As school administrators work tirelessly to solve unprecedented learning loss created by the pandemic—amid a staffing shortage—our students with special needs must be prioritized and given the resources they deserve. Qualified paraeducators are a crucial component of any plan.
Students with IEPs are requiring more support and services because of the long-tail socio-emotional and mental health impact of the pandemic. It's no secret that these students have better outcomes when talented, trained professionals who can skillfully and compassionately respond to their individual challenges are supporting them. These educators are truly some of the most amazing people you will ever meet.
Finding, developing, and retaining paraprofessionals takes a strong human resources team. And frankly, most schools don’t have enough special education resources to do it effectively — even ESSER and ARP funding takes time to figure out how to deploy effectively.
I joined Kelly Education to create structured steps to manage and grow our thousands of skilled paraeducators. Our evidence-based competency tools adhere to highest standards that define both what paraeducators must know and how they must act when working with students with special needs.
One of the best indicators of success is how a candidate answers pre-hire screening interview questions. These questions should be tailored to understand behaviors for this specific role. The questions and answers are different from those asked when hiring a teacher or substitute talent. Are they calm when facing adversity? Are they a team player? Do they have a good attitude? Are they organized?
Step 1: Standard behavioral interview questions:
- How will you handle a student’s behavior issues in a classroom?
- What are your expectations of the teachers with whom you will work in the classroom?
- What would you like to learn more about in this position?
- You’ve explained a math problem twice, and the student still doesn’t understand. What do you do?
- How will you connect with students and create positive, supportive relationships?
At Kelly Education, we use a rubric to score a candidate’s response. It not only tells us if the candidate is qualified, but also where they need to develop once they join our team. As staffing experts, we know that not every employee is going to be a 100% match to their role during the hiring process. We look for talented, reliable, kind, patient people who can grow beyond required qualifications laid out in a job description.
Step 2: Once hired, set them up for success with training.
Setting paraeducators up for success is crucial to retaining them for many years. We provide job-specific orientation coursework:
- Para roles and responsibilities
- Para behavior management basics
- Para assisting and supporting instruction
- Special education safety in the classroom
- Cultural competency and bias
- Bloodborne pathogens – exposure prevention
- Special education – introduction
There are so many other steps to effectively hiring and managing special education roles, like evaluating work and providing constant professional development through webinars and training modules.
As a former special education director, I know the battle between budget and personnel all too well. I work to break down those barriers. 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 became personally invested in special education through having family members who are deaf and dyslexic. Kelly Education is proud to have her on our team as an in-house expert, as she uses her talents to improve special education at schools across the United States.