Para News

What's In a Name?

By Anna Lou Pickett, First Director and Founder, National Resource Center for Paraeducators

During the latter half of the 20th century several events took place that led to dramatic changes in our nation's schools. To address critical shortages in the ranks of licensed teachers that began in the 1950s, a few schools began to employ "teacher aides" to assist teachers with non instructional tasks. This new group of school employees performed clerical tasks, monitored playgrounds, lunchrooms, and hallways, prepared bulletin boards, and carried out other activities designed to enable teachers to meet the educational needs of all students. At the same time, parents and other advocates joined forces to gain access to education and other community based services for children and youth with developmental disabilities as alternatives to state operated institutions. Parent operated schools employed teacher aides to enable teachers to provide personalized services for students who could benefit from additional support. The mid 1960s ushered in Title I, Head Start, and other compensatory programs designed for students from diverse language and cultural heritages, or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. These new programs required "teacher aides" to perform more complex responsibilities in addition to their non-instructional tasks.

Over time, school districts adopted additional titles to more accurately describe teacher aid roles, responsibilities, and contributions. In the 1960s, several educators suggested the term "Para", a Greek word meaning "alongside of". The term "paraprofessional" recognized the functions that were being performed by "teacher aides". This does not mean that districts stopped referring to this group of employees as "teacher aides". Indeed there are numerous titles including: instructional, educational, or teacher assistant, occupational, physical therapy, speech-language aide, health care aide, job coach/transition trainer, intervener for learners who are deaf-blind. These are just a few of the titles for school personnel who work alongside teachers and other professional practitioners.

In 1989, Anna Lou Pickett, the founder and first director of the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals suggested that the term "PARAEDUCATOR" be used to more accurately describe the nature of today's "teacher aides". Paraeducators support and assist teachers and other practitioners in various disciplines, just as their counterparts in law and medicine are designated as paralegals and paramedics.

We at the NRCP agree. Using a common term will enable us to more effectively achieve our goals. A common language will help us to develop strategies to gain the attention of policy makers, administrators, personnel developers, and other stakeholders with responsibilities for ensuring all educators including PARAEDUCATORS perform their assigned tasks to strengthen the performance of education teams. TASKS TO STRENGTHEN THE PERFORMANCE OF EDUCATION TEAMS.


The Impact of Trauma on Children

By Doug Van Oort

The Bad News: Researchers have found that “exposure to unrelenting stress and repeated traumas can change a child’s brain, making it…harder to focus and learn.” (Flannery) The Good News: Educators can create trauma-sensitive classrooms where children learn to calm themselves when stressed or experiencing trauma and return to learning. (Flannery)

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can “derail a child’s development and lead to a host of health and social challenges throughout a lifetime.” (ACEs Data) Researchers have found that 56% of Iowa adults had experienced at least one of the eight types of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) during their childhood and that 14% had experienced four or more! (ACEs Data)

The eight types of ACEs are:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Substance abuse in the home
  • Family member with mental illness
  • Incarcerated family member
  • Separation/divorce
  • Domestic violence

As the number of ACEs increases, “so does the likelihood of having a wide range of poor outcomes.” (ACEs Data) While still in school, children who’ve experienced trauma score below peers in reading and math, even in homes with adequate income and parental education. They also are twice as likely to demonstrate aggressive behaviors. (Flannery) As they grow older, they’re more likely to adopt risky behaviors (smoking and alcohol or drug abuse), develop health problems (diabetes, heart disease, depression, STDs, early death) (ACEs Data), and become adults who are violent, miss work often, and marry often. (Flannery)

Why is this so? Researchers have found that great stress or trauma activates the brain’s fight, flight, or freeze responses while shutting down areas of the brain where learning occurs. The brain is “fundamentally changed” to adapt for survival. (Flannery) These children struggle “with all areas of language, word retrieval, writing” and memory; the next day after being taught, “it’s like they never were taught.” (Flannery) Being in a “constant, fear-activated state of hyper-awareness” results in a range of responses from being quick to rage, defiance, disrespect, and aggression to appearing like “they’re zoning out” or “shutting down”.

Flannery asks, “So, what’s an educator to do?” As mentioned earlier there’s good news. Research shows that “building caring connections promotes positive experiences for children…and helps those with a history of trauma heal.” (ACEs Data) All children experience stress, but in home and school environments with supportive adult relationships, the effects of stress are softened and brought back down to normal more easily, which also helps them “develop a healthy response to stress.” (ACEs Data)

Suggestions for educators from the experts:

  • Don’t punish a child for symptoms of a real medical issue (trauma and stress disorders can be found in the DSM-V). (Flannery)
    • In particular, out-of-school suspensions should be avoided as they “likely feed the school-to-prison pipeline.” (Flannery)
    • It can be more traumatizing for kids to be picked up from school by parents when suspended. Instead, teach them to “pull themselves together and get back to learning.” One principal stated, “These kids’ best hope is to get a good education, so we want them in the classroom, and we want them to trust us.” (Bernstein)
  • Create a trauma-sensitive classroom where kids can feel safe and build resilience.
    • Greet and take time with each student at the start of each day before “diving into tasks” or learning.
    • Offer a “comfort zone” where kids can take a break and calm down, such as a beanbag chair. (Flannery)
    • Give options from which students can choose when they begin having troubles, such as putting on headphones to listen to classical music, going to a break area, or going for a walk. (Bernstein)
  • Keep a neat and uncluttered classroom. Mess and disorganization can be overwhelming and contribute to stress. (Flannery)
  • Paint or decorate walls with cool colors. (Flannery)
  • Have predictable classroom routines with advance warnings of changes (Flannery) and reduce the number of transitions. According to Chris Blodgett, clinical psychologist, change means danger for traumatized kids. (Bernstein)
  • Ask students to repeat verbal instructions. (Flannery)
  • Use written instructions and visual prompts as much as possible. (Flannery)
  • Give short movement breaks every 30 minutes. (Flannery)
  • Educate everyone in the school community – teachers, paraeducators, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, playground monitors – on the effects of trauma and the importance of staying away from “reflexive discipline” and helping kids learn to calm themselves. “You can have a great trauma-sensitive classroom,” says Susan Cole, Trauma and Learning Policy Institute Director, “but if the child goes into the hall or cafeteria and gets yelled at, he can get re-triggered.” (Bornstein)

ACES Data in Iowa. (2015). Beyond ACES: Building hope and resiliency in Iowa. Bornstein, D. (2013). Schools that separate the child from the trauma. Fixes on Facebook: New York Times. Flannery, M.E. (2016). How trauma is changing children’s brains. National Education Association (NEA). Education policy: School climate.


ESSA and Implications for Paraeducators: Questions & Answers regarding ESSA’s Impact on Paraeducators

Interview by Wangui Njuguna, Education Daily with Marilyn Likins, Executive Director, National Resource Center for Paraeducators.

Q: In your role as executive director for the National Resource Center for Paraeducators what do you hear from paraeducators about the supports they need in schools?

A: Paraeducators need to have a thorough understanding of their roles and responsibilities tied to relevant, quality, ongoing training and supervision. They also need to have administrators, teachers and other educational staff recognize the scope of their responsibilities and demonstrate respect through appropriate job assignments. Paraeducators should not be asked to perform certain tasks without requisite training and there are some tasks that paraeducators should not perform at all. Their teachers and other educational personnel also need training on how to effectively delegate and direct the work of the paraeducator(s) with whom they work. Additionally, both teachers and paraeducators need training on communication, problem solving and building effective teacher/paraeducator teams. Again, they need to focus on the diverse roles and training tied to performance of those roles

And finally, administrators need to understand their role in supporting teacher/paraeducator teams as they work and problem solve together to meet the needs of all children.

Q: How does ESSA provide those supports?

A: ESSA sets the stage for training and professional development (PD) of all key members of instructional/educational teams including paraeducators. Getting the word out to states, districts and especially schools will be important so that future training or professional development will also target paraeducator needs. As you know, in the past, PD has largely focused on administrators and teachers.

 Also, with the reauthorization of ESSA, and its support of including paraeducators in teams at the school, district and state level, training in effective communication, team building and problem solving is key! Paraeducators will be participating in these meetings, perhaps for the first time, and need to be familiar with educational terms and acronyms frequently used in such meetings. More importantly, they need to understand what and how to effectively contribute to team discussions as well as the value of their contribution.

Q: Have the roles of paraeducators expanded over the years, particularly as states face teacher shortages, and how does ESSA’s definition of paraeducator reflect these roles?

A: Yes, the roles and responsibilities of paraeducators have changed dramatically since they were introduced into classrooms almost five decades ago. As teacher aides, their role was to provide teachers with more time to plan and implement learning activities. Their roles were limited to performing routine monitoring and clerical tasks and maintaining learning environments. Over time, the roles of paraeducators have become more complex and demanding in all programs areas however training has not kept pace with the demands of their evolving jobs. These days in many classrooms, paraeducators are asked to work with some of our most challenging students with little or no training. And yes, more and more paraeducators are being tapped to fill critical teacher shortages. Many teacher preparation programs are recruiting paraeducators as potential teacher candidates due to their familiarity with the challenges of the job and the community.

In addition to professional development for instructional teams (e.g., general and special education teachers, paraeducators, administrators, related services providers, etc.) ESSA specifically addresses career pathways for paraeducators who are interested in pursuing a teaching career.

Q: Why was it important that ESSA maintains qualification requirements for paraeducators?

A: To assume that anyone can do the job of a paraeducator would be a mistake. To increase outcomes for students, paraeducators must have foundational knowledge and demonstrate key knowledge and skills to provide effective instruction and classroom support.

Q: How do paraeducators contribute to ensuring students get the educational services they need?

A: Paraeducators are frequently the ones on the front lines working with some of our most challenging students. Teachers’ roles have become increasingly complex and demanding and at times the paraeducator has worked more closely with a particular student or group of students and is more familiar with their performance and needs. Well functioning teacher and paraeducator teams is the answer as such teams communicate daily to discuss student performance and address program changes as needed. Again training both teachers and paraeducators on building effective teams and communication is what it is all about.

Q: What professional development do paraeducators need and seek out? I noticed that Montana Office of Public Instruction has dedicated PD for paraeducators; does the National Resource Center for Paraeducators work with State Education Agencies and LEAs on PD?

A: First and foremost paraeducators ask for training in the areas of effective classroom and behavior management strategies followed closely by effective instructional practices as it relates to their assignment, e.g., special education, Title 1, ELL, etc. Training requests are also tied to what type of instruction or support they are asked to provide e.g., small group, large group, one-on-one, etc. Specific content areas are many including reading, math, Common Core, autism, teaming, communication and problem solving. Yes. upon request, the NRCP works with SEAs and LEAs to assist in PD as well as infrastructure development at the state or district level. Some examples include facilitating: building state infrastructures and systems that support paraeducator development at the state and/or district level, state standards & certification, state paraeducator consortiums and communication systems, university and community college coursework, and career pathways.

Q: How does your organization garner increased respect for paraeducators?

A: Our organization and others try to increase awareness at the national, state and district level of the contributions that paraeducators make on a daily basis to the educational and social outcomes of our students. We do this through our newsletter, presentations, publications, and annual national conference. We work to ensure that paraeducators are always at the table when professional development, standards and career pathways are being discussed. We also seek to collaborate with other national and state organizations, centers, and unions to ensure that the role paraeducators play in educating our students is recognized and valued.

Q: what challenges do paraeducators face and what solutions should be implemented?

A: You could write a book on this question! Paraeducators have multiple challenges that vary from state to state. These include a need for: 1) increased funding, 2) increased work hours tied to benefits, and 3) enhanced training tied directly to their job requirements.


Paraspotlight March 2013 Ms. Desha Casey

Submitted by Cory Haley, Panorama Elementary,Temple Hills, MD

It gives me great pleasure to highlight Ms. Desha Casey as an Outstanding Paraeducator. She is a young woman who brings with her a strong academic background, innovative professional qualities and is an accomplished educator. Ms. Casey has excellent leadership ability and I have been able to observe, support and embrace her unique style that extends beyond the classroom. As a co-worker who has worked closely with Ms. Casey, below are only a few of her many qualities and accomplishments that I have observed. She has:

  • Developed, designed, and implemented curricula -- from developing courses to personally delivering training to employees at a variety of levels.
  • Counseled individuals including staff, parents, and employees in both academic and discipline matters, as well as educational opportunities.
  • Effectively taught children of differing abilities.

Additionally, she possesses a highly effective management style that creates a positive learning environment sparking an interest and academic success. More importantly she demonstrates great respect for students and appreciates their differences. Ms. Casey believes that all students provided with an imaginative education thoroughly grounded in curriculum can learn. She has that innate ability to keep focus on the tempo of the class and maintain structure while imparting knowledge. She will be a champion educator among the school's faculty and challenge all of her students for global success.



HOT TOPIC: The Seven R’s of Behavior: Dealing with Misbehavior Made Easy! (OK, easier)

The Seven R’s of Behavior:
Dealing with Misbehavior Made Easy! (OK, easier)

By Doug Van Oort, Assistant Professor, Kirkwood Community College (2008, revised 2010)

Anyone who’s worked in a school knows that dealing with challenging student behaviors can
be, well, very challenging. Nationally, nearly 50% of new teachers leave teaching within the
first five years (NEA), and student behavior is a primary reason. Common sense tells us that
other professionals who work with students (or consumers in agencies) with the most difficult
behaviors may experience frustrations similar to teachers, resulting in a lack of job satisfaction.
During the summer of 2008 while teaching a course titled Observation and Management of
Behavior, I tried to reduce what can be a lot of very complex information regarding behavior
into some essential understandings, or the 7 Rs of Behavior. Based on my experience as a
teacher, coach, and parent, applying the 7 Rs of Behavior results in two very positive outcomes:
• Most misbehavior will be prevented.
• Misbehavior that does occur will be changed more effectively and in ways that
preserve a positive atmosphere and your relationship with the individual.

Throughout this article, I will refer only to students and schools. If you work or intend to work in
a community agency rather than a school, try to adapt the information to that environment.

The Seven Rs of Behavior
1. Relationship, Respect, & Realization of Success
2. Reason
3. Relevance
4. Replace Behavior or Restructure Beliefs
5. Remind
6. Recognize
7. Responsibility

1. Relationship, Respect, & Realization of Success

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, University of Virginia, “90% of misbehavior is prevented by
simply building a relationship with your students.” (Tomlinson) When you’ve treated them
with respect, made genuine effort to get to know their interests, gotten to know about their
families, listened to them talk about their joys and struggles, and basically made it clear that
you care about them, it’s less likely that they will misbehave in your presence. And, if they do
misbehave, they will be more likely to accept your attempts to address the misbehavior as a
result of the connection or bond you have with them.

Developing an overall culture of respect in your classroom will also result in less misbehavior.
A culture of respect involves all in the setting being respectful of others, themselves, and
property. Adults and students are respectful of each other and of one another. The adults set
this tone by modeling respect daily, in all their interactions, and by clearly communicating the expectation that respect for others, self, and property is nonnegotiable in this classroom.

Studies also indicate that the realization of success - actually experiencing success in something of value - results in less misbehavior in students. (Mccullough et al) While not easy, educators must work diligently to ensure the success of each student by providing work at the right level of challenge for each, by providing needed support and accommodations, by explaining the benefits of learning, and by making the classroom positive and safe.

By building a relationship with each student, developing a culture of respect, and making sure each student realizes success, educators will prevent most misbehavior.

2.  Reason      

Often, educators try to change misbehavior with rewards or punishment. These sometimes work…but typically only short-term. Research tells us that when the reward (Kohn 37) or punishment (Kaplan 197) is no longer present, the student typically returns to the original misbehavior. Often, rewards and punishment don’t even work short-term. Joseph Kaplan, author of Beyond Behavior Modification, shares the following example. (Kaplan 89-90) A teacher is faced with nearly an entire class that fails to get homework done. The teacher tries powerful rewards and punishments, but some students still don’t complete homework. How could this be? Well, for some students, the work may just be too hard. Others may choose not to complete homework because some peers severely ridicule anyone who does. Others may not see the value in doing homework (“What good will homework do me?  I’ll never amount to anything anyway.”). For these and many other reasons, the homework will not get done.

Professionals need to diagnose the underlying reason for the misbehavior to effectively address it. One simple way of diagnosing is for staff to ask themselves, “What is being communicated by this behavior?” Often, a need is not being met, such as the need for tutoring for that student who finds the work too hard. By knowing the need, staff can work on ways to meet the need. Another method of diagnosis called functional analysis involves looking at aspects of the student’s environment that may be influencing the behavior, such as peers who ridicule, and then changing that aspect (changing peers’ ridiculing behavior in a respectful manner). (Kaplan 92) A third method, pre-mod analysis, examines the student’s internal state, for example examining if there are factors within the student (such as not seeing the potential positive results of completing homework) that prevent him from engaging in the desired behavior (in this case, completing homework). (Kaplan 96) The professional then must work to change the student’s internal state (in this case, the way the student views his human potential and how academic success can help him to reach his potential). Knowing the reason gives us the background information needed to design a plan to change the behavior. In Kirkwood’s Observation and Management of Behavior course, you will experience the joy of learning about these diagnostic methods in greater depth!

Some adults don’t bother to diagnose the cause of misbehavior and instead simply identify the reason as, “He’s a bad kid.” This isn’t a reason; it’s a label. “He’s a bad kid,” gives up on the child. In most cases, professionals should see bad behavior as the result of bad circumstances, such as negative modeling (child becomes aggressive with peers after regularly seeing parents hit each other), unrealistic expectations (6 year old gets in trouble for being out-of-seat when expected to do seatwork quietly for long periods), or years of frustration (bright student with a severe learning disability verbally lashes out at others after years of ridicule by peers - and perhaps even ridicule by staff - as well as years of not having his learning needs addressed). Diagnosis allows professionals to uncover these bad circumstances. Once uncovered, bad circumstances can be improved for the child.

3. Relevance

To increase the chances of a student changing a behavior, professionals must get the student
“on board”. The student needs to be convinced of the relevance or benefit of changing the
behavior. Professionals do this best by discussing their concerns about the behavior with the
student in private and in a respectful manner that says, “I want to help you.” And, professionals
do this most effectively by addressing how changing will help the student, not the professional.
For example, “This will help you do better in school…which will help you graduate…which will
result in a better job and making more money as an adult,” or, “This will help you make and
keep friends,” rather than, “This will keep me (the professional) from going CRAZY!”

4. Replace Behavior or Restructure Beliefs

When changing a misbehavior, it is essential that professionals teach the student a replacement
behavior, a safe and productive behavior that replaces the old behavior. A key word is “teach”;
don’t assume s/he knows how to engage in the new behavior. In our homework example, we
would replace “not completing homework” with “completing homework”. (This may require
teaching organizational skills, prioritization skills, etc.) In the case of “ridiculing peers for
completing homework”, a replacement behavior might be “compliments peers for completing
homework”. If we don’t replace the misbehavior with a positive behavior, the misbehavior will
likely return. (Kaplan 63)

In many cases, an underlying harmful belief or thought may actually be fueling a misbehavior,
according to Joseph Kaplan (Kaplan 383). For example, a student may believe, “Nothing I do or
will do in my life ever turns out good,” and so she skips school, fails to complete homework,
and so on. We can teach her study skills and organization skills, but unless we change her belief
about herself we will not likely see long-term positive changes in her behavior. So, we must
replace this harmful belief with a positive one. This is done the same way she developed the
harmful belief – through teaching, repetition, and real experiences. Perhaps she’s experienced
mostly failure in school for years, along with negative comments from peers, parents, and some
staff. Instead, if regularly given work at a realistic level of challenge, all the supports and skills
to succeed, positive feedback about her effort, and a positive self-talk script that she regularly
tells herself (such as, “I’m good at many things, and if I give my best effort in all I do, good
things can and will happen in my life.”), in time she will start to believe this about herself.

Important notes: Changing a student’s beliefs is a process that takes time! A belief is typically
learned over the course of many years, and it will likely take a long time to learn a replacement
belief. (Kaplan 411) Also, whatever approaches we take to change a behavior or belief must
be positive and respectful. Avoid using rewards or punishment to change behavior and beliefs.
They can create dependency, harm relationships, and lower internal motivation.

5. Remind

To increase the chances of our student permanently changing to the replacement behavior or
belief, we can remind the student of the new behavior at key times. In our homework example,
when the student is given homework or given time to work on homework in class, privately and
respectfully remind the student of the relevance or benefits of completing it. Perhaps remind
the student of a routine you’ve helped him develop for completing homework at home (go
home, have a snack, relax with a TV show or exercise for an hour, then complete homework
before doing any other fun activities). Another example might involve a student who has lost
recess time in the past for throwing gravel at peers. In this case, as the student is going to
recess, remind her of the replacement behavior you’ve taught - playing catch with a peer (with
a ball, not gravel J). Visual reminders, such as a strategically-placed card that illustrates the
new behavior or belief, are helpful for many students!

6. Recognize

Most of us appreciate when others recognize our successes, and our students are no different.
When students display the replacement behavior or demonstrate their new belief, let them
know you saw it. Decide whether or not it would be best to do this publicly or privately, but do
let the student know. “Andy, great job on your homework.” Or, “Chanelle, I saw you playing
catch with Juan. What a fun way to spend your recess!” Recognize and celebrate successes!

7. Responsibility
Whenever possible and as soon as possible, turn responsibility or control of a specific behavior
over to the student. Students want control; give it to them when possible. Kaplan refers to this
concept as self-management and cites reasons for doing so, such as: 1) it works in changing
behavior long-term, based on research (Kaplan 341); 2) it promotes self-reliance (Kaplan 343);
and 3) it’s a life-long skill, perhaps more relevant than anything we teach in school. (Kaplan 343)

The Seven Rs take more time and effort on our part to implement than rewards and
punishment, but they’re more effective long-term. Our students deserve our time, our best
effort, our respect, and our use of proven, research-based strategies.

Kaplan, J. (1995). Beyond behavior modification. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes.
New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Mccullough, M., Ashbridge, D., & Pegg, R. The effect of self-esteem, family structure locus of control, and career
goals on adolescent leadership behavior. Adolescence, Vol. 29, 1994.

National Education Association (NEA). (2010). Research spotlight on recruiting & retaining highly qualified teachers:
Recruiting & retaining a highly qualified, diverse teaching workforce.

Tomlinson, C. (2008). Differentiated instruction: Beginning the journey. 2008 ASCD Summer Conference on
Differentiated Instruction, Understanding by Design, and What Works in Schools. Nashville: TN.


Council for Exceptional Children (CEC): The Voice and Vision of Special Education

CEC is the leading voice for special and gifted education. Through the vision and dedication of more than 30,000 members, CEC sets the standard for high quality education for children and youth with exceptionalities. The Council ensures the needs of children and youth with exceptionalities are met in educational legislation, establishes professional standards for the field and develops initiatives to improve special education practice. And, CEC is known as THE source for information, resources and professional development for special educators. To read more about CEC CLICK HERE

For more information on all of CEC’s programs, products and services, visit or call 888-232-7733.


Preparing Paraeducators & Education Majors Together in College

Preparing Paraeducators & Education Majors Together in College

Doug Van Oort, Paraeducator Certification Coordinator & Education Careers Faculty
Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, IA

Imagine actors in a play practicing their roles individually but never rehearsing together prior to opening night. Or, imagine the quarterback, backs, receivers, and linemen on a football team never practicing together before the first game. It would be absurd to expect smooth performances in either example.

Yet, this is pretty common in education. Many colleges prepare education majors and special education majors separately, but they are then expected to work together to meet the needs of students with disabilities. The same is true regarding education majors and students taking courses to become paraeducators.

At Kirkwood Community College, we had done the same, preparing education majors and paraeducator majors separately for the most part. After taking over as our Paraeducator Certification Coordinator last year, I felt we needed to change to a prepare-them-together approach. Often, I’d heard, “The teachers need to hear this,” from my students who were already employed as paraeducators. I’d heard reports of general education teachers saying to paraeducators, “He’s your kid, not mine,” when faced with a student’s challenging behavior or academic needs. I’d also seen or heard of paraeducators being given too much responsibility for a child’s education. It was clear that many teachers were not fully aware of the differences in their own roles and those of paraeducators, and not fully aware of their responsibility for all students in the classroom. Unfortunately, it also appeared that there was still a wall that existed between general education and special education. A prepare-them-together approach appeared to be one way Kirkwood could contribute to increasing awareness about proper use of paraeducators and to tearing down that wall.

I proposed to my dean, Kathleen Van Steenhuyse, and our Education Careers coordinator, Jack Terndrup, that we move the state-required competencies for the beginning level of paraeducator certification from our Introduction to Disabilities Services course, taken only by paraeducator majors and some special education majors, to our Exploring Teaching

course, a course taken by all our education and special education majors. Fortunately, both recognized the benefits of this proposal and approved, and Kirkwood began preparing education majors and paraeducator majors together during the Spring 2011 semester.

This transition was made easier because many objectives in both courses already matched, such as making classrooms safe places for all, creating a motivational environment, respecting diversity, and abiding by special education law. New objectives to Exploring Teaching, that our education majors had previously not been exposed to, included: 1) awareness that the paraeducator is an important contributor to the educational team; 2) the distinction in roles of teachers and paraeducators; and 3) the use of adaptations and assistive technology, essentials of successful inclusion. New learning for our paraeducator majors, or concepts and skills they would not have learned in Introduction to Disabilities Services, included: 1) a broader range of effective methods and strategies, such as giving feedback and keeping students on task and accountable; 2) understanding the impact of poverty on learning and how to support students in poverty; and 3) the importance of using research- or evidence-based practices in schools.

In addition to the changes to Exploring Teaching, we at Kirkwood implemented two other changes that I believe will contribute to greater awareness about paraeducator issues and teamwork in both our education and paraeducator majors, and ultimately in area schools that employ our former students as teachers and paraeducators:

  1. We eliminated a separate field experience course taken by paraeducator majors for advanced state certification and now include these students in field experience with education majors. Our future teachers and paraeducators now attend seminars together, where their learning about paraeducator issues that began in Exploring Teaching can continue.
  2. We moved paraeducators from a separate paraeducator advisory committee to our Education Careers Advisory Committee, resulting in members of this committee – area teachers and school administrators – being more informed about paraeducator issues.

Since beginning to prepare teachers and paraeducators together, our faculty has taught several sections of Exploring Teaching during the Spring 2011 and Fall 2011 semesters, At the end of each semester, students are surveyed anonymously to determine the effectiveness of our changes, and the results have been very encouraging. Of the 149 students surveyed:

  • 97% agreed or strongly agreed that the course helped them better understand the distinction in roles of teachers and paraeducators and what paraeducators may and may not do based on Iowa Department of Education guidelines.
  • 97% agreed or strongly agreed that the course helped them better understand that the teacher is responsible for training and directing the paraeducator.
  • 99% agreed or strongly agreed that the course helped them better understand that the paraeducator is a valuable member of the educational team.

Another benefit of our new prepare-them-together approach at Kirkwood has surfaced. Many students who previously had not considered becoming paraeducators are now considering this profession. Although we have no data to support this, our Education Careers faculty believes that, in the past, students taking Exploring Teaching who decided to no longer pursue teaching just left our Education Careers program in search of other careers. Now, based on their introduction to the paraeducator profession, many are considering this new option. Of the 149 students surveyed, two who had originally taken the course to pursue teaching now plan to pursue paraeducator certification instead, and 21 others plan to get their paraeducator certification while also continuing to pursue teaching. In addition, four students who took Exploring Teaching specifically to become paraeducators are now considering becoming teachers, and four others plan to pursue teaching instead of paraeducator certification. (Note: All Kirkwood courses that meet state paraeducator certification also lead directly to our AA degree in Education Careers.) Overall, many of our students are becoming aware of another positive career option due to the changes we made.

As a result of our prepare-them-together approach, I am confident that our education majors at Kirkwood will not be shocked to find another professional in their K-12 classroom on their first day in the classroom, will respect the distinction in teacher and paraeducator roles, and will be more likely to properly utilize paraeducator support than if we had continued to prepare the two in isolation. And I am confident that our paraeducator majors will be more empowered to respectfully and appropriately question their supervisors when improperly utilized than if we had continued to prepare them separately.

If you would like more details about Kirkwood’s prepare-them-together approach, contact me at or 319-398-4936. I would be very happy to share. You may also visit our paraeducator certification website at



Para Spotlight: Ryan Black

Sent in by: Sharon Oberne, First Grade Teacher, Willoughby Elementary School

For the past ten years, I was a literacy specialist working with small groups. Due to budget cuts, I was placed back in the classroom as a first grade inclusion teacher. It was Ryan Black, a special educational assistant, who provided a helping hand.

It was a difficult transition back into the classroom, especially when it came to using technology. It was Ryan who coached me on how to use the Smart Board and various computer applications. She also provided insight into understanding more about the students receiving special educational services.

My classroom consists of twenty-three students. Most of these students are receiving some form of special educational services. Ryan provides much-needed assistance during mathematics and communication skills' blocks. I can honestly say that without Ryan's help, the students would not meet their IEP goals.

Recently, an unexpected audit was conducted in my classroom from Norfolk Public Schools' Central Administration. In fact, all primary classrooms were targeted on the same day. Unfortunately, Ryan was at a meeting and not in my classroom when these two professionals came. I was skeptical in how I would be able to conduct groups during math time, since these individuals were not in any hurry to leave. I really thought they would have left after carefully examining the students' writing and reading portfolios. I decided to hand over my lesson plans, since they had not asked for them, while letting them know that this was an inclusion class. These professionals were speechless!

As I conducted the three math groups, sending my higher group to math stations, I soon discovered that ALL the students were very efficient in showcasing their skills. I was totally blown away and very excited over everyone's progress, especially the students Ryan worked with. So much so, that one of the auditors had to see exactly what the students were working on. The expression on her face was priceless and to me it was worth more than a million dollars. Of course, I cannot take full credit for this, because Ryan Black is a golden asset in the classroom.

Besides providing assistance in my classroom, Ryan also helps in several other inclusion classrooms, which includes kindergarten, third grade and fifth grade. I do not know how she does it all! In her spare time, she is involved with special projects for the school, such as PTA programs, children's events, and as an editorial advisor for young authors seeking publication.

Ryan Black has received the "Star Mentoring" Award several times for her dedication as being a mentor for disadvantaged youth. In addition, Ryan has been nominated for the prestigious Norfolk Public Schools' Inspirational Award as a Paraprofessional.

Ryan is passionate in her role as a teacher assistant. Her commitment as a paraprofessional is exceptional and is truly an example for others to follow.


Reflections on the NRCP's Paraeducators Conference

Article submitted by Ludmila Battista, Faculty-Educational Studies,
Kaplan University

This was my fifth trip to join my colleagues in the paraeducator field and as in every time in the past, I was invigorated and inspired by what I saw and heard at last month’s annual conference in San Antonio, TX. Dynamic keynote speakers, passionate and dedicated paraeducators, a seamless conference experience all left me proud to be a member of such an enthusiastic organization. As an instructor in Kaplan University’s online paraprofessional program, I have the opportunity to interact with my students who are either already serving as paraeducators or have plans to do so in the near future. So, I’m already very much aware of the dedication and concern that paraeducators have for their role in supporting students who often have a range of challenges they are trying to overcome. But combine that with the opportunity to meet with other educator leaders, policymakers, administrators and experts in the educational field and I realize how much we can accomplish when we work together and how many successes we have already had! Imagine my great excitement when I coincidentally ran into one of my former students who was presenting at this year’s conference, herself! It was a great opportunity to congratulate her on her own accomplishments, not only in working to earning her online degree, but in being inspired enough to attend the conference (on her own dime, no less!) and to feel compelled to give back by presenting a session herself (if you’d like to check out her session see her session notes entitled “Classroom Management for Paraeducators—What Can I Do?

My conference experience in sunny San Antonio (a pleasant break from the dreary New Jersey weather back home!) began with a Leadership Session offered for conference participants who work in a leadership or administrative position, offer training/education to paraeducators, are involved in educational research or in some other way are involved in supporting or providing resources and instruction to paraeducators. As in the past, this was a wonderful opportunity to meet with other leaders who I now consider friends and find out more about what is happening across the country, and even abroad related to the field. The following days were filled with inspiring and thought provoking speakers who shared their wisdom and experience with conference attendees. As usual, the over 50 conference sessions offered provided opportunities to learn more about a wealth of educational topics both specific to the paraprofessional field and beyond. I was especially motivated by my experience in Laren Samet and Julie Bowman’s presentation on “Advocating for Profession.” As an educator, I am often focused on preparing my students for their academic roles and instructional strategies, but I was motivated to use their ideas and strategies for preparing my students to be future advocates for themselves in the field, as well. Likewise, Kent Gerlach’s session on “Ethical and Legal Issues Concerning Paraeducator Employment, Training, Supervision and Evaluation” provided me with the necessary current information to take back to Kaplan University and integrate into our revisions to our current courses so that we can have the most up-to-date information available for our students in the program as well.

Finally, it was also my opportunity, to hone my own presentation skills and share the benefits of my experience and research into the areas of learning styles, Multiple Intelligence Theory and collaboration and teamwork strategies as I presented in two sessions, as well.

My experience at the 30th National Conference was well worth the trip west and I returned to my “virtual office” armed with information, a wealth of resources and most importantly, I think, the energy and enthusiasm to use what I have learned to further inspire my own students. I will continue to encourage them to become active members in their profession and of course will continue to take them on “virtual field trips” to the NRCP website and encourage them to learn all that they can, network and share their experiences. Once again, this conference opportunity was a top-shelf experience and I am grateful to Marilyn Likins, Director of the NRCP, and all of the many dedicated support staff who work so hard to pull off such a great event. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference and a return trip to Salt Lake City, UT (my second chance to visit this wonderful city after attending the NRCP conference a few years back in SLC). Thank you to NRCP for providing a terrific opportunity for educators and paraprofessionals, alike, to learn and grow from these experiences! I’ll be back!


LAUSD Career Ladder and the Apprentice Teacher Program

Article by Steve Brandick

Paraprofessionals make great teachers! That was just an assumption back in 1994 when the Los Angeles Unified School District Paraeducator Career Ladder was established. It is now fact. The program began as a union and management collaborative intended to improve the economic situation of low-income employees while developing a pool of minority teacher candidates to help ease a severe shortage. It has grown into a comprehensive career pathway which includes high school teacher academies and a specially designed teacher credentialing program. In the process about 3,500 paraeducators have become teachers and thousands of high school students have been introduced to the profession. There are now principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, teacher advisers, department and grade level chairs, counselors, psychologists and a large number of effective teachers working in the schools who would not be there without the support of the Career Ladder. These educators are 90% minority, have a five-year retention rate of over 80% and have been shown to be more effective as teachers.

When the program was first initiated, there was much discussion about paraeducators, their potential as teachers and the barriers that kept many of them from furthering their education. Some of those issues were straight forward and we tackled them at the outset. The cost of tuition, which was significantly lower in 1994 than it is now, was addressed through tuition reimbursements and scholarships. The Los Angeles Unified School District dedicated substantial funds in 1994 and then in 1995, the State of California established the Paraprofessional Teacher Training Program which has provided scholarships ever since. Advisement was addressed by establishing the position of On-campus Adviser at the local California State Universities to advise paraeducators who were enrolled at a community college or not yet enrolled anywhere. Many of the candidates had taken a lot of courses at multiple institutions without much focus. The On-campus Adviser helped them sort it all out and design a credential pathway.

Other issues were more complex and have taken years to address. A key to the Career Ladder success was the fact that participants worked as aides in classroom settings similar to the ones they would encounter as teachers. However, established credentialing programs required the same preparation for all candidates no matter what their background. This was because the agencies that accredited and approved those programs had very specific requirements that did not allow for tailoring preparation for specific populations. That meant that the program of study for a paraeducator with ten years of experience working with and observing veteran teachers would be the same as that received by a person who had never been in a classroom in any role other than that of a student.

We struggled with this for years, but never gave up. From 1997-2003, the Career Ladder Office collaborated with California State University, Los Angeles on the Apprentice Teacher Program. Run as a pilot program, it was allowed to make significant alterations in the traditional credentialing program. One of those alterations was the shortening of student teaching from two quarters to ten weeks. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but we actually learned that paraeducators needed and wanted a longer, more targeted student teaching experience, not a shorter one.

In 2007, the Career Ladder Office won a federal Transition to Teaching grant which allowed us to build on the experience of the pilot. This time around, we focused on special education and mathematics candidates. Instead of shortening student teaching, we lengthened it to an entire year. We also created a master/apprentice relationship between the teacher candidate and the supervising teacher and designed a curriculum that used a set of structured activities to guide participants from the role of assistant to that of a teacher. As a result, we have succeeded in establishing a new model for teacher preparation. The teachers who graduated from this program have been supremely prepared for the challenges of running their own classroom on the first day on their new job. That curriculum and program design will be available free of charge by June 2012. A link will be placed at

At the moment, there is less interest in the teaching profession than there was five years ago. The economic situation and scarcity of jobs have had a strong impact. The number of paraeducators participating in the Career Ladder Program has gone from 5,000 to only 300 in the past few years. All of the current candidates are pursuing careers in the most severe shortage areas of math, science and special education. The teacher academies lost their district funding at the start of 2011-2012, but the great majority had already been institutionalized within their school program and are continuing to thrive. The apprentice model has been established. For all of the challenges, the Career Ladder Program is still in place, conceptually very strong with results to prove it and ready to expand when the inevitable baby boom teacher shortage hits in a few years.



2013 NRCP National Conference in Salt Lake City Review

Thanks to all who attended our 2013 NRC Paraeducator Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. We had some amazing Welcome and Keynote Speakers as well as great break-out sessions. Participants provided very positive feedback and felt that their time was well spent. Further, they commented on taking away valuable information that could be implemented and shared with others.

We are currently in the process of collecting electronic copies of Power Point Presentations and Handouts to share with those who were not able to join us. Once we have collected this information, we will post it to the website.

Also, please note that we are finalizing the details for our 2014 National Conference. Be sure to check back often for updates and additional information. The Call for Papers will be posted in August.




Ever wondered who else is looking into the NRCP website?  We have visitors from over 160 countries!  Check out the complete list:

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HOT TOPIC – The Distinction in Roles of Paraeducators and Teachers

The Distinction in Roles of Paraeducators and Teachers

By Doug Van Oort

Education Faculty and Paraeducator Certification Coordinator, Kirkwood Community College

Maria, who has her high school diploma and recently acquired her Iowa Level I paraeducator certification by taking six college credits, is starting her 17th year as a paraeducator and is highly regarded by all professionals in her school building, including teachers and the principal. They describe her as great with students, easy to work with, effective in dealing with student misbehavior, and organized.

Sandra, the special education teacher assigned to direct Maria’s work, is new and is overwhelmed with all there is to do, such as learning about her students, building relationships with the many teachers she supports, reading and updating IEPs, communicating with parents, and so on….in addition to directing the work of Maria and three other paraeducators.

Buried under all she has to do, Sandra decides to turn responsibility for one student, Devon, over to Maria, knowing that Maria has worked with Devon for years and understands him and his needs better than she does. Sandra tells Maria to start writing lesson plans for Devon and teaching the lessons to Devon in both his general education classrooms as well as in the special education classroom where he is scheduled for part of the school day for highly specialized instruction. Sandra expects Maria to find or create all materials needed in those lessons. In addition, while supporting Devon in his general education classes, Maria hears comments from a couple teachers such as, “He’s your kid,” when she asks them what they want Devon to be learning and doing or when she asks how they expect her to address his misbehavior.

Some might ask, “What’s wrong with Maria’s story? She has demonstrated many positive qualities as a paraeducator over many years, and Sandra is new, unsure of how to meet Devon’s needs, and is overwhelmed.” According to the Department of Education’s Guide for Effective Paraeducator Practices in Iowa (2007), there’s plenty wrong with Maria’s situation. Below are two tables that appear on pages 63-65 of this guide. Pay special attention to the shaded items as they apply to Maria’s situation:

Paraeducators May:

Paraeducators May NOT:

1.      Be left alone in the classroom, in a planned way when the supervising teacher is called away.

1.      Be used as a substitute for certified teachers unless the paraeducator is a certified teacher or certified sub.

2.      Work without direct supervision with individuals or groups of students on concepts introduced by a teacher.

2.      Teach completely new concepts and skills.

3.      Have specific instructional and management responsibility for an individual student or groups of students under direction of the teacher.

3.      Be given the primary responsibility for the education of an individual student.

4.      Be involved in student staffing and meetings, as approved by licensed staff and family members.

4.      Be assigned to attend student meetings in lieu of the supervising teacher.

5.      Support the inclusion of children with disabilities in general education by taking notes, tutoring, giving tests orally, or supporting behavior interventions.

5.      Make accommodation decisions outside of a student’s IEP.

6.      Maintain records relevant to classroom assignments.

6.      Carry out clerical responsibilities that are assigned to other staff members.

7.      Aid the teacher in supervising assemblies.

7.      Take full responsibility for supervising assemblies.

8.      Accompany students on outings to the community, recreation sites, and school related trips or errands.

8.      Take full responsibility for supervising students on outings to the community, recreation sites, and school related trips.


Duties of Supervising Teacher

Duties of Paraeducator

Classroom Organization

·        Plans weekly schedule

·        Plans instructional program: goals, lessons, activities for entire class and individual students.

Classroom Organization

·        Assists with planning; copies, types, files, etc.

·        Implements plan as specified by the teacher

·        Plans review activities

·        Maintains records


·        Administers tests to entire class

·        Evaluates and grades student performance


·        Checks and scores student work

·        Monitors student progress; relates findings to teacher

Sets Objectives

·        Determines appropriate objectives for class and individual students

Sets Objectives

·        Implements lessons to meet student objectives


·        Designs and selects instructional materials

·        Teaches lessons for the entire class, small groups and individual students


·        Assembles instructional materials as told by the teacher

·        Leads small group and 1-on-1 lessons as directed by teacher

Behavior Management

·        Plans and carries out behavior strategies for the whole class and individual students

Behavior Management

·        Implements behavioral management strategies using same emphasis & techniques as teacher

·        Conducts observations, collects data, maintains records

Working with Family Members

·        Corresponds & meets with family members

·        Initiates, conducts, and facilitates conferences for individual students

Working with Family Members

·        Corresponds and meets with family members under the direction of the teacher

Individualized Educational Planning

·        Develops and implements IEP with IEP team

Individualized Educational Planning

·        Assists in implementing IEP goals & objectives

·        Carries out teacher’s plan


·        Attends appropriate inservice and professional development opportunities


·        Attends appropriate inservice and professional development opportunities

Other Duties

·        Facilitates the inclusion of students with disabilities into general education

Other Duties

·        Monitors playground, cafeteria, study hall, bus

·        Facilitates the inclusion of students with disabilities into general education

·        Provides health services as assigned

·        Provides practice skills in the community as assigned

The Department of Education clearly states that:

·        It is the teacher’s responsibility, not the paraeducator’s, to teach skills or knowledge the first time. The paraeducator can be assigned by the teacher to review what was taught or to supervise activities in which students practice or apply what the teacher has taught, but the teacher is responsible for teaching content.

·        The teacher, not the paraeducator, is responsible for instruction and management of students’ behavior. Yes, the paraeducator assists the teacher in carrying out lesson plans and behavior plans, but the teacher is responsible for the design of these plans.

Unfortunately, the case of Maria is not uncommon in Iowa and around the country. I have both observed and been told of several similar cases. In addition to being a violation of Iowa DOE guidelines, giving responsibility for a student’s education solely to a paraeducator is also in conflict with the requirement that teachers be highly qualified under the No Child Left Behind Act. In Maria’s case, she is essentially Devon’s teacher, and she has only a high school diploma and is not, therefore, highly qualified in the eyes of this federal law. Assigning this level of responsibility is also simply unfair to paraeducators who earn a fraction of what teachers earn.

So, what should Maria (and other paraeducators who find themselves in this situation) do? While it’s certainly not easy to voice concern to one’s supervisor, Maria really needs to do so. She should, in private, express her concern to Sandra. She could show Sandra the above tables from the Iowa DOE as support. If there is no change after talking with Sandra, she should take the issue to the principal; showing the DOE tables to the principal might be wise, too. Because there is a code of ethics for paraeducators (also included in the DOE’s guide), it would also be wise of Maria to document when she spoke with Sandra and the principal about this situation in case she is ever questioned in court about her role and whether or not she complied with this code of ethics, namely that paraeducators:

·        Engage only in activities for which they are qualified or trained.

·        Recognize that the supervisor has the ultimate responsibility for instruction and management.

·        Help to see that the best interests of individual children and youth are met. (from Iowa DOE Guide for Effective Paraeducator Practices in Iowa)

Sharing the above code of ethics with Sandra and the principal might also be wise.                                                                       

One other situation not addressed in Maria’s case that is often a concern for paraeducators is communicating with students’ parents. The DOE states that paraeducators should only correspond with and meet with family members of their students under the direction of the teacher. While the paraeducator is an important part of the educational team and can provide valuable input regarding student objectives, progress, accommodations, behavior interventions, and so on, the teacher has more specific training in these areas as well as in education law and school district policies and procedures and should be the team member who communicates with parents and family members about these issues. This requirement ensures that:

·        the school employee with the most knowledge in education law, policies, and procedures communicates with parents;

·        the school communicates with parents and family members with one voice, to avoid the potential for conflicting information being shared with parents;

·        the parent does not attempt to pit one staff member against the other;

·        the parent directs concerns or questions to the staff member who has the power to make changes, the teacher; and

·        the staff member who is being paid more due to a greater level of responsibility is actually fulfilling that responsibility.

The paraeducator should develop a script such as the one that follows to use when approached by a parent or family member with a concern or questions about a student’s program or progress:

               “As a paraeducator, I really am not allowed to discuss specifics of a student’s program                with parents (or family). You will need to discuss this with Mr./Ms. Smith (the teacher).”

While paraeducators are invaluable members of the educational team, their role is distinctly different from the role of teachers. This distinction in roles must be maintained to ensure that students’ best interests are being met, to ensure that schools are covered in terms of the liability for students’ education, and to protect paraeducators from being taken advantage of and being put into situations for which they are not adequately trained.

Survey Results on Paraeducator Training, Part 2

In part 1 of our review of the paraeducator training results we went over how many of you have paraeducator training in your state or district and who provides that training. Here are the rest of the results from the survey:

How many hours of paraeducator training are available per year?

  • 36.3% of survey respondents receive only 1-5 hours of training.
  • 11.3% receive 6-10 hours of training,
  • 8.8% receive 11-15 hours of training,
  • 15% receive 15-20 hours of training, and
  • 28.8% receive more than 20 hours of training.

When asked about the topics of paraeducator training we received the following responses:

  • 52.9% on Orientation,
  • 72.1% on Classroom Managment,
  • 61.8% on Reading, Writing, Mathematics,
  • 77.9% on Roles and Responsibilities, and
  • 50% on Teaming.

In the other category responses included first aid, safety, disability specific training (autism specifically) and technology.

Is credit (university/community college) or a certificate of completion provided when training is completed?

On this question 39.4% of you answered Yes and 60.6% answered No.

What credit (university/community college) or a certificate of completion is provided?

This question was open ended and the primary response was a certificate of completion.

Thanks again to everyone who filled out the survey, stay tuned for another one in our next newsletter.


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