Providing Ongoing Professional Development
NEA believes that professional development should be required throughout the career of education support professionals. Professional development programs should provide equal opportunities for these employees to gain and improve the knowledge and skills important to their positions and job performance.
Professional development programs should assure that appropriate education employees have a decisive voice at every stage of planning, implementation, and evaluation.
There are many reasons why ongoing professional development— defined here as the process of enhancing one’s personal growth and job skills and improving one’s job performance in order to contribute to outstanding educational results for students—is important for paraeducators.
One of the most compelling reasons is that student achievement depends on rigorous standards and a knowledgeable education team. To have high standards for students, there must be high standards for the staff members who work with them.
Appropriate training is vital to the quality of paraeducator participation in the entire program of any state or school district.
Paraeducators are concerned about their access to professional development programs because they know that they need to keep up with changes in curriculum and technology just as other professionals must. Decision makers in every school district that employs paraeducators should understand that need and they should do all in their power to fulfill it.
Conceptualizing Professional Development for Paraeducators
Professional development programs are meant to provide opportunities for paraeducators to gain knowledge and skills that will enhance their professional growth. In turn, paraeducators use their newly developed skills and knowledge, thereby increasing their contributions within the educational community.
There are a variety of ways in which professional development can be obtained, ranging from a smorgasbord model to a systematic approach to learning. In the smorgasbord model, participants take classes or workshops on many different topics.
These experiences are often of short duration, do not cover material in depth, and are not sequential. A systematic approach provides an organized way to structure learning. Educational opportunities begin with a foundation of basic knowledge, skills, and competencies, followed by more purposeful learning that builds on previous experiences.
This model of professional development enables the paraeducator to take part in classes that become progressively more focused, in-depth, and tailored to the individual job situation or career goals.
NEA supports a professional development continuum for paraeducators. The continuum provides pathways of professional growth. Whereas a career ladder implies only one accepted route to continued learning for everyone, a career continuum allows individuals to choose from among different routes that meet their needs and interests.
The career continuum can be broken into two main parts:
- Programs that are required of all paraeducators. Required pathways involve qualifications and preservice training, basic competencies, skills and knowledge, and ongoing professional development.
- Optional programs that allow individuals to choose their own routes to continued professional growth. Optional pathways might include credentials (such as state registration, state licensing, or certification), degrees (either one-year diploma programs or two-year associate’s degree programs), or teacher certification.
Making Ongoing Professional Development Available
Paraeducators are team members who are responsible for assisting in the delivery of instruction and other direct services.
This requires systematic communication, on-the-job training, inservice training, teacher/paraeducator training, and conference activities. In addition, career development and advancement, including financial support for further education, should be elements of a comprehensive professional development approach.
Potential delivery systems for professional development include:
- Paraeducator inservice sponsored by the school district
- Teacher inservice, sponsored by the school district, in which paraeducators are full participants
- Universities, community colleges, and technical institutes
- Educational service districts
- Business, professional, and community organizations
- National, state, and local Associations
- UniServ offices or councils
- Private vendors
Districts may wish to partner with other organizations to establish professional development programs. The section below, Examples of Professional Development Programs for Paraeducators, contains brief descriptions for two programs.
Although these examples are by no means exhaustive in form or detail, they may be helpful to state or local Associations and school districts involved in organizing programs.
There are many ways in which paraeducators can grow in their professions. A variety of professional development options should be provided in order to support paraeducators’ work and the diverse needs of students and to allow for career mobility and flexibility.
It is particularly important that paraeducators receive the training necessary not only to assist in ongoing programs, but also to become knowledgeable about their responsibilities and rights. The section below, Suggested Topics for Paraeducator Professional Development, presents a listing of possibilities.
Being Knowledgeable about Federal and State Regulations Related to Professional Development
Some states and school districts, acknowledging the importance of professional development for all education professionals, have built training into their standards for paraeducators. It is important to remember that in states where ongoing training is part of an authorization program for paraeducators, no matter how the training is offered, it must be appropriately documented.
As was discussed in Chapter 4, in some cases, states and/or local districts working in collaboration with the state may provide professional development opportunities for paraeducators who qualify under NCLB and/or IDEA 2004 provisions. Paraeducators may want to investigate whether their state and/or school district offers such opportunities.
Suggested Topics for Paraeducator Professional Development
- Child development
- Ethical, medical, and technical issues
- Behavior management and discipline
- Developmentally appropriate practices
- Instructional strategies
- Team building skills for teachers and Paraeducators
- Confidentiality and ethics
- Stress management
- Basic computer skills
- Data collection
- Conflict resolution
- Reporting child abuse
- First aid
- Characteristics of specific disabilities
- Intermittent catheterization
- Blood-borne pathogens
- Specialty care (lifting, back care, etc.)
Peer Assistance Program: Shoreline School District
Goal: To provide training for paraeducators who wish to assist those peers who are struggling in their job performance.
Description: This is an example of a paraeducator peer mentor training program worked out by agreement between an ESP bargaining unit, Shoreline Educational Support Professionals Association, and its school district.
Education support professionals who apply for membership in a peer mentor pool are given training focused on responsibilities of peer mentors, coaching techniques and strategies, confidentiality, communication and feedback skills, and appropriate roles of those employed in secretarial and paraeducator positions.
A paraeducator or supervisor may request peer assistance, which is available according to need, and the employee’s performance is monitored as the peer monitoring progresses.
Donna Lurie, UniServ Representative, WEA-Cascade
Washington Education Association
7104 NE 181st Street, Suite 106
Kenmore, WA 96028
ESP Certificate Program: WEA Professional Development Academy, Inc. (a nonprofit corporation affiliated with the Wisconsin Education Association Council)
Goals: To provide education support professionals with professional development that is high quality, structured, and relevant. Multiple levels provide a learning process that is rigorous and progressively focused.
Description: Level I consists of 40 hours in core curriculum areas and electives. Core areas include such topics as communications and legal and ethical issues. Electives include such topics as professional roles and responsibilities and technology.
Level II consists of an additional 80 hours in the completion of an individual learning plan, specialization in one or two areas of interest, and a final project. The academy administers the program and the instruction is provided by school districts, technical colleges, universities, cooperative educational service agencies, and professional associations.