Working Effectively & Collaborating with Paraprofessionals!

Friday, July 15, 2016

A great parapro can save you time, help increase student learning, and basically be your right hand. On the other hand a bad parapro can make your life harder in many ways. A good parapro is worth their weight in gold. I’ve had the privileged to work with some amazing Para's and also was unlucky to work with a few who were less than stellar.
So what is the secret to having a great working relationship with your parapro’s? Well, I don’t know the exact recipe, but I’ve figured out a few things that can help you and head your parapro/teacher working relationship in the right direction.

1. Knowing Personalities are Pertinent
It’s important to know your paraprofessionals personality, as well as your own.
To accomplish this, I had ALL my parapro’s and teachers take a personality test this past
school year. They thought I was crazy I am sure, but the insight they are able to give them
into what makes each person tick, allowed me to help motivate them, and give them
constructive criticism in a way that won’t step on toes or hurt their feelings. You can find the
personality test I used HERE. I like the break down of how a person is to work with. I’ll use
own personality as an example for you. The test told me I was an ESFJ. According to the
work habits section of the profile, my personality type is sensitive to criticism. And to be
honest with you, that’s accurate. I do take criticism to heart. No matter how nicely it is done.
So if my boss wanted to give me constructive criticism, I respond best to being to the desired
behavior, and then I will typically change my behaviors to align with what is desired. This is
much nicer to me than to say, hey, you are really lacking here, and I think you need to do
this. I focus on what I am lacking in, and it takes me much longer to change things.
To me, understanding your co-workers habits and preferences go a long way to make a great
#FunFact: 8 of the 10 teachers I had take this had the same personality type. Of the
paraprofessionals I had take the quiz, they all fell within 3 different personality types. 
I thought that was telling!

2. When in Doubt Spell It Out!
Make sure that everyone’s roles and responsibilities are explicitly spelled out.
Communication is key. Make sure you sit down with your parapro’s at the beginning of the
year and spell out their responsibilities to them. On the flip side, let them know what your
responsibilities are as well. This helps you to hold each other accountable.

3. Give them support.
Parapro’s need feedback. You like the work they are doing with so and so, let them know. If
you don’t. who will. Ask them if they have any questions, EVEN if you are sure they couldn’t
possibly have questions, they might. Give them encouragement, and try to see their
attributes and use those attributes to your benefit.

4. Help Them Learn
I’ve worked with parapro’s who have bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, high school
diploma’s and even one with a master’s degree. Parapro’s all have different levels of
education. Some may have a stronger background than others in working with special needs.
Don’t forget to give them some on-the-job training. Additionally, if there is an online class
you think a parapro could benefit from, let them know about it. I’ve had some parapro’s use
the Vanderbilt IRIS Modules, OCALI Autism Modules, and even the AFFIRM Modules. My
para’s are thrilled to learn more information. Now, not all are willing to go the extra steps, so
it may help to ask them to work on it during their prep period, etc. especially if there is one
area that you feel like they lack in.

5. Collaborative Schedules
Your typical school day can be hectic. Getting to actually talk your parapro is sometimes
near impossible. To help, use a collaborative Google Document. Google Docs let you real
time communicate using the same document. If something changes, or you know that a
surprise fire drill is coming up, you can give the para a head’s up too!  Like wise, a parapro
can let you know data from an inclusion class, or write a reminder to talk to you about
something specific.
What are your best tips for working and collaborating with Paraprofessionals? I'd love to
hear from you in the comments below! 

Happy Teaching! 

Exposing The Hidden Curriculum

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The first time I heard about the “Hidden Curriculum”, I started thinking…. “Oh, Crap! What did I miss. We never talked about that in college. Is it a Math curriculum? A really good Reading Curriculum?” I was perplexed but didn’t want to embarrass myself by asking what it was, since it must be what all the great teachers use in their classrooms. “Am I the only one who doesn’t know what this curriculum is?” I had to find out. 
I went back to my classroom and did a quick internet search. So, I’m about to let you in on the secret of what the hidden curriculum is, if you were like me, and didn't know! 
It is not a Math curriculum, or even a really good English Curriculum. I was super wrong on both of those fronts!  It’s a term that is used to describe all of the unwritten rules and expectations of our behaviors that we all seem to know, but were never explicitly taught.

Need an example? Have you ever tried to tell a student that something is “Common Sense”? What about “Everyone knows that…” Chances are everyone doesn’t know, and it is not common sense. Most students pick up on these social indicators. Students with disabilities, especially Autism have a difficult time picking up those social cues.

A few examples :
*It’s not okay to tell other students that they smell and should use deodorant.
*Classmates can tell you to do something, but it may get you in trouble. They don’t always have your best interests in mind.
*Don’t correct someone else’s grammar all the time.
*In gym class at high school when you have to change clothes in the gym room, don’t stare at others while they change.

How do you teach the hidden curriculum? 

The hidden curriculum can be taught in many meaningful ways! 

1. Try Video Modeling! Record a situation and play it back for students. Ask them if there was anything wrong with the situation? Was the rule broken, a hidden curriculum rule? or a known rule? What could they do to change the outcome of the situation? 

2. Community Experiences- Many rules can be taught out in the community. Field trips are great to practice many skills. Going to a restaurant can help teaching using money and ordering, but some of the hidden rules can also be taught. Hidden Rules like Not Yelling that your food is taking too long, understanding that you pay after you eat at sit down restaurants, but before you eat at fast food restaurants. Waiting in line until it is your turn to order is another hidden skill that might not be explicitly taught. 

3. Mistakes- Sometimes you start to tell a student that something is common sense, or they should already know about something. IF you are finding yourself saying this, double check to make sure the item is not a hidden curriculum skill. If it is, it's the perfect opportunity for a learning moment. We ALL learn from mistakes. It's often times the best way to learn. 

4. Game it Up! - Make it a fun game. Have students play a wheel of fortune style game that let's them answer questions about the hidden curriculum once they have learned some hidden curriculum rules. It's great for review! I use this game I made in my classrooms!  Click here to check it out! 

I'd love to know what items you have found yourself teaching, or how you teach the Hidden Curriculum in your classroom! Leave a comment below with your answers! I can't wait to hear from you! 

Using iMovie in the Special Education Classroom

Saturday, May 14, 2016

I'm always searching for ways I can make my life easier in my work. Work smarter, not harder. That's what we all want, right? Well I've figured out that using iMovie in the sped classroom is, well, pretty genius, if you ask me. Although I'm not trying to toot my own horn! haha. 

If you aren't familiar with iMovie you can google for tutorials on how to use it. It's fairly easy, but it will take some playing around to figure out all the settings and features. There are tons of resources out there already, so I'm not going to waste my time telling you how to use it. Instead, I'm going to give you a few ideas of how we use iMovie in the special ed classroom. 

1. Video Modeling- This is a great use for iMovie. We've recorded tasks and added words to the video so students can see and hear what we are modeling for them. We've recorded peers doing the task, the student themselves doing the task, or teachers or para's doing the task. It works great. 
(When recording though, always ask for parent permission) 

2. Social Skills Training- iMovie is great for showing certain social skills. When using the videos within the school setting students can see peers using social skills in a setting that is familiar to them. We've recorded peers using a specific skill (like eye contact, spacing in a conversation, etc.) to show specific skills as well as recording students working on a specific skill, and showing them what they look like doing it, vs, what it maybe should look like.

3. Creating BUZZ about a new unit- Sometimes you just don't get the excitement you'd like for a new unit. I've created a mini trailer for an upcoming unit to introduce the topic, or tease a field trip that after the unit we will go on. It's fun, and works wonderfully!

4. Real Life Social Stories- Social Stories are great, but putting video to a social story is SOO much better. We have a student who is transitioning from the Intermediate School to the Middle School. He is very nervous about the whole move. To help ease his fears we created a mini video. The video introduces him to teachers, classroom, fellow classmates, and the different areas of the school. This helped him immensely.

5. Student Successes- I once recorded a student tying his own shoes..... I know you get it. #TheStruggleIsReal. He was ridiculously proud, and so were we. He had worked all year to tie it, and finally was able to do it. We sent the video to his mom! She cried! She was so proud of him.

6. Student Portfolios- I haven't actually used iMovie for Student Portfolios just yet, but we are going to next year. We decided a portfolio of a student's ability to work within multiple settings would be a great way to show future employers just what they COULD do. Our hope is that seeing the mini video portfolio may make the hiring decision that. much. easier. We've heard some other schools have done it, and have seen amazing results. I'll report back later on what we find out.

7. End of Year Memories- Recap your year by showing your students a mini video of all the fun you've had together. I've done this almost every year I've taught, only I did a slide show. Video is way better and I got to add great songs. The result, a CRY fest, so don't say I didn't warn you.

I hope you've grabbed an idea or two to use in your classroom. Have an idea you don't see above? Use the comments below to add it. I'd love to hear your ideas!
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