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.

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!

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