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    The special skills, qualities, and behaviors of effective paraeducators.

    As school administrators continue to work tirelessly to solve unprecedented learning loss —amid a staffing shortage— our students with special needs must be prioritized and given the resources they deserve. Building qualified paraeducators is a crucial component of any plan. 

    It was December 2, 1975, when the federal government put the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) into place.  This groundbreaking set of regulations included a requirement that all  public educational agencies establish and maintain qualifications to ensure that special education support personnel are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained with the content knowledge and skills to serve children with disabilities.  

    Creating qualified paraeducators.

    Students with IEPs require more supports and services—especially since the socio-emotional and mental health impact of the pandemic. It's no secret that these students have better outcomes when trained professionals can skillfully and compassionately respond to their individual challenges.

    These educators are truly some of the most amazing people you will ever meet. They are positive team players, creative, know when to back off or step in, and are calm in the face of crisis.   

    Following IDEA, it has been a constant uphill battle to attain, train, and retain qualified paraeducator staff (also known as paraprofessionals in some schools). And frankly, most schools don’t have enough special education resources to do it effectively. 

    I joined Kelly Education to create structured steps to manage and grow the skills of our thousands of paraeducators  across the country. Here are a few that we've put into place.

    Step 1: Standard behavioral interview questions. 

    When hiring a paraeducator, 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. These example questions - and answers - are different from those asked when hiring a teacher or substitute talent. 

    1. How will you handle a student’s behavior issues in a classroom? 
    2. What are your expectations of the teachers with whom you will work in the classroom?  
    3. You’ve explained a math problem twice, and the student still doesn’t understand. What do you do? 
    4. How will you encourage independent learning and thinking when working with students?
    5. 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 believe in delivering paraeducator-specific training and professional development that include these topics: 

    • Working with student Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP)
    • Prompting and fading of cues and supports for students with autism
    • Familiarity with needs of students who are English Language Learners (ELL)
    • Best practices in working with students with learning disabilities
    • Techniques for supporting students with physical needs

    Steps 3, 4, 5...

    There are many more steps to effectively hiring and managing special education roles, like evaluating work and providing constant professional development through webinars and training modules. Our evidence-based competency tools adhere to the highest standards that define both what paraeducators must know and how they must act when working with students with special needs.

    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. 


    About the Author:

    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. 

    EDITORIAL NOTE: This article was originally published on September 17, 2021. It was updated to reflect additional training resources provided by Kelly Education.

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