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    Growing paraeducator talent—because our students with special needs deserve the best.

    Special education directors carry a heavy burden. They are under enormous pressure to balance the support of students and families, while managing tight budgets. Most only dream of having additional resources to grow the talents of their staff—to make them even more effective with their students. I know. I’ve been there.  

    Today, the need for special education resources is even greater. The pandemic took a toll on students with IEPsFederal funding is coming to the rescue. School systems are using ESSER and ARP funding to invest in more paraeducators—but those paraeducators need to be more skilled than ever to help kids who are coping with the socio-emotional impact of COVID-19. 

    Evaluation of paraeducator talent 

    Kelly Education has given me the opportunity to create my dream: The Kelly Paraeducator Competency Assessment (KPCA). This evaluation tool is an application that helps special education supervisors and directors to meaningfully assess how paraeducators are performing within evidence-based best practice standards and skills. These include: use of routines to facilitate transitions, understanding of least-restrictive environments, and positivity in facilitating participation. 

    The KPCA also identifies 30 specific, observable behaviors that paraeducators may encounter during a typical school day. The following example from the KPCA centers on cultural sensitivity. 

    The paraeducator demonstrates respect and appreciation for differences in values, languages, and customs among home, school, and community. 

    • Reads and discusses articles about cultural awareness and diversity. 
    • Respectfully asks the student questions about a holiday or celebration in their culture/family. 
    • Shows genuine interest and converses with students about their family culture and language. 
    • Encourages students to interact and converse in their own family language (when able) to increase comfort levels. 
    • Uses student’s native language to help them understand vocabulary or concepts. 
    • Respectfully expresses things about the paraeducator’s own culture and customs. 
    • Encourages the use of books and materials that represent a diverse population, including people with disabilities. 
    • Understands the variety of cultural demonstrations of respect (eye contact, looking down, etc.), and allows and recognizes the demonstration of respect in the manner of their own culture. 

     Professional development  

    Once evaluated, the special education director and paraeducator can more easily identify growth opportunities. In my experience as a director in public schools, I was always looking for engaging ways to elevate our team—and the best paraeducators were always hungry for feedback. This tool productively engages the paraeducator in a collaborative development process and makes their work even more meaningful. 

    If your school is struggling to manage, grow, or retain paraeducator talent, I can help. As an expert, I’m available for consultation, to brainstorm solutions, or to help make the case for more resources to an administrator. This matters to me. Our kids have been through so much—they deserve the absolute best education we can offer. 

    Dr. Kathleen Adolt-Silva holds a doctorate of education, with a specialization in special education. She is a former special education administrator, educator, and trainer. Kelly Education is proud to have her on our team as our in-house expert, as she uses her talents to improve special education talent at schools across the United States. 

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