Column: District 518 supports new paraprofessionalsWORTHINGTON — The paraprofessional job position is not new (we used to call this position a teacher’s aide), though some of the job roles and responsibilities have changed over time.
By: Tammy Timko, District 518, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The paraprofessional job position is not new (we used to call this position a teacher’s aide), though some of the job roles and responsibilities have changed over time. Throughout the nation, the number of paraprofessionals increased steadily after the passage of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), which required that students be placed in the “least restrictive environment” and prompted schools toward inclusion, including special education students in the general education classroom.
Today, a paraprofessional’s responsibilities are varied and can range from instructional support in the classroom to supervising student behavior in the lunchroom. Many paraprofessionals assist students with special educational and/or physical needs and duties may include working on math concepts in a small group or such care as feeding, lifting, and assisting with hygiene.
At District 518, we know that the paraprofessionals’ role in educating our students is vital. This year, the District Staff Development Committee has taken steps to ensure that all new paraprofessionals have the support and training they need to fulfill their role. This committee has developed a Paraprofessional Induction Program (PIP) modeled after its current Teacher Induction Program (TIP). The program includes the essential components of orientation, mentorship and professional development.
Orientation: The week before school started for students, new paraprofessionals for District 518 arrived for a half day of orientation. During the orientation, participants engaged in activities that familiarized them with the district, prepared them for the first week of school and connected them to systems of support. They were able to meet the principal of their building, their mentor, and the teacher(s) they will be working with.
Mentorship: Each new paraprofessional has been matched to a trained mentor. These mentors are chosen because of their experience and success as a paraprofessional. The mentor will support, guide and coach the new paraprofessional throughout their first three months, discussing such topics as creating a positive learning environment, effective communication, instructional support strategies and student motivation.
Professional Development: Federal regulation under NCLB (No Child Left Behind) requires that all paraprofessionals be highly qualified. To meet this requirement, District 518 requires that all new paraprofessionals complete work in Minnesota’s core competency areas. These areas range from Academic Instructional Skills in Math, Reading and Writing to Communication and Collaborative Partnerships. In addition, paraprofessionals may also receive some training in specialized competencies, including training in such areas as early childhood, job coaching, behavior management, autism, developmental cognitive disabilities and other health disabilities.
The mission of the Paraprofessional Induction Program (PIP) is to facilitate the growth of new paraprofessionals through partnerships which encourage reflective practice, build instructional support and maximize student performance. We believe that the components of the new District 518 PIP program will help us to accomplish this mission.
Tammy Timko is District 518’s coordinator of teaching and learning.