Impact Feature Issue on Volunteerism by Persons with Developmental Disabilities
Positive Aspects of the Training/Mentoring Program
As a school principal, I’ve found that the Eastern Suffolk BOCES paraeducator training and mentoring program has had a positive effect on our school’s students for a variety of reasons. The primary purpose of the program is to develop a sense of “team.” In special education, as well as in general education, the paraeducator no longer works in isolation from the instructional staff, nor does the related service staff work in isolation from the classroom teacher. With emphasis placed on an integrated model, the paraeducator is considered an integral member of the educational team. Paraeducators work with students to reinforce what is being taught by both classroom teachers and related service staff. Through this training program all participants learn how to provide that reinforcement, as well as how to work as members of a team.
In the program, emphasis is placed on the development of effective communication strategies. If and when interpersonal issues arise, team members are better able to resolve conflict. If unable to come to resolve, both paraeducators and teachers can call upon mentors for assistance through mediation. The focus is placed on resolution rather than conflict, student outcomes rather than personalities.
Behavior management is another vital topic. It is imperative for every member of the school community to understand and practice the principles of the building- or program-wide behavior management system. Certified personnel may have been trained in behavior management while working on their degrees. For the paraeducator this may be a new concept. Most students are assigned individual aides for safety reasons. As the team member who may know the student better than any one within the educational setting, this program trains the paraeducator how to implement management techniques, collect data, and share relevant information related to the effectiveness of the student’s behavior intervention program. Since functional behavioral assessments and behavior intervention plans are now mandated, the paraeducator is instrumental in achieving positive student outcomes.
On a broader level, those involved in the training learn a great deal about classroom management, a topic often ignored in colleges and universities. Classroom management can be seen in two ways – having to do with student behavior and having to do with effective utilization of staff. This program addresses both. Teachers learn how to work with and include the adults assigned to their classrooms and everyone learns practical application of the strategies and techniques that research indicates ensures an effective learning climate.
Another advantage has to do with esteem issues. Having embraced this training program, Eastern Suffolk BOCES has communicated to both paraeducators and teachers that they are vital. Acknowledging the importance of their roles helps staff create and maintain a positive attitude toward their jobs, their colleagues, and students, which translates to a positive school climate and positive student outcomes.