The Role of Paraprofessionals in Inclusive Classrooms
School is back! And the role of paraprofessionals in inclusive classrooms.
Happy New Year, Everyone!
2022 is off to a strange start, with the vast majority of schools opening to in-person learning this week, yet Covid-19 continues to cause headaches (both literally and figurately) to families and school personnel.
As educator Katy Farber tweeted just days ago…
For this edition of The Weeklyish, I wanted to share a resource that caught my eye over the last couple of months that I think deserves your attention.
This is from the TIES Center, the national technical assistance center on inclusive practices and policies. What, you haven’t heard about them? If you haven’t, make sure you sign up for their updates.
In October of last year, they published a brief called “Understanding the Role of Paraprofessionals in Your Child’s Education in Inclusive Classrooms.”
The use of paraprofessionals when implementing inclusive education can be a controversial topic. And when I was supporting schools, district administrators have told me more than once that if a student with an intellectual disability has a paraprofessional helping them in a regular classroom:
How is that appropriate or fair to the other students?
How are they going to learn independence?
To both of these inquiries, I call “hogwash.” Or, as Lou Brown puts it, “baloney.”
These questions assume that a paraprofessional is solely dedicated to a student with a disability and has no role or interaction with the other students in the classroom. If that is your idea of inclusive practices, we have some unlearning to do.
Here is how the authors of the TIES Center Brief put it.
Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams may push back on a request for a paraprofessional. They may point to limited resources or claim that a paraprofessional makes the general education classroom a more restrictive environment. These arguments are not valid. The paraprofessional decision must be based [on] what an individual student needs to have a satisfactory education in the general education classroom.
The brief outlines what qualities paraprofessionals should have and what support and training they need to succeed in their role. It also provides some examples of the appropriate use of paraprofessionals in inclusive classrooms and some red flags that might indicate a change in how they support students or what kind of training they need.
For instance, paraprofessionals should have high expectations for the student, as well as knowledge of the individual student’s strengths and interests, and how to build on them. Paraprofessionals should be part of the instructional team, working under the direction of a special education teacher or specialist, using modifications and adapted materials that will support the student’s independence. Their role isn’t only to support academics, but also to facilitate social interactions with nondisabled peers.
Some red flags that the TIES authors note are if the paraprofessional completes the student’s work for them or if the student becomes more isolated and dependent on adults instead of supporting independence and peer interaction.
Another thing to think about is that if your school district’s plan to promote inclusive practices is to simply hire more paraprofessionals, then there is a misunderstanding of the bigger picture. In an inclusive system, students with disabilities are scheduled in a classroom across the grade levels in natural proportions, special and general education teachers are given time to collaborate and plan for all students, and paraprofessionals are used efficiently to support students.
I remember having a conversation with a colleague when I was working to include students from my own segregated special education classroom in general education classrooms. They said, “If the district is going to get serious about including students with significant disabilities in gen ed, they better be prepared to hire a bunch of one-on-ones.”
No. This is not what I mean. Or the TIES Center, for that matter.
In his 2010 article called “One-to-One Paraprofessionals for Students with Disabilities in Inclusive Classrooms: Is Conventional Wisdom Wrong?” Michael Giangreco states:
In many cases, the advocacy for assigning one-to-one paraprofessional support is reactive…
A variety of alternatives … have been suggested, such as (a) resource reallocation (e.g., trading paraprofessional positions for special education positions), (b) coteaching, (c) increasing ownership of general educators and their capacity to include students with disabilities, (d) transitional paraprofessional pools (e.g., short-term, targeted assignments for roving staff), (e) reassigning paraprofessional roles (e.g., from one-to-one to classroom; paperwork paraprofessional), (f) lowering special educator caseloads to increase their opportunity to provide support in the classroom, and (g) peer supports.
Please, carve out some time to look at the TIES Center Brief on the role of paraprofessionals in inclusive classrooms.
And if you are a school administrator who is looking for training for paraprofessionals? MCIE has professional development that we can customize for your needs. Email us at email@example.com or visit mcie.org for more information.
That will do it for this edition of The Weeklyish.
Thanks for your time and attention.
And remember, inclusion always works.
Next week, I speak with Amy Plica (Universal Crossings) about how she supports families and educators with inclusive education. Don’t miss it!
In just a couple of weeks, I'll be speaking at the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) 2022 Annual Convention & Expo in Orlando, FL.
If you are around, we would love to see you!
We will be sharing information about the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education multi-year phased approach to systems change.
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