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Paraeducator Peer-Mentoring: Working Together for Student Success in Washington
Paraeducators play an important role in the support of at-risk students. Under the supervision of certified/licensed staff, paraeducators work to increase student learning and to help students reach their established goals. As members of the team that focuses on the academic, behavioral and social growth of all students, paraeducators often work with many students and staff members throughout the day. Roles and responsibilities of paraeducators vary depending on their job assignments and who they are working with. Communication difficulties, problem-solving skills, instructional strategies, behavior management concerns and role clarification are just a few of the challenges paraeducators face daily. Meeting these challenges is a difficult task for all paraeducators, but especially for ones that are newly hired. One effective way for administrators to meet the needs of new paraeducators is through a mentoring program. The goal of this article is to share the value of offering peer-mentoring for paraeducators and share some information about one specific mentoring program that has been used successfully in the Pacific Northwest.
The Purpose of a Paraeducator Mentoring Program
A paraeducator peer-mentoring program offers districts an opportunity to assist staff to better meet state and district goals. New paraeducators often have little or no training or experience when they begin working with our most challenging students. In a mentoring program, a beginning paraeducator is paired with a more established and experienced paraeducator, who can offer his/her expertise, encouragement, modeling and support. The supportive professional relationship continues throughout the first year of employment. The specific goals of such a mentoring program are as follows:
- To support new paraeducators in the development of knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to meet district and state goals.
- To increase knowledge of instructional and behavioral intervention strategies that promote student achievement.
- To increase collaboration and employee job satisfaction, and decrease isolation of paraeducators.
- To maximize the recruitment and retention of quality paraeducators.
The role of a mentor is one of encouragement and support. Mentors can help new paraeducators to feel valued and part of a team. They help by modeling an attitude of professionalism, constant learning, creativity, and flexibility. They support new paraeducators by helping them become familiar with other school staff and the location of supplies. Mentors are able to model and share useful strategies and also to provide the newer paraeducators with up-to-date information about ongoing training.A well-organized and supervised peer-mentoring program increases collaboration and decreases isolation of paraeducators. It improves the quality of the paraeducator’s work with both students and staff, helping the paraeducator feel and be more competent and confident. Districts that have peer-mentoring programs find recruitment and retention of competent, well- trained and dedicated staff is improved.Paraeducators play a key role as school districts and states struggle to improve the quality of services for all students. Ongoing training and support for paraeducators are crucial components in students success.
A Model of Peer-Mentoring for Paraeducators
The Puget Sound Educational District of Washington State has developed and piloted an online peer-mentoring program, “Strengthening the Paraeducator Community Regional Mentoring Program.” This program has been used in districts/schools to help support new paraeducators. The value of having mentor support online is that more paraeducators can receive updated assistance throughout an entire region. On-line communication is quick, easy and available to an unlimited number of paraeducators.
The components of the mentoring program are as follows:
- Selection of Mentors. A mentor is an established and experienced paraeducator who is willing to share his or her expertise with new paraeducators. It is important that a mentor demonstrates the ability to communicate well with others and has a commitment to professional growth. Principal input is used in the selection of each mentor.
- Identification of New Paraeducators. Identification of new paraeducators is done through the District Human Resource Department or school principal. The new staff are then informed about the benefits and purpose of the mentoring program.
- Team Contact Time. A time is set aside weekly for the team (mentor/new paraeducator) within a school to address concerns, exchange information, discuss online topics, problem solve, and develop strategies.
- Online Support. Mentors have access online to specific information and strategies to help them support new paraeducators. Working together, mentors and new paraeducators are able to cover the following topics online: Getting Started, Confidentiality/Ethics, Professionalism, Role Clarification, Instructional Strategies, Communication, and Pro-active Behavior Management. Other support offered online includes a discussion board, mentoring materials, an axiom calendar, resource information, and mentoring updates.
- Mentor Meetings.Three meetings are held throughout the year for mentors. During these meetings mentors from across the region are able to meet and share information and strategies. Information and topics are covered that the mentors can take back to share with the new paraeducators.
Benefits of a Mentoring Program
Our district has found that there are numerous benefits of paraeducator peer mentoring, including the following:
To the District
- Provides a method to assist paraeducators in meeting state competencies.
- Communicates accurate information to new employees more quickly.
- Increases student learning with the use of trained paraeducators.
- Aids in recruitment and retention of qualified staff.
- Promotes professionalism amongst classified staff.
- Helps paraeducators to feel part of the district/school and its culture.
- Encourages the understanding of classroom, building and district policies and procedures.
To the New Paraeducator
- Provides a method to assist paraeducators in meeting required competencies.
- Provides a set of clear expectations of the roles and responsibilities.
- Offers a forum to ask and answer questions, and an avenue to acquire needed materials and resources.
- Provides encouragement and emotional support.
- Helps new and experienced staff to feel valued and part of a team.
- Provides the modeling and sharing of useful strategies.
- Begins the understanding of and value for continuous learning.
- Reinforces learning from classes and inservices.
- Allows for acquisition of management and discipline skills.
- Gives up-to-date information about ongoing training opportunities.
- Provides a broader view of paraeducator job opportunities.
To the Experienced Paraeducators (Mentors)
- Increases job satisfaction by helping others.
- Motivates the mentor to be more professional and to improve his or her own instructional skills.
- Provides pride and recognition.
- Helps to establish rapport with co-workers.
- Encourages a sense of team spirit.
- Gains new ideas and strategies for working with students.
- Keep current with building, district, state and national issues.
- Develops increased confidence, communication and problem-solving skills.
- Expands career opportunities.
To Student Learning
- Increases student success because they are working with a trained paraeducator.
- Establishes more consistency in student services because of lower staff turnover.
- Offers a wider range of instructional and management strategies.
- Enhances student safety through supervision by well-trained and confident paraeducators.
- Gives students the opportunity to work with another nurturing, skilled, and caring adult.
Competent paraeducators are important to the delivery of the best possible educational services for our at-risk students. Through mentoring, new paraeducators can get the support to successfully meet the diverse needs of students. Working together, peer-mentoring is about forming relationships and offering support and encouragement. Opportunities for collaboration, and to increase skills, knowledge and confidence are important for success. Who benefits from a mentoring program? Administrators, teachers, paraeducators and most importantly the students!
Note: General mentoring information in this article was gathered from the “Passing on the Message” mentoring project developed in cooperation with the Puget Sound Education Service District, WEA, and supported by the Washington Education Association and the National Education Association.