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Working with Paraprofessionals To make the most of paraprofessional support, teachers must change their role from gracious bost to engaged teaching partner: etief—that is how many teachers describe their initial reaction after learning that a paraprofessional will support 4 student with a disability in their class, Such help is generally a ‘welcome prospect for the overworked classroom teacher. “The paraprofes- sional and special educator will handle ‘most of the planning, adapting, super- vision, and instruction,” many teachers think to themselves, “All Tneed to do is be a gracious host.” Afterall, other students in the classroom have special needs of their own that requice the teacher's time and attention. And. students with identified disabil autism, developmental delays, multiple disabilities, or behavior disorders, for ‘example—have more intensive needs associated with those disabil Providing paraprofessional support fora student with a dis like an obvious way to facilitate incl sion in the general education classroom. Paraprofessional support can ensure that students with disabi appropriate level of attention and, prevent these students from “falling through the eracks’—both worthy aims. Apparently many school leaders agree. The number of special education paraprofessionals has increased cramati- cally over the past 15 yeary, coinciding, with greater access to general education Classes for students with a wider range of disabilities Michael F. Giangreco Although schools undoubtedly provide paraprofessional support with the best of intentions and in the belief that it will help students, little evidence suggests that students do as well or better in school, acalemically or socially, when they are taught by p professionals (Gerber, Finn, Achilles, & Boyd Zaharias, 2001; Giangreco, Fdeiman., Broer, & Doyle, 2001; Jones & Bender, 1993). Sometimes relying on paraprofessionals m because it relieves, distributes, or shifts responsibility for educating a student ith specialized needs, but educators should not confuse this outcome with effectiveness for students, Eifective inclusion of students with disabilities requires concerted effort and collabors: tion among the Individualized Edi tion Progeam team: teachers, special educators, families, and administrators (oyle, 2002; French, 2003; Gerlach, 2000) benefit from carefully designed par professional support feel effective nd sometimes this team can Teacher Engagement The extent and nature of interaction between a classroom teacher and his or hier students who have disabilities—or teacher engagement—is one of the ‘most important contributors o the success of general education place- ments for students with disabilities Giangreco, Broer, & Bdelman, 2001, ‘Teachers who are instructionally 50 EDUCATIONAL Leapexsmin/OcroneR 2003 engaged with students with disabilities express responsibility for educating all students in their class, regardless of disability. They know the funct levels and anticipated learning outcomes ofall of theie students, They instruct and communicate directly with students who have disabilities. They collaborate and participate in insteue tional decision making with special ‘educators and paraprofessionals, They direet the work of paraprofessionals in their classroom—for example, plant lessons that match the skill evel of the paraprofessional. They mentor parape- nals and mainta jalogue with them, and they phase out paraprofessional support when their students no longer need it Unfortunately, teachers often become less engaged with students who have disabilities when those students receive ‘paraprofessional support. Given the importance of teacher engagenv the success of inclusive education oppor tunities for students with disabilities, educators must take care not to inadver rly compromise that engagement, The most obvious points to consider inelude f Hiring the most talented, caring, and ‘competent paraprofessionals available: = Demonstrating appreci respect for their work by treating them well 1 Orienting them to the school, class ‘= Clarifying th ng an instructional nd students: roles and assigning them tasks that align with theie skills; ‘= Providing initial and ongoing, ining that matches their roles 18 Giving them professionally prepared plans to follow: ‘= Directing their work through ongoing, supportive supervision; a ‘& Providing opportunities for them to be contributing team members, Beyond these basic points, however, are several considerations for educators ‘who hope to direct paraprofessional support that faciltates—rather t oth the inclusion of compromises— ilies and teacher \gement with these students (G greco & Doyle 2001; Pickett & Gerlach, 1997; Riggs & Mueller, 2001) 2002: Giangreco et al The Training Trap The training trap is twofold. First teachers often relinquish instruction of students with disabilities because they assume that paraprofessionals are specially trained to work with such stuclents. But the literature suggests that ‘many paraprofessionals continue to be undertrained of untrained. In other words, students with disabilities ‘usually the students with the greatest learning challenges in the classroom— often receive their primary or exclusive instruction and support from the least ‘qualified staff members. Althou paraprofessionals are highly educated, and recent federal le others (for example, these workin Title [environ educated, most have far less education, skill, or experience than certified class room teachers—especially when it comes to curriculum and instruction. The second part of the tr: ning trap, involves teacher engagement, Unfortu: ely, once paraprofessionals receive virtually any amount of tr best, usually equivalent to a single collegeevel course feel even more just many teachers led in relinquishing instructional responsibilities to them. These teachers, many of whom have graduate degrees and years of exper ence, are uncomfortable instructing stuclents with disabilities because they are “not trained.” Nevertheless, they feel confident handing over the bulk of such instruction to a paraprofessional, Although paraprofessional training certainly isa step in the right direction, inis typi lly insufficient to prepare paraprofessionals to perform the instructional duties that classroom teachers increasingly ask of them, Most teachers are far better trained t educate a student with a disability than are most paraprofessionals, Although teachers tors can certainly benefit from training in such areas as modifying curriculum and differentiating instruction for mixedability groups, teachers should nd special educa not underestimate the importance of their existing skills and repertoire for cecucating students with disabilities. The principles of teaching. ‘not change when a student is labeled with a disability successful by stretchin ind learning do Teachers can be individualizing, and intensifying many of the same approaches that they have used for years. The Role of Special Educators Teachers often assume that paraprofes- sionals operate from plans prepared by 4 special educator, which is not always the case. Across the United State, special educators are among the most thinly stretched professional educa tors—especially those working in inch sive schools. The special educator's job is a difficult one: extensive paperwork large caseloads of students with a wide range of disabilities, and numerous teachers and paraprofessionals with RRICULUM DEVELOPMENT 51 whom to collaborate at ‘multiple grade levels, Many competent, caring special ‘educators have difficulty clivering all that is expected of them, Improving the working conditions of special educa tors is vital to ensuring that students with disabilities receive appropriate educs tion services and that teachers and paraprofes: sionals have necessary supports, Inadequate working conditions for to0, whelmed special educators ‘can lead to inappropriate autonomy for Ps may be left to: make curricular instructional decisions on theit own. often without adequate training, profes: sionally prepared lessons, sufficient knowledge of the student's individual able yet over professionals. Paraprofessionals ized plan, oF supervision. But even if teachers are fortunate ‘enough to work with special educators who b and work effectively with paraprofes sionals, they should not relinquish fe adequate working conditions Instructional responsibilities to the pars professionals assigned to their class rooms, Eifectively educating stuclents with disabilities who are striving to ‘meet individual learning outcomes (for example, Individualized Education Program goals) while participating in the general education curriculum, requires the integral involvement of the classroom teacher—who is likely 10 be the only certified edu room throughout the day—in the teaching team. ator in the class Realistic Expectations The 1997 Amendments tothe Individ als with Disabilities Education Act allow for appropriately trained and supervised paraprofesi providing spec direction of quaiied professionals Deciding what constitutes appropriate sto assist in training and supervision requires clarity about the scope of a paraprofessional’s, duties, Recent literature has raised ques 52 EoveaTiowat LeApexsitit/O% U ssimetagcunfeae with disabilities may encourage insular relationships between these students and paraprofessionals. tions about whether ed are asking (00 much of paraprofessionals in the ck sroom, given theie skills andl typically low levels of eompensit For example, imay asked to observe a large ge lesson and then follow up with a Wp student who has a disability by reteaching the lesson to match the student's needs, adapting the teacher's assignment, OF assisting with home work—all accomplished “on the fly These would be high-level curricular and instructional tasks for an experi enced special educator, much less a paraprofessional, Particularly at the middle and high school levels, the well ‘meaning paraprofessional often faces academic content that he or she may have found challenging as a stuclent. We don't expect secondary school teachers to be fluent across the eurriculum—yet fr fessionals as they move between several Is exactly what we ask of parapro- academic disciplines. Consequently many paraprofessionals feel pressured to try toinstruct students with disabilities in the regular classroom, even when they are unsure of the intended earning outcomes. They reteach, they complete assignments, and they do homework for these students for fear that they will be perceived as not doing their job; a furry of activity may take place without quality learning Instead, the classroom twacher, special educator, and paraprofessional should the student with a disability in group Jessons and to identify individually phan how to include appropriite learning outcomes that are arly understood! by all team members. Next, the teacher and special educator can determine the student's need for differentiated expectations, Instruction, materials, and assignments, as well ay ways in which the parapro- fessional can help implement such differentiation, Educators may also consider m lifying their school's service delivery practices so that para professionals, especially in secondary schools, are assigned to 4 limited umber of subjects in which they can guin content proficiency Unintended Effects Paraprofessional supports ean some times have unintended, undesirable effects (see Would IE Be OK... 4, p. 53) Enter an inclusive elasstoom, for example, and you may easily identify the student with a disability —seated on, the periphery of the ¢lassroom with a paraprofessional close by his or her side. Separating students with clisabil ties within the classroom isolates them, from theie peers and may enco insular relationships between these students and the paraprotessionals assigned to them. Overdependence on pParaprofessionals can adversely afiect the social and academic growth students with disabilities, resulting in their inadequate instruction and peer interactions, In some cases, students