On-the-Job Training for Paraeducators

How do I know what the paraeducator's training needs are?

Planning for paraeducator training occurs initially during orientation, while creating the personalized job description. The four step process for developing the Personalized Job Description includes a step where the paraeducator is asked to self-analyze her skills and confidence for performing each of the tasks. When the paraeducator indicates that she is not comfortable or skillful at a task that is required in the program, you will want to create a training plan.

What does a training plan look like?

The plan can take any form, but it should indicate the type of training needed for the task, the competency or skill desired, possible trainers, and when the training is needed. This initial plan reminds the teacher about the kinds of on-the-job training he or she will need to provide.

Do I have to provide all the training on the job?

The training plan should include other possibilities for training, such as having another, more experienced paraeducator provide the training to the newcomer, the use of videotaped material, Internet research, or written materials. It also identifies the need for more formal classroom-based training because not all training can or should occur on the job.

How do I train paraeducators?

Our students deserve to be instructed by paraeducators who have good training. Good training goes beyond the usual - "I-just-tell-them-what-to-do-and-they-do-it" model. There are five essential training components: theory, demonstration, practice, feedback, and coaching that should be used when you train paraeducators on the job. Although the training components are discreet, each component builds on the prior one. The Training Components Chart shows how the components relate to one another.

Component 1: Theory

Theory means that the skill, strategy, or concept is clearly explained or described. While paraeducators do not require significant amounts of learning, language, or behavioral theory, they do need honest, straightforward information about the basic concepts so they will have a context to understand why and when they will use certain instructional, behavioral, literacy, social, and language learning techniques. Presenting conceptual information is inadequate for paraeducators to be able to apply information to the job.

Teachers tend to receive much more theory in their preparation because the teaching role requires substantial decision making about instruction and behavioral approaches, curriculum planning, program design, and student assessment. Teachers sometimes say that they had too much theory and too little of the other training components in their own preparation. If you have said this, take it as a healthy warning to not make the same mistake.

Component 2: Demonstration

Demonstration means that a skill, strategy, or concept is modeled or shown in some way, so the paraeducator sees, hears, or touches an example or sees how it works in real situations. For example, Jon uses video to show how to lift a child out of a wheelchair without sustaining back injuries. He tapes the video of himself, while he is working with the child.

Reza, on the other hand, models the use of prompts and cues while working with Aram, differentiating between the two as she uses them and showing the paraeducator how to systematically decrease levels of prompting at the same time. This component is essential if the paraeducator will have to perform the skill with students.

Component 3: Practice and Feedback

Practice means that the paraeducator tries out the skill, strategy, or concept in a controlled or safe place-probably not with students. Often that place is in the classroom where the training session is taking place. Practice can take many forms. When teaching conceptual information, it may mean discussion about how the concept applies in the real world. For example, if you were teaching the principle of normalization for students with disabilities, you can guide a discussion of how the basic principles translate into the use of age-appropriate instructional materials, instruction of social behaviors, students' schedules, and so on.

In another example, a quick lesson on how to help students read aloud fluently might include an activity where the paraeducators practice the techniques with each other. If they are given multiple practice opportunities they are more likely to be able to perform that way in a real classroom.

Feedback means that you provide information to the paraeducator about how well he or she performs the skill or strategy or understands the concept. For example, during a practice activity on a social skills instruction sequence, you might stop a paraeducator who forgets one step in the sequence and offer a cue that helps the paraeducator remember how to present information to students. You would then watch the complete instructional sequence a second time and point out how the paraeducator was able to complete the sequence independently. When added to the training session, practice with feedback substantially boosts the learning of participants and increases the likelihood that the paraeducator will be able to demonstrate the skill when asked.

Component 4: Coaching

Coaching is an essential part of the training, but typically occurs after the training session, on the job, while the paraeducator works with students. Coaching means that you watch the paraeducator perform the skill with students and you provide on the spot feedback (discretely, of course) so that the paraeducator can refine their use of the skill.

Coaching is the most powerful of all the training components, yet it tends to be the one that is least used. Why? Coaching takes time and skill. It does almost ensure, however, that the skill will actually be applied in the classroom. Without coaching, we have little assurance that training efforts will pay off in terms of student achievement or improved performance of paraeducators.