Paraprofessionals are critical to a student’s success—I think any teacher, principal, or student would attest to this. A great para can make a difference in a classroom in a lot of ways, but they are often forgotten about. Even though they are important cogs in the educational wheel of a student’s life, they might not always be treated as such. They may not have the keys they need, the desk they need, or the training they need.
Another area in which paras are left out, more often than not, is technology. This usually isn’t intentional, but because of the limitations of training options and access to technology, paras may not get what they need.
Keeping Paras in the Loop
When it comes to technology, what is it that we need to think about for these essential people? Because it is so easy to forget details like technology, here is a quick rundown of some things to make sure you cover with the para and revisit through the school year.
Access to technology: What do they need and do they have access to it? Paras do not need access to private student information such as grades and attendance, but it is helpful if they can have access to what students are working on. Teachers can set paras up with Google Classroom access so they can simulate the assignments in the classroom they are assisting. Also consider the device he or she may use for this—either a student device or something along the lines of what a teacher would need. They need access to these devices as regularly as students if we want them to support students in a consistent manner.
Basic troubleshooting: What basic skills can we support them with? Paras come with all varieties of backgrounds, so it can be difficult to know how much each person may need when it comes to this kind of help. Many paras that I have known feel helpless when it comes to technology. Basic troubleshooting tips like restarting the computer, control-alt-delete, or retrying a password can help a para to not have to interrupt a teacher when trying to solve a problem.
Ongoing training: Because these individuals are hourly employees, they are often not invited to a technology professional development training. The ideal response would be to invite them and pay them for their time, but if money constraints don’t allow for this, doing a specialized training during the school day could work. Like teachers, para skills and comfort levels are all over the spectrum, so differentiation will be an important consideration. Any specialized programs that students work on online (see the “access to technology” section) should absolutely have training involved for the staff administering it.
Teacher tech: Does the para need access to the teacher’s technology? Depending on how the teacher structures the classroom, there might be a need for the para to have the ability to operate the teacher’s technology from time to time. If the para is in charge of running a center, they may need the ability to run a listening station from an iPad. Even when the teacher is gone, it can be a great assistance to have a para with a working knowledge of how the MimioBoard touch board works. These devices are very easy to use and intuitive for the user, but even so, it can save a few minutes of struggle for a substitute if the para can take the reins and get it up and running for student use.
Tap into their expertise: Are there skills the para has that can help support the teacher in the classroom? Up to this point, we have assumed that the para may have lagging skills that need to be supported. It could be that the para has a great background in technology that could really help the teacher out. It’s possible that the most technology-centered activity in the classroom should have the para with a crucial role. Paras are not tech support and are there for students, but as much as can be appropriate, they can help support the classroom in many ways.
Even though we value the hard work that paraprofessionals put in each day, we often forget to make sure they have the technology training and access they need. With a few of these reminders, hopefully they won’t miss out on important pieces of the educational machine for our students.
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