Let’s talk about paraprofessionals and virtual learning!
COVID-19 has really put a cramp in our teaching style – am I right?! So many of us are now teaching from the computer – which is something we were never prepared for. Teaching your students through virtual learning is a challenge within itself and then you remember you have paraprofessionals that are counting on you to guide them through this difficult work task as well. Well, take a deep breath, I’m here to show you how to manage the workload with paraprofessionals and virtual learning. If you are a paraprofessional seeking ways to help your students and the teacher you work with, this post is for you, too!
First and foremost, communication is essential. In order to have success with paraprofessionals and virtual learning – you all need to communicate. Paraprofessionals cannot read your mind, so don’t be afraid to communicate what you need help with. Also, don’t neglect the communication needs of your paraprofessionals. Ask them how they are doing and what they need from you. I think that paying attention to their needs goes a long way!
A huge part of communicating with your paraprofessionals during virtual learning is a clear schedule that gives them plenty of things to do during their work day. This also lets them know what your expectations are.
Managing the Load
This is where things can get tricky. Many of us special education teachers have more than one paraprofessional in our classrooms – some of us have three or even four (and more)! How do we manage and prep for our students AND our paraprofessionals and virtual learning?!
Let’s try to keep this simple and work smarter – not harder. What did your paraprofessionals do in the classroom, prior to COVID-19? What do your paraprofessionals love and enjoy doing? Are these things that can be easily transferred to digital activities? How are your paraprofessionals with technology? Will they need training? Considering all of these questions, it’s time to plan for your paraprofessionals and virtual learning.
Depending on the number of paraprofessionals you have in your classroom, your synchronous (live) virtual learning content may be limited to only a few activities. If this is the case – make sure you cover the essentials. Those are: reading, math, and IEP goals. Your other content can be covered through asynchronous (not live) virtual learning.
If one of your paraprofessionals did the reading instruction in your face to face classroom, consider bringing it into the virtual classroom. Are there digital materials for the curriculum?
If you use any Fountas and Pinell, such as Guided Reading or LLI, go to this link and register for digital books and resources. They also have remote learning resources for Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study and Independent Reading.
Another popular reading program is Edmark Reading Program. If your school has purchased Edmark online licenses, you or your paraprofessionals can certainly use them during virtual learning.
Finally, many use Reading A-Z, which can easily be transferred over to virtual learning.
Whatever your reading curriculum and materials may be, don’t let whether or not you have the online resources stop you! You can still use your physical materials with a document camera. No document camera? No problem! If you have an Osmo Reflector and an iPad or Kindle Fire, you have a document camera! My paraprofessionals and I use these in our Zoom meetings by logging in to Zoom on the iPad and sharing the screen. It is so easy!
If you do not have an Osmo reflector, you can order one here, for just $10 (replacement reflector) or $39 (base and reflector) (affiliate link). I promise, you will not regret it and your paraprofessionals will thank you.
Similar to reading, you can bring your math curriculum/materials to use digitally with your paraprofessionals and virtual learning. I owe a huge gratitude to the Osmo reflector as a document camera – otherwise, it would be incredibly difficult for myself and paraprofessionals to model and use math manipulatives with students.
These will take the guess work out of prep – and also target so many IEP goals and content standards!
All of these resources are great and helpful but say you have a student who is not interested in virtual learning.
One who maybe resists the activities you are providing for your paraprofessional. You can show your paraprofessional how to get creative and make activities that are targeted towards the students’ interests. My team and I have found these types of activities lifesavers for some of our students. Once created, the paraprofessionals can adjust them each day depending on the student.
One resource I highly suggest using with paraprofessionals and virtual learning while working on IEP Goals are Boom Cards. Boom cards are easy to display during a meeting on Google Meets or Zoom. They also automatically take data for you so all you will need to do is go and and check how the student is doing after your paraprofessional works with them. I love that they track daily progress and show which questions the student answered incorrectly. Boom cards are for every learner from errorless learning up to comprehension questions. The possibilities are endless! (learn more about Boom Cards in this blog post.)
If you have more than two paraprofessionals and need ideas for them to work on beyond the essentials, consider giving them a choice of activity to do. Could they be in charge of a daily art activity, PE activity, cooking recipe, or even a tutoring block? I suggest you talk with your paraprofessionals to see what they are passionate about and what they would feel comfortable preparing for students each day during virtual learning.
The most important virtue to remember for your paraprofessionals and virtual learning is teamwork. In special education, it takes a team to be successful. Try your best to have respect, empathy, grace, and patience with your paraprofessionals. Virtual learning is not easy on anyone, but it can be easier with a solid team.
If you have any questions about paraprofessionals and virtual learning, please reach out to me. I am happy to answer any and all questions you may have!
I wish you, your team, and your students much success with virtual learning!
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