraeducator # 3 has over 10 years experience as an elementary special education paraprofessional. She has a Bachelor’s degree in a field unrelated to education. She described her role as supporting the classroom teacher and students. “I think my role is to support my teacher and to provide the best service for my students and their families.” She has experienced higher performance expectations than when she first started as a paraeducator. She felt that learning about teamwork with the teachers influenced her efficacy. Past training provided by the school system has lacked research especially in the area of disability characteristics. She felt that most past training had been more sharing than informing, which has inhibited her growth. “I want training that will help me see my weak points or the way I look at students in the right way and they can help me so I can improve myself.” She has pursued training outside the school system at local universities, which is expensive and time consuming. However, she felt they were beneficial because the classes were scheduled over a longer period, “so, we can include everything we need, like a complete something.” She would like to observe other classrooms that have been identified as strong. “Then I can just learn from it, just observe them. I think that would help me.” Paraeducator # 3 felt that paraeducators “really need to have a chance to see higher standards of training.” She has experienced a disconnection between role expectations
146 and training. She expressed that the training “is still on a teachers aide level.” She felt the training should “delve deeper into the issue of working with children rather than everything on the surface.” She preferred to participate in training that included the teachers so that “we can learn things together and then we can perform or we can practice with our students (pause) and then if we make a mistake it’s okay. We learn from mistakes. We improve together. Really see the teamwork.” Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 4 Paraeducator # 4 has worked as an elementary school special education paraeducator for 5 years and currently holds a Bachelor’s degree in a field outside of education. She opened the interview by explaining that she felt very unprepared when assuming the role. “There is no initial training set. So you basically come in blind and not until you’ve been there for quite some time are you aware of trainings that you can enroll.” An initial training “formalizing” the role of the paraeducator would have contributed to her efficacy development by establishing defined performance standards. She indicated that she did not benefit from the limited training opportunities provided by the school system. Paraeducator # 4 felt that the training offered was not relevant to her responsibilities stating, “much of the training is geared toward regular education paraeducators and not specifically special education paraeducators.” She felt that many special education teachers do not have a firm understanding of how to “utilize paraeducators and where the division of duties were to fall.” She indicated that training with the teacher to establish the “interplay” and facilitate a teaming relationship would be beneficial to participant # 4. She perceived her role as supportive, where the teacher is “driving the lesson plan and the flow of the classroom and our role is
147 more student-directed. If we see a student that is not being able to follow along for whatever reason, to try to hone in on that student to support them so that they can stay engaged.” She shared that her most valuable and influential training experience involved “describing the categories of different special needs students and how the school system views them.” She felt this contributed to her efficacy because “so much of it is appreciating that they have limitation and learning the appropriate ways to approach learning behaviors.” She felt that this type of training supported opportunities to understand documents in the students’ folders. Additionally, she would like to have an opportunity prior to the start of each school year to discuss the students with the teacher in a proactive manner. She stated, “I think that it’s a handicap for paraeducators if you are not aware of what the issues are, so I think it would be very important to have them come in before the kids come in and be able to read the IEP’s and be able to understand and then, talk it through with the teachers.” The content of the training she experienced were too general inhibiting her efficacy and that many covered things “that are so rudimentary and so basic.” She felt that since the role and responsibilities are so diverse, training with other paraprofessionals is important to distinguish between stated expectations and reality. In addition, she felt the trainings should be ongoing following a single topic focus for the school year. The concentrated training would enable performance feedback regarding implementation and support student specific issues in a problem-solving format.
Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 5 Paraeducator # 5 holds a Master’s degree in a field unrelated to education and has worked as a special education paraeducator for 4 years. She indicated that in her short employment she has had three different job placements, ranging from supporting a selfcontained elementary special education class to providing all day one-to-one support to a student with cerebral palsy, to working in inclusion classes in a middle school. With each position, her role changed influencing her efficacy. She also shared that she received very little training for each role. She started, “I walked into the classroom, and I literally sat down to start the interaction with the children.” Paraeducator # 5 perceived her role as “an assistant to the teacher in the classroom.” However, after reflecting she rephrased “well, my primary role is to help the students be successful in the classroom and part of that is to help the teacher.” She felt that it was not the paraeducators’ role to direct a lesson but rather support the student. She believed that she requires very little direction from the teacher. She would like to see more training addressing “how to interact with the students, especially when they’re acting out in the classroom, how much, how can you bring the student, calm them down and get them back focused.” She does not read the students files and felt that she “just needs a little bit of time early on in the year . . . to get familiar with the issues involving that child.” When describing her experiences she compared them to being a mother, “I like to try all the mothering kind of strategies to bring them back to focus.”
149 Paraeducator # 5 described working with other paraprofessionals as the primary way she has learned her role. She shared, “I like to be with a small group of special education paraeducators because we all learn from each other and I think a lot of us look to each other for ideas.” When probed about learning from teachers, she responded, “now my experience when I have a teacher, I don’t know if the teacher really, I’m not sure how involved they really want to be with the paras.” She further explained that if the teachers were interested, “it’d be nice to have the teachers understand what we’re doing.” She described her perception of the training content that would be most beneficial as “an overview of disabilities and how to redirect students when they’re losing control, how to step in, that’s the biggest worry. Having other paraeducators in the training would be great, because they have the real life experiences.” She believed that she lacks a good understanding of the characteristics of disabilities. However, she expressed a strong desire not to be responsibility for student programming deferring this role to the teacher. She indicated that the lack of initial training inhibited her ability to do her job and felt that mandatory training in the area of the organization of the school, expectations, and characteristics of disabilities would be beneficial for all paraeducators. Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 6 Paraeducator # 6 has 9 years experience as a secondary school special education paraeducator and holds a Bachelor’s degree in education. He felt that much of his efficacy was influenced by his prior experiences and training as a teacher. He described his role as “a team player supporting student needs.” As a paraeducator, he has attended several school system sponsored trainings and found value in each of them. He stated that
150 he “had learned how to deal with several types of experiences, how to interact with the student, lead teacher, and other paraeducators”. Paraeducator # 6 explained that he has experienced expanded role and responsibility expectations and higher standards over the last year. “Now we have more, I wouldn’t say it’s more education, (pause) I think the standards and the quality of the paras, (pause) the bar has been raised. We can contribute a lot more than in the past.” To be effective, he relies on a strong collaborative partnership with the teacher. When probed, he indicated that the teachers he has worked with have been supportive. However, he also felt that communication between the teacher and the paraeducator required enhancements, “I need to know what is going on, and the teacher does not have time to tell me.” He shared that the training most beneficial helped him problem-solve issues in the classroom. He preferred role-play and observing models as a method to gain an understanding of approaches to problem-solving and indicated that role-playing and modeling situations influenced his efficacy. “What has been really helpful is when there was role-playing between the trainers, so we as the paraeducators could see the types of things that they could bring to the table so we could pull from that.” In addition, he believed that job-embedded training provided relevant and meaningful information positively affecting his job performance. He shared, “I would like the trainers to come into the classroom when we’re having a difficult situation and sit there and take notes, (pause) see what’s going to go on, maybe use that as their basis for a group training and then say, well, we did see these and these and yeah, you do need some support.”
151 He felt that any training that was student specific would support efficacy. “We are there for the student, but we need to know how to get in there and say, we need to help you.” He emphasized his need to problem-solve “I’d like to have a video going taping a child’s behavior so I could play it back and see it. I would be able to sit there and watch that and say, gee, we could have used that.” He felt that training in behavior management has also been influential. “We as paraeducators are the ones that take the child out of the classroom that is not managing his time wisely and disrupting.” However, he felt that the training needed to have followup. “I think every couple of months, (pause) you see what’s going on and there might be some issues that you’d really like to discuss or hone in on.” Interacting with other paraeducators during training contributed to his efficacy. “I think in many situations, the teacher likes to really kind of have control of the classroom and some of the paras are secondary in there. And paras do talk to each other and we’ve been a very tight group trying to share.” Expanding on his thoughts he shared, “I‘d rather sometimes (pause) just the paraeducators get together and just say, bring to the table the issues that are kind of (pause) then share these. Then have a sharing time.” Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 7 Paraeducator # 7 has over 10 years experience as a paraprofessional and has a Bachelor’s degree. She has primarily worked in the elementary setting. She described her role as supporting the teacher but also as having a leadership position. “Well, I think my primary role is to assist the teacher in anyway she needs help, but I’m lucky in that I work with a teacher who gives me a leadership role. I have my own math groups; I can
152 take over if she is busy or can’t do something. So, it’s not only assisting the teacher, but I feel I have leadership roles as well.” Her training experiences have not been beneficial, describing them as “very watered down” and would like the training to “parallel the kind of training that teachers get.” She felt past trainings lacked depth of content and indicated a gap between what staff developers’ perceived as paraeducator training needs and the actual needs. She commented, “I’m wondering if these trainers need to come into the classroom to see exactly what we do in there.” She indicated that might be the reason for the lack of content depth. She explained that she does not participate in training when they are offered, but also felt that training should be mandatory. She described her perception of the ideal training starting as “pre-service training to prepare you for the classroom with follow-up training in the working environment.” She indicated that the training that would most influence her efficacy would be “training that is more in line with where were heading”. She described her experiences with training as “I just think they’re teaching to a different level than is what (pause) at least for what I needed.” She explained, I am actually doing content with the kids and managing the classroom in many instances and need the same kind of training that the professionals get.” To influence efficacy, she noted that she needed to understand the curriculum. “I need training in how to work more effectively with the content.” She concluded, “I’m feeling I need more leadership within my classroom than from outside the classroom.”
Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 8 Paraeducator # 8 has a Bachelor’s degree in a field unrelated to education and has worked as a special education paraeducator for over 10 years. Prior to his role as a special education paraprofessional, he worked as a Title 1 Aide and felt that the training and supports he received in that role, prepared him for his current role. However, he commented, “I didn’t get any specific training as a special education para.” He indicated that his role as a special education paraeducator in the middle school was less defined than his elementary role. “You tend to be spread across grade levels and subject levels.” He explained that his primary role was to provide accommodations to the students as directed by the teacher. He felt that he received sufficient guidance from the teacher. He responded to the lead interview question, “part of the role (pause), part of the efficacy piece for paraeducators is having a defined role”. Paraeducator # 8 felt that the training opportunities for special education paraeducators were limited compared to professional development activities for teachers. “I think training opportunities need to be equitable.” He explained that training opportunities are usually offered in the summer and that most paraeducators need to find employment during the summer months. The lack of compensation and accessibility deterred him from participating in voluntary training opportunities. He noted, “part of what you think would help with training is that, (pause) just like teachers get compensated for their time, that paras should be compensated.” In his role as a middle school special education paraeducator, he felt that training needed to focus on instructional strategies that related to the content class he was
154 assigned. He revealed, “I am not a certified teacher, so I’m not supposed to present any kind of new instruction, but rather kinds of strategies to review a concept.” He felt that training not only provided an opportunity to share ideas but also “reaffirm things that you’ve heard other places . . . just to have, you know, you’re thinking this and you’re doing this, and you go and they say, and this is the way you should do it, and you go, oh good!” His experiences with small group in-house training has been the least influential. “Most of the ones that they try to fit in inside the school day are probably the least helpful just because there’s so little time (pause) and you feel pulled in another direction. So it is better if you take a day to go out to training.” He indicated that this type of training was more interactive and provided relevant feedback. Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 9 Paraeducator # 9 completed some college and has worked as a special education paraeducator for 5 years. She is currently working in an elementary school. She explained that she had no experience or training when she started the position and developed skills through trial and error and by observing other paraeducators. She perceived her role as undefined. “Well, I just kind of go by what the teacher asks me to do. I don’t really have a guideline of what I’m really supposed to do. I mean, (pause) it’s just do what the teacher says and hope that you’re doing what you’re supposed to do.” Networking with other paraeducators with role and responsibility commonality was her most influential training experience. “Well, I think when we met up and had discussion with paraeducators that were in our level of grades and teaching, (pause) that was beneficial because we were all kind of on the same kind of page.” She revealed that
155 networking with other paraeducators gave her the opportunity to share strategies with “other people in the same situation.” Training that promoted collaboration between the teacher and the paraeducator would most influence her efficacy. She would like the training to focus on “changing the classroom structure from a hierarchy to more collaborative.” She indicated that in her current role, a barrier to efficacy is the lack of mutual planning time and communication. All of her training experiences were away from her work location, which she indicated was less meaningful. Paraeducator # 9 would like to see more training where the trainer could come into the classroom, model a skill, provide feedback, and followup. “I think it would be nice to have trainers come in and observe the classroom and then possibly, bring those paraeducators back into a training session and say, this is what we observed. This is what we can talk about and this is how we can help you to make it better.” She believed that training would be more relevant and meaningful if other paraeducators conducted the training rather than teachers. “They walk in our shoes and they know what we are dealing with.” She reiterated that the paraprofessional role needed to be uniform prior to training. She felt like her role and responsibilities changed based on the teacher she worked with. “Each professional defines you, so it could be different if I’m in, (pause) if I’m with one teacher this year and one teacher next year, it could be, the roles could be totally different based on the teacher.” She pointed out that with each role change, the expectations also changed, resulting in inconsistent standards to measure her effectiveness. Therefore, she suggested that pre-service training should focus on the paraeducator role and responsibilities, “just knowing what we are suppose to do.”
156 Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 10 Paraeducator # 10 has 3 years of experience. She has completed a Master’s degree in a field unrelated to education. She is employed as an itinerant special education paraeducator and is annually placed at different locations based on an identified systemic special education need. “The thing with itinerants is, you’re like a nomad, and the teachers don’t even give you a place to put your stuff. So you have to kind of (pause) just force yourself into the situation (laughs), figure out what’s going on. You don’t know the school. You don’t know the class. You don’t know where anything goes.” Her responsibilities vary based on the setting and situation. She explained that her role and responsibilities are usually undefined and she expressed frustration by the lack of direction. “It is kind of hard because each case is different, you know, when you’re an itinerant, you can be put anywhere with any situation and you’re not trained for any of this.” Within her varied experiences, she has worked with a variety of teachers and feels that when communication is good, she is valued as part of a team, which positively influenced her efficacy and job performance. “I don't like being in the dark, you know, I like to be part of the team or I can’t do a good job.” She described differing experiences as “it wasn’t just me alone working with the child. It was the teacher (pause) or another paraeducator, they would just come over, and say, you know, do you need a hand? Or, they would just help you. I loved that system because I never felt like I was on my own. Everyone was on the same page.” However, she also described negative experiences, “They just expect you to do your thing, but I have had no direction on how to work with
157 this kid, none, squat, nothing. Communication isn’t really good, but I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to make anyone mad.” Paraeducator # 10 explained that job embedded coaching has influenced her efficacy. She stated, “the most beneficial training has actually been the on-the-job training where you've got the teacher guiding you or working with you on how best to meet the needs of the kids. That is much more useful to me than these in-service trainings.” She shared the experience, “so, it was good to be working one on one. I mean, it, she couldn’t spend days with me, which would have been helpful. She was spending hours with me, but it was better than nothing.” When asked about training topics that would be beneficial to her she indicated that it really depended on the situation she was in and that the training topic needed to be relevant to her job placement. She felt that all positive training began with continuous communication in the classroom. She described a positive experience where “the teacher never hesitated to share information with me, they would tell me any little bit of information that was helpful.” She believed that when a professional mentored her, she learned the most. However, she explained that she felt that she had been given too much information over too short of a time. The mentoring lacked follow-up and constructive feedback. “She would follow me around for the morning, watching what I did, and you know, she'd say, I wouldn't do that, or she'd say, this is how I would do it, you know, and I'd be like - okay. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, you know, because not only did she change everything that I was doing, but she kept giving me more things to do.”
158 Paraeducator # 10 indicated that the school system training that she had attended did not support her efficacy due to a lack of content depth. “They do the same darn thing every year, so they drag me in every year for nothing. I can't remember one single thing I learned (laughs) and that's the truth.” She identified lack of pay and her changing role as reasons for not participating in more training. “It is not very motivating for me to run out and get trained in one specific thing when all they do is move me to a new job placement.” When probed she indicated that she felt that a seminar describing the characteristics of autism would be helpful in her current role. “I have had some experience with this in another role but I have never been trained.” She indicated that she depends on her past experiences and trail and error to determine her best approach with students. “Just being observant, you know, and obviously trial and error. If something is not working (pause) it would be stupid for me to keep doing it this way.” Paraeducator # 10 believed it would be better to have pre-service training. “Like say when you hired me, if you had said, come in for three days of training, like they do for the teachers, um (pause) if you had trained me on what specifically I would be doing.” The lack of training is concerning for her, she stated “some teachers expect you in this role to just come in and know what your doing, and if the teacher can’t be bothered to tell you, I don’t know how you’re supposed to know that.” Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 11 Paraeducator # 11 has worked for over 10 years as a special education paraeducator and indicated that she had completed some college. At the time of the interview, she was working in a middle school setting. She described her most influential
159 training experience as participating with other paraeducators learning various instructional strategies. She identified the key factor contributing to training effectiveness as having the opportunity to interact with other paraeducators who shared their experiences, training content that was practical and relevant to her responsibilities, and that the instructor valued her. “The outcome was fantastic, and I think we took a lot of information and brought it to our schools. It motivated us so much.” She described her role as supporting the teacher. “It is a very important role, what the teacher needs, how she wants the class, and how the students need to be taught.” However, she revealed her perceptions of the working structure in the classroom as, “I don’t feel as education-wise as equal, but I feel it’s the responsibility as being equal. She further described her role as, “I feel as though I’m just as important as the teacher, you know, we both are very important in the child’s life and teaching the student.” She believed that the lack of opportunities in the classroom to apply what she had learned in class inhibits her efficacy development. She revealed that within the classroom the teacher is “holding the reins.” She would prefer to have clear role and responsibility definitions established and documented for each classroom she supported. She explained, “we could have a piece of paper that actually was written down, you know (pause) what is the teacher's role, the para’s role, and what to do to follow those throughout the year.” She continued, “it is a real fine line, you know, we’re afraid to do anything.” Paraeducator # 11 would prefer to have more training addressing collaborative skills with the teacher. “So having the teacher sit down at the beginning of the year prior to you getting involved with it, instead of, say, okay, this is what you need to do.” She would like to learn strategies to enhance communications and teamwork within the
160 classroom. She described a positive training experience, “where we learned how to communicate with the teacher. We learned that we need to ask if we’re not familiar with what is to be presented and to (pause) how to help the child.” She would like frequent trainings identifying “the key important things with both job descriptions.” Without the communication, she described the working environment as "it winds up having people be underutilized.” She revealed that her natural ability primarily contributes to her efficacy development. “I just had a knack to work with special children and I was able to see what their needs were to work on, (pause) it is instincts.” She felt that training methods that incorporate observation, modeling, and case studies in contrast to a lecture have the greatest influence on her efficacy. “I seem to see that people visualize things, get things better visually instead of auditory. Maybe a film, which we can show in other classes, you know, this is how things are supposed to be presented.” Paraeducator # 11 noted that beneficial training required gaining some experience first to provide the context. “If you don’t have the experience, it’s going to be rough for you.” She expanded her perception, “I think, because, especially with working with children with disabilities, (pause) you have to, for number one, you have to feel comfortable in what you’re doing and if you’re new, it’s kind of scary anyway.” She identified the lack of pay and the expense of training outside of the school system as a barrier to continued learning. Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 12 Paraeducator # 12 has worked as a special education paraeducator for over 10 years, has completed some college, and supports secondary students in a high school. She
161 was very enthusiastic about training opportunities and found merit in all the classes she has attended. She stated, “I may not use 100% of what they give us but I could say between 80-85%, if not more. I have been able to bring ideas back to school and work with other paras to give them ideas and stuff.” She felt that classes that help her understand the learning needs of students with disabilities have been particularly influential on her self-efficacy. She shared how training has affected her role, “I am not sure it’s so much as the class that I’m taking, but it’s taught me to have a better understanding of where the students come from, and to work with them on their levels . . . that their needs are. I think, I've become even more patient with them.” She found it beneficial to take classes that are conducted outside the working environment. “I highly recommended that to other paras, and that really helps you because you got a lot of information from taking a class.” Accessing classes has been difficult for her, but she has experienced an improvement over the last several years. “There seems to be more training opportunities for professional staff (pause) but it is getting better.” Paraeducator # 12 expressed a desire to learn more about the learning characteristics of her current students. She indicated that the teachers are reluctant to share student information. “I wish that we would know a little heads up on some of our kids, because sometimes the teachers do and sometimes they don’t because (pause) they don’t know that we don’t know. I find that very important if we could have a heads up on what some of the issues are (pause) that gives me more of an understanding and to work
162 with student in a different way.” She believed that all paraeducators needed to know about the different disability characteristics and relevant special education documents. She experienced value in role-playing different scenarios in order to problemsolve classroom issues. “They may be goofy, but scenarios help you work it out (pause) when you do this one-on-one thing. Yeah its pretty good, you know, it teaches you ideas and how to problem-solve.” She found value in any training that helped her understand the needs of her students. Paraeducator # 12 described her role as “doing anything needed to support the teacher.” She shared, “I want us to work together and make it easy for the kids to learn.” She perceived that teachers are not certain about how to work with her, “because they don’t know what to expect from me. They’ve never worked with a para before. So, I verbally, um, I just try to let them know that I’m here for whatever they need basically to support them and the students in the room.” Paraeducator #12 felt that co-training with the teachers learning effective communication techniques would influence her efficacy by promoting more collaboration. However, she was reluctant because she felt that “some teacher would be offended by this type of training.” She postulated, “the teachers might say, don’t tell me how to work with someone.” Paraeducator # 12 suggested, “it might be better to show us how to work with teachers, and if you can’t then you can go to your supervisor.” Effective performance was dependent on establishing a good working relationship. “I like it when I know the teacher respects me and (pause) the understanding is that she knows she can ask me to do anything, and (pause) I’ll have no problem doing it, and that’s what I think it should be.” She felt that enhancing her skills facilitated
163 teacher respect. “The more equipped the para is, (pause) the better it going to be to earn that respect within that classroom.” She concluded that no matter the situation, “you just got do what you can to make it as smooth as possible because you're there for the kids.” Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 13 Paraeducator # 13 has worked as a special education paraeducator for 8 years and has her Associate’s degree. She is employed in a high school. Paraeducator # 13 described her role as supporting students specifically with providing accommodations, she perceived herself as a vital part of the school team and takes a leadership role. “I am in charge of our accommodation program. I am responsible for making sure that all the student’s goals and all their accommodations are met. Also, it is my responsibility to make sure that the teacher and I have a clear and open communication line so that we can both teach our students the best way possible.” She believed that enhancing knowledge through training positively influenced her efficacy and job performance. She explained, “I think the more training that you acquire throughout the years, (pause) better equips you to serve your population.” She felt that paraeducators that do not take advantage of training opportunities inhibit efficacy development. “If you are not willing to go out there and train, then you’re only going to get so far, you know, in this world we live in, you constantly have to be upgraded.” She shared that she has participated in courses for both her personal growth and training that is more relevant to her current work responsibilities. Training that enhances her understanding of the curriculum and technologies are most beneficial. “I’ve taken training on reading and some on math courses.” She indicated that due to increased inclusive practices, additional courses are needed that are special education focused. “I
164 would definitely like to see more courses on special education and how that is, you know, tied into regular education. You know, there is a big push for inclusion and I feel like teachers are put in the position where they're supposed to know, but they might not know.” Training that facilitated interaction with school staff has been influential and she preferred that this model be expanded. “If there’s training available for the teacher, I think, you know, those trainings should also be available for the para, if it’s relevant.” She identified advantages to attending trainings in and out of the school setting. “If you have a training that is outside of your school, you get to go and meet new people and get a different perspective on things. You might learn from other schools, learn different things and from new paras. However, if the training comes to your school, there are also advantages because then every para is trained here, then everybody will be on the same page and you grow as a group.” She indicated that the lack of training accessibility and training opportunities to has inhibited her efficacy development. “My experiences are that the training is very limited for paras, and if there are courses that you want to take they are restricted. So, if there were a little bit more or, I don’t know, more flexible on the times or stuff like that, I think more paras would be willing to take courses.” She identified challenges with paraeducator training. “It is not just the limited choices, but also the flexibility.” Paraeducator # 13 described the affect of the emerging role changes for paraeducators. “There are paras who have been paras for many years, back in the day, paras Xeroxed and now paras are in the classroom. Some of them now find themselves not really knowing what to do and how to go about things. So, I think that is important
165 that we’re all trained and all on the same page within our school.” She believed that teachers are not aware of the role change. “I think that there are teachers that still don’t quite really get the difference of, you know, now we’re paras versus when we were aides.” Being part of a team influenced her efficacy. She shared that she has had positive experiences working as a team and that empowers her to do her job. “We have monthly meetings at my school where all the paraeducators meet and sit down and discuss different things. The staff development teacher has given us training about how we’re going to support the teachers (pause), and that just makes you more effective because you know your role and how to do it. When you have harmony and you can work together I’m not afraid to go ask for help.” Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 14 Paraeducator # 14 has over 10 years experience working as a special education paraeducator. She currently works in a high school and has an Associate’s degree. She described her role as, “first and foremost to assist students with special needs with any academic or physical need.” Her role varies depending on the assigned class environment. “Paraeducators come into play to help assist one-on-one when needed or a group, so our role is pretty varied.” She explained that her role is defined by the needs of the students. She felt that training has had a “tremendous” influence on her ability to perform her duties. She stated, “I’ve taken the initiative and I want to learn something, so I grab anything, anyone that’s willing to take the time to teach me.” She is extremely enthusiastic about expanding her skills through organized courses and seminars given by
166 experts outside of her school location. “I need to keep learning, I think if I stop learning than I’m not effective.” She is particularly interested in “classroom strategies and how to assist students with special needs, how to work with them, how to understand their needs and their disability.” Training that most influences her efficacy is “very practical in a day-to-day sense, but it is also a way to help bridge the gap between the paraeducator and the teacher.” When describing the paraeducator role in general, she stated, “I think what is new is that paraeducators are now a little bit more (pause) well, they are more empowered because of classes that are being offered. I think that is great.” She believed that her self-image is related to her efficacy development. She does not like the title paraprofessional and “would like to see that label changed because we are all professional staff.” When asked to explain, she revealed that she views the term professional as describing a level of standard to be upheld by the total school staff. She believed that the paraeducator label promotes a clerical image and a different level of respect. She felt that the key to earning respect is communication. “Communicating in a professional way to the teacher (pause) that we are out there, I know we sometimes see things differently than the teachers do.” All of her training experiences have been with other paraeducators. However, she indicated a desire for paraeducators and teachers to learn together, but indicated that the present organizational structure does not allow for the time required. “I think it’s coming, and it will bridge the gap of the lack of communication and understanding.” She revealed, “what really makes a difference between taking that content from training and putting it into the classroom is really that partnership with the teacher.”
167 Hands-on and role-play methodology enhances her learning and better articulates into her practice. “I love role play because it helps me to see if I really understand what the teacher’s talking about.” She explained that role-play was most effective in understanding the preparation of instruction as well as providing immediate feedback. “We had to go up in front of the class and role-play, I learned a whole lot. The preparation of doing it and just putting everything that we got from the class together.” Based on her experiences, she indicated that in-depth training is more influential when offered after a paraeducator has gained some experience rather than pre-service training. “I think it’s only fair for the employee to know what they are getting into.” She proposed that initial training should include the “generic dos and don’ts as a paraeducator, kind of really understanding your job description. Then, more on the job training to get a preview of the role.” Training accessibility has been challenging and she felt that more training offered at her school would help pinpoint relevant issues. She felt that most school-based trainings focused on the professional staffs’ learning needs and was not relevant to her role. She is concerned that she is unable to utilize the strategies she has learned and fears that she will forget what she has learned. When queried to gain a deeper understanding about contributing factors that has inhibited her from implementing learned strategies, she stated, “Oh, because the teachers don’t totally understand. What the teachers don’t understand is the fire that’s in us and the fire is still burning. Unfortunately, they don't have the same fire like we do.”
Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 15 Paraeducator # 15 has worked as a special education paraeducator for over 10 years and has an Associate's degree. She is working on the secondary level. When she was first hired, she acquired skills mostly from instinct and observation. She also utilized her personal experiences as a parent of two children with special needs. She described her role as “primarily working with children that need that extra boost.” Additionally, she explained that her responsibility “was to help in any way.” She shared that she learns best by observing the classroom and interacting with the teachers. “With the majority of the teachers I work with, I just observe what they do and most of them are pretty good about, you know, we’ll share opinions. However, she also revealed that she has participated in multiple trainings particularly ones addressing behavior management strategies. She indicated that she enrolls in “any training I can get. Anything that can help me understand the children and the way they think and so forth.” She prefers attending courses rather than workshops as she felt the content is richer and more focused. Content that is practical and relevant influenced her efficacy. Paraeducator # 15 expressed concern that the paraeducators she worked with are not aware of their role. “I think that paraeducators need to understand what is expected of them (pause) what their rights are (pause) and they need to know what’s expected of them in each class.” She felt that efficacy was primarily influenced by understanding the job role. She explained, “what paraeducators need right now is really just a clearly, definitely a description of their role.” She offered as a remedy, enhanced communication and co-planning with the teachers.
169 Lack of compensation and accessibility to training opportunities were identified as inhibitors to participation. “We don’t get paid; we don't get released during the day. So it sort of makes it, not very enticing for paraeducators.” She felt that providing release time for in-depth training would enhance an interest in training. “I think if we could be released a couple days a year for training like teachers are (pause) I think that would make a world of difference.” Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 16 Paraeducator # 16 works in a high school. She has been a special education paraeducator for 6 years and has a Bachelor’s degree. She identified her responsibilities as two-fold, working in the classroom and doing clerical work. She described her perceptions of her job as, “I find my position very boring. It doesn’t stimulate me mentally.” She indicated that there was too much bureaucracy. Her experiences with training have not been positive. She felt that the training has not been very informative or has positively influenced her efficacy. She described her training experiences as “a waste of time.” She felt that her experience as a parent has contributed to the effectiveness of her job performance. She explained that she measures her efficacy by the connections she has made with her students. She explained, “I like my students, so number one is building that rapport with kids. I am very nice, but I don’t play.” Paraeducator # 16 shared that she has attended mandated training on the characteristics of autism. She felt that mandated training were not effective. She attended the training because she was being compensated. She explained her reasons for taking the class as, “I take a class because we have to, because we get paid, you know, I don’t like
170 to have to do something. I don’t like wanting to do something that I don’t feel like doing.” However, she indicated that, “things change daily, so I need to know.” The organizational structure of her work place was described as hierarchical and she felt that this structure has inhibited her desire to participate in further development. “Some of the staff, they look down on the paraeducators and, (pause) like teacher assistants are terrible.” She felt that the organizational structure isolated her, “this is not a team.” She indicated that making connections with her co-workers most influenced her efficacy. She shared, “even if you got the best training in the world, if you're not part of the team, there’s nothing you’re gonna do about it.” She added, “you have to have your support squad there.” Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 17 Paraeducator # 17 has 3 years experience as an elementary special education paraprofessional. He completed some college and indicated that he would like to pursue his teaching credentials. When exploring efficacy, he commented, “working with children is what motivates me. Just being able to work with kids and be able to make a difference in their lives, helping them with their schoolwork, that’s what motivates me, knowing that I’m going to make a difference in these kids lives after each day is over.” He described his day-to-day responsibilities, “I am here to help the children understand what we’re working on. I’m also here for them, yeah, I’m here for them to help them in school, help them learn better. I’m also here for myself (pause) understanding what it is all about working as a paraeducator.” He felt that “some teachers don't understand my position. Some teachers have a hard time understanding, with the level these kids are on.”
171 When asked how training has influenced his ability to perform his role, he responded, “it’s helped me out a lot. Going to these trainings, it helps me get ready for the kids that I’ll be working with.” He shared that he would like to go to more training. “It’s pretty much, I try to get training as much as I can. I still need a little bit more training. I am still looking for more training that is available to me, because there aren’t that many trainings.” He shared that he has benefited from training that helped him understand characteristics of disabilities, especially autism. “I liked going to the one about autistic and the autistic program.” However, he felt that he would like to expand his understanding of other disabilities. “There will be certain instances where you have a child who has different disabilities than like autism, so I've only learned mostly about autism because I remember I worked with a kid that had Aspergers (pause) and it was my first time (pause) and I didn’t have any training on it.” He revealed that networking has helped him feel confident about his job performance. Paraeducator # 17 explained that he has learned his job skills mostly through “other paraeducators who have worked my same position.” He indicated what he had learned from his colleagues, “there’s a lot. The tone of my voice is one of them, how to relate to them on their level, how to make the children become better readers.” He expressed pride regarding his job performance. “I’ve noticed that teachers have appreciated me being in the classroom, (pause) helping them also learn about what can they do to help the children understand. They see me as a resource and (pause) ah, it makes me feel really good.”
172 The training methodology most effective for paraeducator # 17 is small group instruction with hands-on activities. “For myself, I work better in the small group atmosphere. I still have a lot to learn and I like to be active (pause) so, I think that learning strategies would be helpful towards me understanding the students.” To facilitate communication, he stated, “I’d prefer to see training with teachers and other paras in combination because it would help the teachers understand where the kids are coming from.” He perceived additional benefit from a trainer that was also a paraeducator rather than a teacher, “it would be more helpful to have a para instructor because I think they have more experience.” Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 18 Paraeducator #18 has 5 years experience as an elementary special education paraeducator and has her Bachelor’s degree. She indicated that her experience as a parent of a special needs child has prepared her for the job and promoted empathy. “Being the parent of a special needs child, sitting through IEP meetings for years, and knowing about accommodations, knowing how important they are for the whole child. I’m more aware of certain needs of certain students.” She believed that her hands-on experiences outweighed any of her training experiences influencing efficacy and effective job performance. She described her role as “supplementing the instruction that the teacher is offering in the class.” She described the multiplicity of her responsibilities. “If the teacher was teaching the whole class lesson, I would be the one walking around to support. Keeping my eyes open for those that may be lost or not following along to motivate them to stay on task to maybe quickly accommodate somebody who is having troubles keeping
173 up or not getting it. Maybe cueing the teacher that something didn’t go the way she had hoped.” Paraeducator #18 perceived that nurturing the children was part of her role, “we would give them breakfast, give them their morning meds, we even helped brush their teeth, and we would do their hair.” The relationships she established in the school were important to her. She perceived efficacy relating to the degree she is valued in the work place. “Oh, I think being respected as an educator in the building has a huge value. We have paraeducator meetings with the principal once a month. We were included in the game plan. She valued our input and allowed us to stretch and devise new ways, for instance, at lunch and recess.” She indicated that most paras have a close relationship with the students. “We are always the ones that met them off the bus and we put them back on the bus (pause) we could make or break their day. There is a safety and a familiarity because we are the ones there with them.” To be more effective, she believed that “there needs to be (pause) there still needs to be that strong message that the para and the teacher are a team.” She shared a positive teaming experience, “the teacher would be the one directing the agenda of the day and the instruction of the day, but as far as the rhythm of the day we we’re all part of a team.” She felt that establishing this type of partnership enhanced the quality of her job performance. She indicated that classes in collaboration would be valuable. “There were some teachers that we included the students and we would go with them. They were wonderful, (pause) they would assign us some of their small groups and whatever. And there were
174 some teachers that would say, I don’t know what to do with you, just stay with the child you came with.” She revealed positive experiences acquiring skills to support her role within the workplace. “The therapists would teach us what they were doing in small group with the child so we could continue that. It was primarily to the paras because they recognized that the paras were the ones having a closer relationship with the kids (pause) try that strategy while working on this or that type of thing. They were very good.” When questioned about training methodology she indicated that effective training methodology needed to match the goal of the para learning. “It depends on the strategy. I mean (pause) some things we’d learn themselves, of course, to practice. If you’re trying to learn how to break down a math lesson, then I would like to be taught the suggested way or I can come up with it. If you’re going to uncover who’s the whole child, then videos or, you know, scenarios, that type of thing to generate discussions, of course, are going to be more beneficial.” Paraeducator # 18 offered advice to other paraeducators. “The advice would be to number 1, talk to other paras in your building, especially the ones who are in, who have had dealings with (pause) if you’re a special education para, if you’re with the certain program.” She shared interacting with other paraeducators influenced her efficacy the most. “Find a buddy, find a veteran, find someone that you can call at night and say, I was really troubled when this happened or what do I do when this occurs. That was something that was very valuable for me when I first started. I think it's important that paras be encouraged to ask questions of their staff that they directly work with.” She felt that it “is very important that the para (pause) needs to be empowered to ask for respect.
175 She expanded her perception, “because without that respect, without that buy in from the rest (pause) from the classroom teacher or the rest of the staff, (pause) the paras gonna remain invisible.” Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 19 Paraeducator # 19 has a Bachelors degree and over 10 years experience as an elementary special education paraeducator. She explained that she has a sister with physical disabilities, which also helped her understand the responsibilities of her job. She perceived her role as accommodating two students, “to be sure that they can access everything both physically and with their learning disability.” Paraeducator # 19 felt that the lack of communication and mutual planning time was a barrier to job performance effectiveness and efficacy. “You know, I go to the students, you know to recess and everything they do, so there’s no time that their doing planning that I’m available. So, that’s what, I wish there was a way to work that out. I feel like everything’s kind of on the fly.” Her training experiences have not had much influence on her efficacy as they lacked content depth and practical information. “I’ve gone to several trainings, most of them I wouldn’t say have been, (pause) have influenced me too much. I did some last year on accommodations and I found that it’s helpful. But, I would have found going even more in-depth more helpful.” She has found that mentoring has been more influential. “When someone comes and gives me more informal training on using different technology, because I use a lot of technology with my kids. So more the informal training when someone comes in, just
176 gives me a one-on-one instruction on how to use technology. That’s influenced me more than the formal trainings I have done.” Paraeducator # 19 preferred that training experiences be more specific to her role with other paraeducators that share her experience. “I really need more hands-on experiences that would be more relevant and practical things that would be beneficial to maintain my role.” She commented, “I not frustrated so much as (pause) disappointing would be a better word. You kind of walk out of there like this was good, but I just need more.” She indicated that she would like the training to “differentiate elementary versus middle or high school because that is different.” She felt that separating the paraeducators would be helpful. “Sometimes everybody’s lumped together and there’s a big difference in what were doing. We’re coming from a different perspective.” She felt that the training she has attended lacked follow-up. “I went to a training last year that was good, but it could have, it was one of those 3 hour like half day training, and it could have gone for a day or two. I could have, you know, I had more questions and I really could have gotten a lot more.” Paraeducator # 19 revealed that it would be valuable to be trained with other paraeducators. “I think there’d be benefits to a paraeducator doing the training because they really understand the job, you know, doing it also really, what it is on a daily basis what we do. However, she also would like to be trained by someone who has sufficient knowledge. “I just sort of (pause) may want to make sure the person really had a good knowledge and understanding of what they were teaching.”
Summarized textual description for Paraeducator # 20 Paraeducator # 20 has 7 years experience working on the elementary school level. She has attended some college and expressed the desire to go back to school to become a speech therapist. She described her role as assisting the teacher. “Okay, I am a paraeducator. I assist teachers in the classroom with the children. I assist any therapist. Any professional that needs help. I assist them.” She indicated that she has had minimal training, “when I first started. I really didn’t have any training. I started about 7 years ago and I just kind of did what the teacher did. I just said, okay, I'm supposed to be her assistant, so whatever she can do, I’m supposed to be able to do.” When describing her experiences with training she offered, “some training has helped me, but I think a lot of it has to do with the teachers that I work with. If they’re willing to show me and I’m willing to ask the right questions, I think that helps me as a paraeducator a lot more than just training.” Job-embedded coaching strategies were more influential on her efficacy development than formalized training sessions. “For me the coaching is better than going to an all-county training because, you just sit and listen. So, it’s not like they’re on the job.” She revealed that many of the training experiences did not include comprehensive content. “I think they should break down the training into categories for each paraeducator. They should take into account all the different positions that we're in and really break it down and maybe give us (pause) like, maybe a week training, just like they do for the teachers.” She felt that the trainers provided information that lacked relevancy due to a lack of understanding of the paraeducators role. “I have never seen them actually
178 come into the school and really observe or maybe even try to do what we do. They can’t really understand because they haven’t tried to do what we do.” Paraeducator # 20 identified the two training topics that she would prefer to promote her efficacy as instructional strategies and collaborative skills. She stated, “I would have loved to be trained in how to write the IEP goals, (pause) how to, take those IEP goals and how to implement them and think of creative ways of how to implement them. That would be wonderful.” She continued, “but also training on how to communicate with a teacher, so that teacher knows what’s going on in the class.” When she has experienced being included in school-wide training, she felt that the topics were not relevant. “When the teachers and everybody else are getting together, they make up these stupid trainings for us which really don’t have anything to do with our job. They feel like, well since we have a training, well, let’s give them a training but it’s for whatever we choose for them. It’s not, they don’t get a choice.” Paraeducator # 20 used the word invisible to describe how she perceived herself within the organizational structure. “They don’t really include the paraeducators. It’s almost like, we’re there, but we’re almost like invisible or something. You know?”
179 APPENDIX H: INDIVIDUAL STRUCTURAL DESCRIPTIONS
180 INDIVIDUAL STRUCTURAL DESCRIPTIONS The individual structural descriptions captures the paraeducators’ deep and underlying feelings, reflections, and emotions associated with their training experiences and perceived efficacy. According to Moustakas (1994), “the individual structural description provides a vivid account of the underlying dynamics of the experience, the themes and qualities account for the “how” feelings and thoughts connected with the phenomenon, what conditions evoked the experience” (p. 135). The individual structural descriptions were constructed using imaginative variation identified in the field note impressions that permeated the participant’s experiences to reflect the essence of the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994). Structural description for paraeducator # 1 Paraeducator #1 appeared comfortable and confident in her role, stating that she is “good at what she does.” She perceived efficacy as being able to problem-solve and be flexible based on the situation. She shared, “how to actually basically talk to yourself and say, well, this isn’t working. Where do I need to go from here? And be able to flip it in order to work to the child’s advantage.” She felt she learned best while “doing it, on the job.” She believed that job-embedded training is beneficial especially in the area of behavior management. “You can’t sometimes decipher where the disability starts and the emotional outbursts end.” Paraeducator #1 believed that training with the classroom teacher would support efficacy “because they’re the boss basically, and you’re there to support them as well as the children, to give them an extra set of hands, eyes, tutoring, whatever is needed.”
Structural description for paraeducator # 2 Paraeducator # 2 took great pride in her role and expressed both verbally and nonverbally a strong commitment to the students and their families. “I’m personally friends with a lot of these parents, and I know that they need their kids to have the independence.” Her perceptions of efficacy are influenced by her relationships with her students and the need to remain connected to them. She feels devalued in her current position emphasizing that teachers and administration restricted her communication with parents. She conveyed a feeling of diminished trust, even though she was extremely compassionate about her job. “It is terrible because I have a lot of knowledge, even though it’s not specific classroom training. I’m very intuitive and I know what to do.” She felt that much of the training she participated in was not specific enough to her situation and felt that job-embedded training would better support her professional growth. She expressed an interest in mentoring other special education paraeducators. Structural description for paraeducator # 3 Paraeducator # 3 expressed a need to enhance teamwork within the classroom. Her voice tone and gestures inferred that she would like to be treated more like an equal, which she believed could be enhanced through training. She explained, “If para’s don’t have the knowledge, then we can’t expect that much, we have to reach a certain level. If the knowledge is not provided, then it will kill our chance to be better.” Paraeducator # 3 indicated that role expectations have increased over the years, however felt restricted in sharing her perspective and observations with the teachers. She conveyed that the teachers’ perspective is without having the technical training, her input
182 regarding student observations is not valuable. She expressed concern regarding the hierarchical role structure in the classroom. She believed that if the teacher and the paraeducator could learn together, attitudes would change and she would be viewed as a teammate improving her sense of efficacy. Structural description for paraeducator # 4 Paraeducator # 4 indicated that she felt unprepared when staring her position. She indicated frustration when describing how she gained an understanding of her role. Learning her role and responsibilities was an outcome of her initiative rather than being given the opportunity to attend pre-service training. She stated, “playing catch-up is not the way to go.” She believed that training should start with “getting an overview initially” with follow-up support in the classroom “looking at the active environment” would promote efficacy helping her move forward with relevant and “specific ideas to implement.” Nonverbal communication conveyed feelings of distrust and disrespect from the professional school staff. She expressed the need for increased collaboration between the classroom teacher and the paraeducator stating, “Many teachers don’t have any idea, what is this thing called a paraeducator (laughs) and then why are they in my class.” She believed that many of her skills have occurred through networking and self-advocacy. She projected a strong commitment to her role. She shared her biggest concern regarding her perceived lack of understanding of her assigned student’s disability and the implications for instruction.
Structural description for paraeducator # 5 Paraeducator # 5 communicated her frustration with the lack of pre-service preparation and the frequent changes in her role and responsibility that challenged not only her ability to do the job but affected her commitment to learn. Further evidence of her frustration was observed in her wavering description when probed to identify her role and responsibilities. Her body language, and hesitation in her voice indicated a sense of uncertainty. She revealed that most of her skills were derived from her experiences as a mother. Voice intonations emphasized displeasure and frustrations regarding role restrictions imposed by the teacher. She indicated that she did not feel valued as a team member and stated, “it would be nice to have the teachers understand what we are doing and vice-versa.” The most inhibiting factors regarding her efficacy were the lack of training follow-through and the frequent change in roles and responsibilities. Structural description for paraeducator # 6 Paraeducator # 6 expressed that his background as a teacher provided him with more skills than the typical paraeducator and he depended on his knowledge to compensate for the lack of role direction. He saw himself as a team player and emphasized the importance of being a member of a team. He felt his role is student focused and would like to have training on problem-solving approaches to support learning and behavioral barriers. “We are there for the students, we need to know how to get in there and help them.” He emphasized the importance of paraprofesssionals networking and supporting each other and conveyed a concern that the paraprofessional’s learning needs are not
184 being adequately addressed. “I feel at times that there is a mismatch between the theory and the actual classroom activities that trainers are not addressing.” He felt that networking with other paraprofessional alleviated this concern. He shared that modeling, role-playing, or viewing case studies would be more advantageous than his previous experiences of sitting in a lecture style classroom. He indicated that the type of training that would most influence his efficacy needed to be practical and relative to his current role. His previous training experiences lacked follow up supports and he felt to be an effective training, on-the job supports needed to be in place on a more frequent basis, “I think once every two months a trainer should come into the classroom.” Structural description for paraeducator # 7 Paraeducator # 7 expressed pride in her role and accomplishments, describing herself as a leader in the classroom. She felt comfortable about her current skill level and was enthusiastic about the degree of responsibility within the classroom she had assumed. She strongly indicated that past training experiences were not the same quality as the professional teacher training and therefore did not support the caliber of her role or responsibilities. She felt training would have more influence on her efficacy, if it were professional and comprehensive. “I would like to see paraeducator training parallel the kind of training teachers get.” She perceived her role as working more with content and yet felt that there is a lack of communication regarding curriculum. She believed that the lack of communication is connected to a misunderstanding of the paraeducator role. She
185 shared her perception of teacher’s view of paraeducators by stating, “I think that in their minds we are still classroom aides.” She indicated that she does not participate in many opportunities for training. “I’ve had many colleagues at school who have encouraged me to go and I’ve said, no, I think I’m more help in the classroom, and when they’ve come back, they kind of reiterate what I said that it wasn’t really of value.” She indicated that training addressing grade level content and curriculum would be supportive. She shared that “a lot of the times I have the strategies, I don’t exactly understand all the content that they need to be taught.” She revealed a need to restructure her work environment, “I’m feeling I need more leadership within my classroom than from out of the classroom.” Her statements and body language left the impression that she may be at conflict within her teaming relationship in the school. Structural description for paraeducator # 8 Paraeducator # 8 was very enthusiastic about the training provided to him as a Title 1 aide and credited the training for his current skills. He would like to see similar training strategies provided to special education paraeducators. He believed that specific training regarding strategies for intervention and weekly meetings to process role performance and specific issues would support efficacy. He expressed disappointed that he “was not better prepared for his current role as a special education paraprofessional in a middle school.” He indicated that no specific training was provided. Further, he indicated that the lack of clear role definition influenced efficacy. He shared his feelings of frustration regarding the lack of role
186 direction and the multiplicity of responsibilities he was asked to do and felt that he was “spread too thin” to be effective. He shared that he would like to participate in training that would teach him additional math and reading strategies. He conveyed disappointment that paraprofessionals were not compensated for training and that training opportunities were mostly offered in the summer, conflicting with summer work schedules. Structural description for paraeducator # 9 Paraeducator # 9 strongly communicated that in order for training to influence efficacy, first clear role and responsibility descriptions and expectations need to be established. She expressed frustration that her role changed based on the professional teacher she was assigned to work with rather than a consistent role throughout the school. She was annoyed by the lead question, sharing that it was difficult to determine how training would influence efficacy since she did not have a clear understanding of her role and responsibilities. She conveyed frustration regarding her perceived hierarchical organizational structure. She indicated that this structure restricted her opportunity to improve. She felt that in order to be effective, there needed to be more communication and collaboration. Paraeducator # 9 expressed concern that her role was primarily maintaining order in the class and felt she could offer more instructionally. A disconnect was implied between the paraeducators and the teachers, as she expressed that teachers and paraeducators are “not on the same page.” In her working environment, she perceived the teacher as having the final word on any decision, “it is still the teacher . . . I would think because of the hierarchy . . . I mean, they are the
187 teacher and if they want the para relationship to work, I think it’s got to get better.” Paraeducator # 9 believed that previous trainings were too general and not focused on special education issues. Based on her experiences, she suggested that training needed to focus on collaborative skills, which included effective communication strategies. Structural description for paraeducator # 10 Paraeducator # 10 is an itinerate special education paraeducator and her job placement, role, and responsibility changes each year. She typically is assigned to be a one-to-one support to a particular student with complex needs. She described her work experiences as frustrating as her role is undefined. She described the lack of communication and specific training in regards to her current responsibilities as a barrier to efficacy. She indicated being overwhelmed by the situation stating, “Well, I don’t plan to stay in the job for too long. You know, I’m surprised I made it this long.” She indicated that working on a team promotes efficacy. She shared that feeling valued was particularly important. Her experiences with training revealed that she benefited most from job-embedded training and mentoring. She indicated that in-service training lacked content depth and relevancy. She rarely participates in paraeducator trainings offered by the school system due to lack of pay and content options. However, she conveyed more commitment than originally communicated, sharing that she would like to have additional training on the characteristics of autism, so that she could better determine instructional and behavior interventions that would support her assigned student. Currently, she uses a trial and error method of intervention based on experiences and intuition, which she indicated, was inefficient and inconsistent. She
188 would prefer pre-service training where the paraeducator’s role and responsibilities are clearly delineated and the corresponding relevant skills are taught. Structural description for paraeducator # 11 Paraeducator # 11 expressed confidence in her role and was proud of what she contributed to the classroom and to the students. She indicated that she would like to mentor other paraeducators who have less experience. She enjoys sharing materials and approaches that she has found to be successful. She feels that she is capable of more responsibilities but is inhibited by the classroom structure and the delegation abilities of the teachers. She surmised, “I guess they’re fearful that somebody might get hurt, I think it’s, they’re afraid of being sued.” She described her role as primarily supporting the teacher and her responsibilities are designated by the particular teacher she is working with in each class. She indicated that she has a natural ability to work with students with special needs. Learning communications skills to promote better paraeducator-teacher collaboration would be most influential to her efficacy. She expressed enthusiasm as she described participating in a very influential training, which provided opportunities for paraeducators to share experiences and presented relevant and practical content. Structural description for paraeducator # 12 Paraeducator # 12 values a strong working relationship with the teachers in her school. She viewed the teacher as authoritative and her perceived efficacy development is determined by the teacher’s assessment of her job performance. She explained that the classroom teacher defines her role and responsibilities through directives. Paraeducator # 12 appeared to be comfortable with that structure.
189 It is important to Paraeducator # 12 to earn the respect from the teacher. She offered that respect is facilitated through skill development. She embraced all training experiences as an opportunity to enhance her skills and found benefit in all the training activities she has participated. She selected training topics to attend based on her perceived needs within her working situation and sought supportive and relevant knowledge. She revealed that the most influential training addressed the characteristics of disabilities, resulting in increased patience and more effective student interactions. She shared that many new teachers have never worked with a paraeducator and she takes the initiative to discuss her role with them. She is concerned that communication is weak and that she is not privy to important information about the students. She postulated that training with the teacher would best address current issues she has experienced but felt that teachers would be “offended” by this methodology. Structural description for paraeducator # 13 Paraeducator # 13 considers herself a valued member of her school team and felt her role and responsibilities were clearly defined and respected. As she described her role, she conveyed self-reliance using words that implied leadership such as “in charge” and “making sure” to emphasize her perceived confidence. She expressed enthusiasm about her training opportunities and felt that participating in ongoing training was critical to personal and professional development. She believed that it is the responsibility of the paraeducator to seek out learning opportunities and take advantage of courses or workshops when available. Her role has expanded to support more students in the general education classroom requiring training that enhances her understanding of the curriculum,
190 especially reading and math. She shared her impressions of this experience by indicating that when working in inclusive settings, she perceived a gap between the general education teacher knowledge and the needs of the special education students. She would like to address this gap by taking courses that facilitated more communication about the uniqueness of her students and how to best instruct them. Paraeducator # 13 felt that training should include opportunities both within the school to promote unity and outside the school to gain new perspectives. She believed that being part of a team is critical to her efficacy. Paraeducator #13 shared that her working experience is positive. She expressed feeling harmony and believed that she is making a difference. Structural description for paraeducator # 14 Paraeducator # 14 perceived her role as varied, yet emphasized that her primary role was supporting students. She expressed frustration regarding the degree that she is able to apply her knowledge and experience varied depending on her relationship with the classroom teacher and the classroom structure. She communicated confidence and pride in her role and would like more opportunities to share her impressions. Paraeducator #14 revealed that self-perception influenced her efficacy development. She conveyed that she held herself to a high standard of performance. Therefore, she shared that from her perspective the title paraeducator communicated a lower standard of performance and would like to see the title changed. She stated, “we’re all professional staff, because we all are professional in what we do.” Training has been very influential in her efficacy development, using the term empowered frequently when describing her training experiences. She shared that she is constantly looking for opportunities to participate in new courses or workshops. She
191 sought training opportunities that are relevant to her day-to-day duties particularly those that have an instructional strategy focus. She preferred role-play or hands-on activities so that she can have the opportunity for specific feedback and coaching. Although, all of her training experiences have been with paraeducators, she expressed merit in participating with teachers to promote communication and teaming. However, she felt that prior to joint training with teachers, there should be required teacher training clarifying the paraeducator role as she has experienced a lack of understanding from assigned classroom teachers. She shared that the role confusion influenced opportunities for her to apply her knowledge in the classroom and therefore her effectiveness to help students. Structural description for paraeducator # 15 Paraeducator # 15 perceived herself as an advocate for the paraeducators in her work place and assumed the responsibility of mentoring. She spoke with intensity. She expressed concern that many paraeducators she interacted with did not understand their role and their rights. Rather than sharing her training experiences, her interview revealed her perceptions of what paraeducators in general needed to influence efficacy. She felt that paraeducator training opportunities were inequitable compared to professional training. She strongly believed that the lack of compensation and accessibility hindered participation and consequently, constrained the performance standards of all paraprofessionals. Paraeducator # 15 vigorously described her perceptions of an effective training strategy that would influence efficacy. She emphasized that the content and material must be relevant to the role. Therefore, she concluded that training needed to begin with
192 teacher to paraeducator communication and opportunities for co-planning. She shared, “if we’re on the same page as the teachers, then we will know what we can and can’t contribute.” Structural description for paraeducator # 16 Paraeducator # 16 is unhappy in her current job placement influencing her desire to participate in training. She indicated that her job responsibilities and the workplace climate have affected her motivation. She describes the organizational structure as hierarchical, where she is not treated with respect or as a team member. She shared that she enjoyed the connections she has with the students but her role limits her interaction beyond behavior management. Her limited training experiences were mandated, which she described as ineffective. Paraeducator # 16 revealed that skills enhancing her ability to perform her job were derived from her experiences as a mother. She angrily expressed that the administration in her job placement inhibited her desires to grow in her role due perceived inconsistent policy implementation. She indicated that training effectiveness is dependent on the development of a support system in the workplace. She felt that being part of a team facilitated efficacy development. Structural description for paraeducator # 17 Paraeducator # 17 expressed his ambition to become a teacher. “My goal right now is to go back to college, get my degree, and become a teacher.” He felt that his training experiences have been very influential resulting in a positive job performance. He identified training content that has helped him understand the affect different disabilities have on the learning process as particularly beneficial. He expressed his own
193 perception as a reluctant learner contributing to his disinclination to attend training he perceives as challenging. When he has attended trainings, he prefers to be in a small group. Paraeducator # 17 indicated that hands-on activities that provide instructional strategies were valuable. Conversely, he expressed pride in his role in the school and believed that he makes a difference for his students. He revealed that he has learned how to perform his responsibilities by networking with other paraeducators. He felt that teachers were not clear about his role and depended on him to support students with special needs. He expressed concern about the lack of communication between the teachers and paraeducators. Structural description for paraeducator # 18 Paraeducator # 18 believed her perspective and experiences as a parent of a student with special needs contributed to a deeper understanding of her students needs. She felt that she approached her students with flexibility and responsiveness contributing to her perceived effectiveness. She shared that her most influential training experiences supported her role as a team member in the school and reinforced the school vision. She selected training opportunities that paralleled teacher training so she could share a common knowledge and promote collegiality. Throughout the interview, paraeducator # 18 emphasized the importance of establishing a strong support system within the school. She implied that her efficacy development and efficacy development for all paraeducators was restricted by the role assumed within the school. She spoke passionately about the need for the paraeducator to advocate for respect through collaborative interpersonal strategies with all school staff
194 while maintaining a high standard of performance. She conveyed that establishing this relationship was the responsibility of the paraeducator, without this empowerment she referred to paraeducators as “remaining invisible.” Therefore, she indicated that the training influences on efficacy are intertwined with her perceived value in her job. Structural description for paraeducator # 19 Paraeducator # 19 expressed feelings of isolation within her workplace indicating a lack of communication and mutual planning time. She felt that her day-to-day responsibilities were determined “on the fly” denying her an opportunity to prepare in order to provide meaningful support to the students. She indicated that this was particularly upsetting because her sister has physical disabilities, which was her motivation for becoming a special education paraeducator, and that she does not feel she has made a significant difference for the students. She indicated that her experiences could inform school practices but has not had an opportunity to share her insights. Her experience with training has not been beneficial. She indicated that the training lacked comprehensiveness, being fragmented and the content was restricted to a surface level. She used the word “disappointing” to describe her experience. She indicated that within the paraeducator role, responsibilities differ based on the school level placement and the age of the students assigned to support. She felt that the practice of “lumping” all the paraeducators together negated individualized training needs and discounted differing perspectives. Structural description for paraeducator # 20 Paraeducator # 20 shared her experiences working with younger students and expressed a desire to become a speech therapist. She described her responsibilities as
195 assisting all professionals, and conveyed particular pride when asked to support related services or therapeutic professionals. She shared that her desire to contribute sometimes conflicted with the amount of responsibility assigned and that she has experienced inconsistencies regarding role boundaries. She implied that she is insulted when asked to do clerical tasks rather than working directly with the students. She had mixed feelings regarding the influence of training on her efficacy development. She indicated that training was beneficial when it directly shaped her practices by addressing “the right questions” and provided opportunities for coaching. She felt that the training events she had attended were too short and not specific to her responsibilities. She would like to learn more about diagnostic skills that would expand her responsibilities to include determining appropriate student interventions. She indicated that her input was not valued and that she was excluded in student programming discussions. She described the feeling as “we’re almost like invisible or something.”
196 APPENDIX I: COMPOSITE DESCRIPTIONS
197 COMPOSITE DESCRIPTIONS The composite descriptions are an integration of the paraeducators’ perceptions and lived experiences representing the group as a whole. Composite descriptions are derived from the individual textual and structural descriptions. Invariant meanings and themes are summarized in the textual composite descriptions revealing a cumulative and comprehensive description of the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994). Textual Composite Descriptions The textual composite descriptions are presented by revealed theme in order to elucidate how the paraeducators as a group perceived the influences of training and efficacy. The excerpts about the following themes represent a summary of the 20 paraeducator interviews. The summation excerpts are verbatim quotations from the interview transcripts. To preserve the essence of each paraeducators’ perceptions and lived experiences, using [sic] to identify incorrect grammar was not used due to the large number of such elements within the verbatim examples. Including [sic] would detract from the readability of the statements as quoted. Perceptions of role and responsibility for efficacy development Perceptions regarding role and responsibilities differed based on job location. The majority of the elementary special education paraeducators indicated that their primary role was to support the teacher. Elementary paraeducators described their responsibilities as assisting with instructional material preparation and following teacher directives to support instruction. Conversely, the secondary paraeducators described their primary role as supporting the student. Responsibilities included providing identified accommodations and behavioral supports to facilitate and maintain student engagement.
198 Despite the differing role distinction, the majority of paraeducators agreed that due to changes brought about by legislation, the special education paraeducator role requires delineation and performance responsibilities need further clarification. Representing this perception, Paraeducator # 13 shared, “teachers don’t really quite get the difference . . . now we’re paras versus when we were aides.” Further insight was offered by paraeducator # 15, “paras were held to a very low expectation . . . where they were held into a little pigeon hole. Now, we are expected, for the most part, to do everything.” Perceptions of Organizational Structure Influencing Efficacy Over half of the paraeducators indicated that the school organizational structure was hierarchical, where the teacher took the leadership role in the classroom, and the paraeducators assumed a follower position. The organizational structure was perceived as hindering initiative and growth opportunities. Paraeducator # 11 summarized this perception, “it’s a real fine line . . . and we’re afraid to do anything.” Paraeducator # 3 provided a shared perceived explanation for the hierarchical structure, “some teachers are very uncomfortable with you being in the room because they do not know what to expect from you.” Some of the paraeducators experienced a more inclusive organizational structure. The paraeducators sharing this experience credited themselves for taking the first step towards building a positive organizational structure by outlining their qualifications and highlighting how their qualifications could contribute to the classroom. Paraeducator # 14 captured this perception, “I go to the teacher and say, this is what I come with . . . please let me assist you.”
199 Perceptions of Relational Structures Influencing Efficacy Establishing a collegial relationship was indicated as critical for efficacy development. Paraeducator # 18 summarized this perception, “without that buy-in from the classroom teacher or the rest of the staff, the para’s gonna [sic] remain invisible.” However, the paraeducators consistently reported perceptions of inequitable relationships resulting in feelings of diminished value and limited growth opportunities. Paraeducator # 2 stated, “It is not equal at all.” The paraeducators referenced experiences of low compensation, limited training opportunities, a lack of respect, and minimal communication as examples of disparity. The majority of the paraeducators believed that they should be treated similar to professional staff. Paraeducator # 3 elucidated, “but the reality is we are not treated like the professional . . . we feel like, you know, a personal helper.” Perceptions of Job Preparedness The majority of the paraeducators reported being unprepared for the job when hired. Paraeducator # 8 noted, “I didn’t get any specific training and there is not much guidance from the teachers initially.” Capturing the shared experience and feelings, Paraeducator # 9 stated, “well, when I first started the job, I just kinda [sic] came into it. I didn’t really have any experience with it [sic]. I think in the beginning, it was just the unknown, really not knowing what we were suppose to do.” Most of the paraeducators indicated that beginning job skills were acquired by relying on personal instinct and parenting experiences coupled with a trial and error approach. Paraeducator # 12 described the learning experience as “hit or miss.” Sharing a common experience with the majority of the paraeducators, Paraeducator # 15 stated, “I
200 followed my instincts and tried to come up with new ideas . . . anything I could find.” Some paraeducators indicated that they relied on past working experiences or peer support to learn their job. Training Topics Influencing Efficacy When considering training influences on efficacy development, the paraeducators identified content topics that they had experienced or would like to experience. Most of the paraeducators valued and desired continual training in content that addressed specific instructional interventions for their students. Paraeducator # 17 captured the collective preference, “any strategy that will help me better understand the students.” Many of the paraeducators benefitted from training addressing behavior management techniques, which enhanced performance responsibilities for monitoring and maintaining student behavioral compliance during instruction. Paraeducator # 1 shared a common belief that behavior management training was significant as controlling behavior “superseded any teaching.” Other influential training topics experienced or preferred by the paraeducators included content that promoted a better understanding the characteristics of specific disabilities and content that enhanced teacher-paraeducator collaborative skills. Training Methodology Influencing Efficacy The majority of the paraeducators considered the training method that incorporated interactive discussion with teachers and other paraeducators valuable. Sharing perspectives and experiences with colleagues was indicated as promoting efficacy development. Paraeducator # 12 stated, “it is nice to see [sic] somebody else’s
201 opinion or ideas on certain things . . . because we all see . . . and understand things in different ways. It all depends on where our mindsets are.” Training methodology that informed practice was preferred. Over half of the paraeducators believed that modeling specific actions and interventions enhanced effective performance and boosted confidence. Paraeducator # 10 described the value of modeling, “so I can see the way they handle a situation, then I can handle it the way they handle it and feel good about knowing I am doing it right.” Training Delivery Models Influencing Efficacy Training delivered at the job location was perceived as influencing efficacy. The majority of the special education paraeducators indicated job-embedded training that included expert coaching or peer mentoring as beneficial. Paraeducator # 19 summarized the collective perspective, “when someone comes in and gives me one-to-one instruction . . . that influences me more than formal trainings have done.” Paraeducator # 10 shared, “the most beneficial training has actually been on the job training where you’ve got the teacher guiding you or working with you on how best to meet the needs of the kids.” Further, the paraeducators valued the opportunity to practice acquired skills and receive feedback on their performance. Paraeducator # 1 revealed that a training delivery model required two components, “having modeling and actually having a chance to practice” to be effective and meaningful. Many paraeducators explained that coaching facilitated performance improvement. Training Factors Influencing Efficacy All of the paraeducators indicated that they would like more training opportunities. Collectively, they perceived training as a way to improve their abilities to
202 perform their job. Several paraeducators felt that acquiring more knowledge would facilitate respect from the professional staff. Paraeducator # 12 shared a common sentiment, “the more equipped the para is the better it’s going to be to earn that respect within the classroom.” In order for training to be of value, most of the paraeducators interviewed identified content relevance as an essential factor influencing efficacy. However, the paraeducators were concerned that the trainers were not fully aware of their needs. Reflecting a common opinion, Paraeducator # 9 felt that trainers needed to “walk in our shoes and know what we are dealing with.” Other effective training factors identified as a necessity included increased training opportunities that included follow up training and chances to network with other participants. Paraeducator # 5 summarized the collective perspective, “training needs to be more frequent because the roles keep changing.” Paraeducator # 17 shared a common experience discussing the need for follow-up training, “it is more effective when you have a chance to go back and process, then the follow-up training provides closure.” Many of the paraeducators shared a desire to mentor other paraeducators and expressed concerns about inequitable training opportunities. Paraeducator # 13 captured the concerns, “if you get training as a group, you grow as a group.” The majority of the paraeducators indicated a desire to network with other paraeducators to ensure continual improvement and to elevate the image of all paraeducators. Training Factors Inhibiting Efficacy The lack of training accessibility was most frequently described as a factor inhibiting efficacy. The majority of paraeducators experienced limited training
203 opportunities and challenges accessing available training. The paraeducators reported difficulty with training registration, inconvenient training times, and inconvenient locations as obstacles for participation. The lack of follow-up training was indicated as another factor impeding training participation and inhibiting efficacy development. The paraeducators stated that single exposure training sessions were ineffective, minimizing opportunities to apply learned skills and ask clarifying questions. Many paraeducators preferred in-depth and focused content presented across several training sessions. Structural Composite Description The structural composite descriptions are presented to capture the essence of the phenomenon. The collective description facilitated an understanding of how the participants, as a group, experienced what they experienced (Moustakas, 1994). A universal understanding is revealed by incorporating imaginative variations captured in the individual structural descriptions. As a group, the paraeducators represented a diverse perspective, whose roles and responsibilities included supporting a variety of grade levels, disabilities, and instructional models. The majority of the paraeducators (15) were female. Work experience ranged from 3 years to over 10 years. Educational preparation ranged from graduating high school to achieving a Master’s degree, however only two paraeducators had educational preparation in the field of education. All of the paraeducators took pride in their job and expressed a strong desire to help students with disabilities. The paraeducators appeared extremely dedicated to their students and committed to enhancing the profession. All experiences and perceptions
204 were shared with enthusiasm, evoking strong emotional responses and appreciation for the opportunity to participate in the study. The majority of the paraeducators expressed feelings of frustration when describing their role and responsibilities. Many indicated that they felt restricted by the classroom teacher or classroom situation. As a group, the paraeducators conveyed confidence in their abilities and felt underutilized. The paraeducators shared feelings of disrespect and inequity due to a perceived hierarchical organizational classroom structure. Most paraeducators shared a desire to participate in a more collaborative structure where they would be part of a team. Specifically, the paraeducators indicated the need for increased planning time with the teacher and enhanced communication. The majority of the paraeducators indicated the type of collegial relationship established with the classroom teacher influenced efficacy. Most of the paraeducators shared feelings of inadequacy due to limited job preparedness. All of the paraeducators enthusiastically indicated a desire for more training, expressing a relationship between skill attainment and efficacy. Training topics that helped the paraeducator to problem-solve when assisting students who were having difficulties learning was indicated as being especially valuable. Job-embedded coaching and peer mentoring was perceived as more influential than structured systemic training. The paraeducators believed that training content needed to be relevant to their setting and situation to be meaningful. Many expressed disappointment with training experiences and indicated that the content lacked depth and the training sessions were too short and infrequent lacking follow-up activities.
APPENDIX J: TEXTURAL-STRUCTURAL SYNTHESIS
206 TEXTURAL-STRUCTURAL SYNTHESIS The textual-structural synthesis is the final step in the analytical process. Moustakas (1994) described the textual-structural synthesis as presenting the “unity of texture and structure” of the phenomenon (p. 151). Therefore, the synthesis presents a deeper meaning and essence of the special education paraeducators’ perceptions and lived experiences of training and efficacy. The paraeducators enrolled in this study have a diverse range of educational and experiential backgrounds. As a group, the paraeducators share an intense dedication and compassion. Collectively, the special education paraeducators conveyed a strong commitment to enhance the educational experiences of the students. All of the paraeducators perceived their role as important and expressed a desire to inform the profession. The paraeducators were very enthusiastic about sharing their perceptions and experiences and consistently expressed appreciation for the opportunity to be heard and valued. Analysis of emerged themes revealed a consistent experiential and perceptual focus on two distinct and interrelated forms of efficacy: (a) organizational efficacy and (b) self-efficacy. A comprehensive understanding of organizational efficacy was revealed through the analytical synthesis of three established themes: (a) perceptions of role and responsibilities for efficacy development, (b) perceptions of organizational structure influencing efficacy, and (c) perceptions of relational structures influencing efficacy. A deeper understanding of self-efficacy was discovered through the analytical synthesis of six established themes: (a) perceptions of job preparedness, (b) training topics influencing efficacy, (c) training methodology influencing efficacy, (d) training delivery models
207 influencing efficacy, (e) training factors influencing efficacy, and (f) training factors inhibiting efficacy. Organizational Efficacy The majority of the paraeducators communicated that critical to efficacy development is consistent and definitive role and responsibility descriptions. Due to changes in the law, the paraeducators have experienced role expansion and more rigorous performance expectations. However, confusion about role and responsibilities between school staff and paraeducators was consistently reported. Rather than adhering to a standard job description, the paraeducators felt that their role and responsibilities were dictated by circumstances within the classroom. Therefore, individual role and responsibilities were unclear and undefined contributing to collective feelings of frustration. The majority of the paraeducators believed that efficacy development was influenced by the organizational and management structure within the classroom. Over half of the paraeducators felt that the organizational structure of the work environment was hierarchical and they were perceived as subordinate members. Most of the paraeducators shared a desire for a more collaborative organizational structure. As a group, the paraeducators believed that a collaborative organizational structure would enhance efficacy by providing opportunities for joint planning where observations and information about the students and classroom activities could be freely expressed and valued. An association between the organizational structure experienced by the paraeducators and their perceived relationship with school staff was revealed. Nearly all
208 the paraeducators indicated that the degree and type of collegial relationship within the work environment influenced efficacy. A lack of parity, lack of communication, and lack of respect was frequently experienced contributing to the collective perception of being “invisible” and isolated. The majority of paraeducators indicated a need for mutual planning and enhanced communication that would provide cohesion within the classroom. The paraeducators consistently emphasized their perceived relationship between efficacy development and inclusion in the teaming process. Self-Efficacy Minimum or no pre-service training was a common experience influencing the paraeducators foundational perceptions regarding their ability to perform their job. Shared feelings of unpreparedness and a lack of guidance influenced initial feelings of efficacy. Many paraeducators expressed feelings of inadequacy and felt compelled to take the initiative to acquire basic performance skills. The majority of the paraeducators indicated that basic performance skills were attained through trial and error while working with the students. However, when attending training events, the most influential content topic identified by the majority of paraeducators focused on acquiring a variety of instructional interventions. Most of the special education paraeducators indicated that they benefited from and sought training that promoted intervention options for struggling students. The paraeducators indicated that gaining an understanding of how to select and implement different strategies that supported a variety of student learning needs enhanced their ability to perform their job and influenced self-efficacy. In addition, increasing behavior management strategies, understanding the implications of different disabilities, and
209 enhancing collaborative skills were identified as beneficial training topics by half of the participants. While the paraeducators felt it was advantageous to participate in separate trainings with other paraeducators that shared common experiences, the participants also expressed concern that the paraeducator training content was not aligned with the professional training content. In order to be effective, many paraeducators expressed the need to “be on the same page” with the teachers. Training methodologies that facilitated interaction with teachers and other paraeducators was identified as valuable and the paraeducators expressed a desire for more opportunities to learn with teachers and school staff. Many of the paraeducators indicated that joint teacher-paraprofessional training provided an opportunity to hear differing perspectives yielding a mutual understanding. Job-embedded coaching and peer mentoring was reported as the most effective training delivery models. Most of the paraeducators indicated that training delivered at the job site was beneficial because the content was more meaningful and relevant. The paraeducators indicated that in order for training to influence efficacy, training delivery, methodology, and content needed to relate to their working environment and circumstances. Collective experiences revealed that job-embedded coaching and peer mentoring allowed for customization addressing personal job performance needs. However, the most common experience shared by the majority of the paraeducators was large group generic training that did not generalize to their current employment situation. Therefore, training content was not implemented and forgotten. The paraeducators indicated the necessity for training information that was practical,
210 allowed for immediate implementation, and supported their current role and responsibilities. The majority of the paraeducators expressed a desire for continual training but indicated that participation was inhibited by limited training availability or a lack of opportunities to access provided training. Lack of follow-up training and lack of content depth was also noted as affecting participation in training opportunities. Less than half of the paraeducators interviewed shared that the lack of compensation inhibited training participation.