PART ONE: A Detailed Look at the Paraprofessional Job-Embedded Curriculum, and a GIVEAWAY!

My last post introduced you to this valuable curriculum resource. As I said in that post, the timing of taking a closer look at paraprofessional staff development is purposeful at this point of the year. When reviewing IEPs and writing new ones for next year, we look forward to how students will be supported within general education successfully. Paraprofessionals are a piece of that puzzle that cannot and should not be overlooked or under-acknowledged. I do not believe everyone needs a paraprofessional to be successful in general education classrooms and settings, but when individual needs warrant it, then those paraprofessionals must be trained to do their jobs well.

Meaningful staff development for paraprofessionals (also known as educational assistants, aides, or paraeducators) is oftentimes reactionary or lack luster in quality when it is offered. Unfortunately, school systems are set up to enrich teachers and administrators, but paraprofessionals are often not included in the enrichment in ways that make a difference for their day in/day out work responsibilities. Many times professional development happens in schools during times that paraprofessionals are not being paid to be there (such as summer hours before the school year begins), or the development offered during the year does not directly pertain to paraprofessional’s work with students.

This curriculum is one way to offer meaningful professional development for paraprofessionals, and because it is intended to be job-embedded, it relates directly to the students and the teachers within the settings that the paraprofessionals work. I am going to spend this post, as well as the next two, giving a detailed overview of the curriculum and ways you could use it in your school settings. In this post I will cover how the curriculum is organized, what content it covers, as well as the attention to the Staff Development Standards are present, and why this matters.

In the next two posts I will cover two of the four instructional parts in each, so you can further understand what the curriculum offers, and ways you could use them in your settings, individualizing it for your paraprofessionals.

At the end of the detailed review, I will give away a copy of the curriculum! I will choose one lucky winner from the people who leave comments. So go ahead – ask questions, make recommendations, share your thoughts and comments, and have a chance to win!!

Curriculum Overview

The curriculum was NOT designed as an orientation tool for paraprofessionals to a district or school. Many districts and schools offer a handbook or an orientation session for this purpose. Instead, the focus is on increasing the knowledge and skills of the paraprofessionals, whom are providing direct instructional and social support to students.

There are two main components to the curriculum, packaged in a large three-ringed binder for easy use: a spiral bound Facilitator Manual and loose-leaf Paraprofessional Handouts, which provide master copies of the materials to be duplicated and distributed to the participants. Because of how this curriculum is packaged, it makes it easy for more than one teacher to share the facilitator manual and make as many copies as are required for the paraprofessionals. We did this intentionally, so that one curriculum per school is all that is necessary. It also kept the cost to the school a very reasonable amount ($35).

The Facilitator Manual offers background information, facilitation notes, and instructional design suggestions. Facilitators are encouraged to spend time before each session reading through the manual and reviewing the information on each of the handouts provided in preparation.

There are four instructional parts to this development curriculum, with a total of seven instructional units.

Overview of the four instructional parts of the curriculum and the seven individual units

Overview of the four instructional parts of the curriculum and the seven individual unit

Instructional Design for the Units

I want to pay some attention to the instructional design of the units, as we were intentional to weave the Standards of Staff Development throughout, as well as the understanding of best practices for adult learning.  Adult learning involves a process whereby adults continually use problem solving and questioning to connect new material and ways of doing things with previous learning and experiences. Learning is best when adults actively engage in the learning process and receive feedback on their performance. We know that adults don’t learn from an experience, they learn by processing an experience.

The units have an internal structure that is consistent across the whole curriculum. There are six sections in each unit. For easy reference, a unique symbol identifies each section. The following figure lists the six unit sections, shows the corresponding symbol, and describes the purpose of the section in each unit.

Why is this curriculum unique?

This curriculum focuses on supporting paraprofessionals in their direct, hands-on interactions with students. There are three unique design components.

  • It is site-based…meaning that the sessions are taught by the special education staff who lead the student programs and direct the work of the paraprofessionals at their school. Providing training on-site helps to develop and sustain working relationships between special educators and paraprofessionals who work together. It also provides the opportunity for greater individualization to the site-specific circumstances.
  • It is job-embedded…meaning it provides the opportunity to apply new learning to specific students and and learning environments at a school site. It becomes part of how special educators and paraprofessionals work and learn together. The job-embedded focus aims to increase the knowledge and skills needed for performing regular daily work responsibilities.
  • it incorporates follow-up coaching and feedback…after the staff development sessions, each unit requires paraprofessionals to apply new learning in their current work environments. Special educators provide ongoing coaching and feedback about how to implement student programs in the actual learning environments. This is critical. Without follow-up coaching, paraprofessionals are left on their own to figure out how to transfer the new information to real classroom settings with actual students. Supporting and monitoring transfer of learnning is an essential role of special educators.

Whew!! That is a LOT of information to digest in one post….but, you got to the end!! 😉

Next up, I will start with the first two of the four content areas: What is inclusive education? and What to teach?, and the units that comprise those two content areas.

Please ask questions, make comments and share thoughts! You will be entered into the GIVEAWAY for each comment you post!

11 thoughts on “PART ONE: A Detailed Look at the Paraprofessional Job-Embedded Curriculum, and a GIVEAWAY!

  1. Marge

    I agree wholeheartedly about the importance of the paraprofessional and how they do not seem to be viewed as quite as important or equal by the rest of the IEP team. I am lucky to have a wonderful woman who has been with my daughter for almost 3 years now and I’m still amazed that she isn’t automatically included in the IEP meetings…I have to personally request her. I truly believe that my daughters success or failure is in her hands more than the teachers.

  2. Mrs. Bettencourt

    I love the idea of on-going training for the paraprofessionals in a special education classroom. My son is in an autism class and over the years I have been so appreciative of the assistants who support both my son, his peers and his teacher. You are right when you say that they are the 1st responders to many instances or other tricky situations but unfortunately, they may not have the proper training to handle them. Most do have the passion for the children but could use more training. What a novel idea!

  3. Megan

    This looks like a fantastic curriculum that is much needed in public schools. And affordable, too! Looking forward to sharing with my colleagues.

    1. Nicole Dumond

      I am an Educational Assistant and I will learn everything I can to better support the students that I work with. I am also a mother of a 9 year old son diagnosed with ASD, CP, Seizure Disorder and ADHD….My dedication to him overflows into my work life with the best children that teach me something new every single day. Most rewarding career.

      1. Jennifer Sommerness Post author

        Nicole, how lucky the students you support must be. To have a person that “gets” it on the level that you do – puts them at such a great advantage. Kudos to you for seeing every day as a new learning moment! I hope that this curriculum would help serve that function as well…it was our hope! Not only learning moments for you, in your role, but for the teachers you work with whom direct your work, as well as the students you are collaborating with each other for. Thanks for all you do! Best, Jen

    2. Jennifer Sommerness Post author

      Marge, Mrs. Bettencourt and Megan,
      Thank you for taking a look at the curriculum and thinking about not only how it could look for each of you and your children/students – but being willing to share out with others as well. Paras deserve the training – whether this curriculum, or another – but something that starts collaboration and enrichment in their jobs with the people they work with…don’t we all want and need that?

      I have seen it done well within some schools…this curriculum is hopefully able to help make it possible in even more. 😉 Best, Jen

  4. Trish

    Like Nicole, I am the mother of two students with ASD and have worked as a paraprofessional for 8 years. I am lucky in my school district, in that paras are welcome to take most of the enrichment training that is offered to the teachers during the summer and after school hours. I like that your curriculum is specific to the role of the paraprofessional and the special education teacher relationship – communication in this area is essential and often overlooked.

    1. Jennifer Sommerness Post author

      Hi Trish,
      Thanks so much for the comment. You are indeed lucky that the training offered is something you can take a part of regularly. I completely agree with you about the relationship between a teacher and paraprofessional. This curriculum does a great job of offering opportunities and language for teachers and paras to do their work together, increasing on skills of both, while expecting more of each.

      Keep up the great work! Best, Jen

  5. Mrs. Topp

    This looks great and I look forward to learning more. I would love to have something like this in my district. I have talked about needing something like this for a long time. I started as a paraprofessional and now I am a Special Education Teacher who works with Severe/Profound through mild/moderate students at a very low level.

  6. Ali

    I am glad you shared this awesome resource. Ongoing professional development for teachers regarding how to best communicate and collaborate as well as opportunities to develop and increase parapro’s skills is crucial. In my experience, most are extremely committed and interested in learning more to better work with students with disabilities. In the county I work, there are not that many opportunities for them to attend trainings but frequently comment that they want more chances to go to ones offered specifically for teachers.


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