A good working relationship between a teacher and a paraprofessional/educational assistant (EA) is essential to a supportive classroom that helps students learn both academically and behaviorally.
Teachers are classroom leaders who are responsible for the educational program delivered in the classroom, while educational assistants have a supporting role in helping teachers deliver educational programming and make the experiences of the children in the classroom more rewarding.
As leaders, it is the responsibility of teachers to develop a rapport with their educational assistants and delegate educational tasks to them. Here we provide some suggestions to assist you in developing a positive relationship with your EA.
1. Clearly define roles
It is critical that all members of the classroom team fully understand their roles and responsibilities and act in accordance with them. Teachers must clearly communicate these expectations to the paraprofessionals working alongside them in their classrooms.
It is your role as a teacher to:
- Identify and develop solutions for specific student learning needs
- Plan and implement lessons and select appropriate resources
- Evaluate student progress and report progress to parents
- Evaluate and supervise support staff
- Evaluate student programs
As the teacher, you may delegate specific program responsibilities to EAs who are under your supervision and are following your directions.
Generally, the role of an EA falls into four categories:
- Instructional support, which could include:
- Interpreting for students with communication challenges
- Implementing specific intervention strategies such as guided reading
- Helping students organize their learning materials
- Assisting in the production and maintenance of resource materials
- Field trip supervision such as work experience placements
- Behavioral support, which could include:
- Student supervision
- Assisting in pro-social skill development
- Carrying out behavior plans
- Data collection to assist in the development of behavior plans
- Anecdotal record keeping and incident report writing
- Using Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® techniques to prevent students from harming themselves or others
- Healthcare/hygiene, which could include:
- Tube Feeding
- Carrying out physical therapy or occupational therapy plans
- Medication administration
- Classroom support, which could include:
- Data entry
- Marking tasks
- Classroom tidying and organization
Remember that educational assistants are there to provide supports to students. The bulk of an EA’s time should be spent working with students providing instructional or behavior support (or healthcare/hygiene depending on class composition). Keep support tasks to time before or after school hours.
We recommend that you and your EA discuss these different roles and responsibilities so that each of you is working from the same playbook. This is a sure way to improve your relationship with your EA.
2. Develop effective lines of communication
Consider setting up some intentional ways that both you and your paraprofessional will communicate with each other. These can include:
- Daily meetings to share the plan for the day.
- Weekly meetings to identify behavioral trends and develop behavior management strategies that can be implemented to address concerns.
- Joint planning meetings where both the teacher and the EA plan for instruction.
- A meeting to discuss the role of Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® skills in your classroom. Clearly defining parameters around taking the lead, when and how to intervene, and how to manage bystanders is essential.
- It is also essential to have a meeting after a major physical incident. The CPI COPING ModelSM is an excellent way to debrief:
- Control: Check that everyone is in physical and emotional control prior to the discussion.
- Orient: Identify the facts, look at the incident reporting form, get staff feedback.
- Patterns: Look for patterns of how staff respond to the crisis situation.
- Investigate: Look for ways to strengthen team responses, examine things that went well, and look at what should be changed.
- Negotiate: Agree to change team response if there are elements that could be done better.
- Give: Give support and encouragement, praise staff members, express confidence and trust.
3. Provide decision-making guidelines
Empower your EA to be independent by providing them with guidelines to follow. The clearer you can make your rules and expectations, the more smoothly your classroom runs for both your students and your EA. Develop guidelines around:
- Classroom management plans for both the classroom and specific students
- Classroom rules and corresponding consequences for not following classroom rules
- Classroom routines such as:
- How to go to the bathroom
- How to signal that your work is done
- How to hand in an assignment
- What to do during transition times (e.g., between classes, at recess, at lunch)
When you have developed these guidelines with your EA, empower them to take ownership and enforce that students are following through on guidelines.
4. Be a Mentors
A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor or counsellor. Mentors support the growth of the people they work with. Mentor your EA and support them in their growth and development. You can do this by:
- Making a commitment to support and encourage your EA.
- Encourage your EA to develop their skills. Support them to take professional development classes.
- Offer your wisdom, knowledge, experience, and constructive criticism. Provide them with resources to study to improve their practice.
- Focus on their career aspirations. Help them develop skills so they tackle new career opportunities.
- Set a professional example for your EA. Be aware and follow your professional code of conduct or professional ethics.
5. Model trust and respect
It’s important that you demonstrate to your class that you believe that your EA is an important member of the team. In order to do this, you must act in ways that demonstrate how much you trust and respect your EA. Consider taking these steps to build a classroom atmosphere where EAs are trusted as valuable members of the educational team.
- Encourage EAs to trust themselves and to be confident in their own abilities.
- Extend trust to your EA. After communicating clear expectations and strong accountability, trust your EA to get the job done.
- Build trust by embodying the following characteristics:
- Say what you mean.
- Be transparent in your interactions.
- Own up to your own mistakes and fix them.
- Be loyal to your Educational Assistant.
- Continue to grow as a professional.
- Listen first, before interjecting.
Remember that as a teacher, you are the classroom leader. By clearly defining roles and responsibilities, developing effective lines of communication, allowing EAs to make decisions independently, and being a mentor as well as modeling trust and respect, you can create a supportive classroom environment.
Acknowledging that EAs are valuable members of the classroom team is essential for creating a positive working environment.
About the authors
Jennifer Taylor is a long-time behavior learning assistance teacher with extensive experience teaching students with special needs and First Nations students. Jen has a master’s in Education with a focus on School Improvement and Leadership, specifically looking at interventions that improve the school experience for at-risk youth. She’s been a CPI Certified Instructor since 2007.
Michael Edward is an experienced Educational Assistant. He works in a specialized program that’s designed to meet the needs of students who have severe behavior disorders. Michael has a nursing background and has worked extensively with individuals with mental health disorders. He has a bachelor’s degree in Health Education from the University of Benin in Nigeria. He has worked in school, institutional, and group home settings, and has been a CPI Certified Instructor since 2015.