To build the educator talent pipeline, it’s critical that we work to not only attract more people into the profession, but better support teachers in meeting the growing demands of the job. Research shows that while fewer students are pursuing a career in education (U.S. Department of Education, 2015), educator shortages have been made worse by high rates of teacher turnover (Ingersoll, 2016). Thus, even the best recruitment strategies are unlikely to make a meaningful impact in the absence of a system that supports and empowers educators to grow professionally.
Paraprofessionals have long been a valuable resource in many school districts, collaborating with teachers to manage the classroom, build relationships with students, and coordinate other activities for learning. However, there are few standards or professional development opportunities for how paraprofessionals can best meet the needs of the modern teacher.
As part of a multi-pronged strategy to support teachers and accelerate student learning, Battelle for Kids, Walters State Community College, and eight school districts in Tennessee partnered in 2015-2016 to pilot a paraprofessional blended learning and mentoring program focused on three fundamental questions:
1. Classroom Support: How does the paraprofessional support the teacher?
Through small group instruction, support of particularly challenged students, and a variety of other roles, paraprofessionals help teachers make classrooms more productive learning environments.
2. Engagement with the Profession: How does the teacher lead the paraprofessional?
Teachers are the leaders of the classroom, the work of their students, and the work of the paraprofessionals. By empowering the teacher to engage paraprofessionals with common language, clear outcomes, effective delegation, and collegial accountability, this new partnership further advances learner-centered education.
3. Classroom Management: How can paraprofessionals facilitate the learning process and outcomes?
Paraprofessionals play a key role in creating great classroom environments through continuous monitoring of activities and behaviors. When a teacher must provide individualized instruction, he or she cannot effectively monitor the actions of the other students. “We win as a team” became a theme of teacher and paraprofessional collaborative classrooms.
The pilot sought to build paraprofessionals’ capacity to support teachers in more aligned and meaningful ways. For example, as paraprofessionals play a significant role in supporting Tier 1 instruction in the Response to Intervention (RTI) model, training those individuals to use sound, research-based practices guided by the classroom teacher provides immediate student impact. The program also enabled paraprofessionals to earn college credit on the path to a degree or teaching certificate, creating a pipeline of educator talent who are familiar with the local school district, who have been mentored by teachers in that district, and who have built relationships with students.
In observations at the end of the pilot training, teachers noted positive growth among many paraprofessionals. Comments included:
- “She is applying what she learned in clear learning targets, effective feedback, and student ownership of learning as she works with students.”
- “He is now using much more self-teach and self-assess in his one-on-one settings as a paraprofessional.”
- “She has refined the way she gives students feedback to improve how they move forward in their work.”
- “She walks away from this program feeling empowered and more knowledgeable than before.”
- “She has learned many avenues for reaching students in the classroom.”
- “She is more focused on the needs of each individual student.”
Paraprofessionals can help educators navigate the increasing demands of the profession, providing teachers with more time to grow professionally and focus on the most important part of their job—student learning. As one group of paraprofessionals in east Tennessee shared, “Through teamwork of the teacher and paraprofessional, students win.”
Ingersoll, R. (2016). The national teacher shortage: Sources and solutions
. Fact sheet and presentation at American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C.
U.S. Department of Education. (2015). Title II Higher Education Act news you can use: Enrollment in techer preparation programs
. Retrieved from https://title2.ed.gov/Public/44077_Title_II_Issue_Brief_Enrollment_V4a.pdf