Paraprofessional Support During Distance Learning

There’s no way to argue that distance learning in response to COVID-19 has been a big change for most of the country. Teachers and other support staff have been scrambling to find confidence in their new role while simultaneously making sure their student’s basic needs are met. This challenge has been especially prominent in special education, where students typically require more adult support than their general education counterparts. Many districts are left wondering how to best utilize paraprofessional support. While there’s no perfect answer, I took some time to research what different teams are doing both in my district and across the country. I hope some of these ideas are helpful and easily implementable! Above all else, hang in there!

Ways Paras Can Support Students

Even lions have to do distance learning
  • Check in with students by phone, video chat, or email. 
    • Just checking in, even if it’s not about academics, can be so important to our students. 
    • You can also use this time to work on schoolwork or targeted IEP goals. 
  • During asynchronous learning, monitor comment threads, answer questions, and give feedback on student work.
    • This could be done on Canvas or any other platform your teachers are using. 
  • Record videos of yourself to stay connected with students and upload them to Canvas. 
    • This could be a daily check-in, reading a story, demonstrating how to complete specific life skills, singing a song, etc. 
    • Video Modeling is another style of video you can record that can be super helpful to students practicing skills. 
    • These videos could also be done live if you’re comfortable. 
  • Create virtual field trips for students.
    • Many art museums, national parks, and other community places have videos to support this. You could use a video chat program to share your screen and help narrate. 
  • Hold “office hours” where you are available on video chat to help students with work, answer questions, etc. 
  • Hold a “lunch bunch” or other social hour where students can join via video chat and interact with their classmates with an adult moderating. 
  • Push into gen ed video chat classes to support your students.
  • Follow up on late/missing work. 
  • Help students practice email etiquette.
  • Monitor students who may be in unsafe/unstable home environments, making reports as needed. 

Ways Paras Can Support Families 

  • Check in with families to see if there are unmet needs.
    • Do they have access to enough technology? Is previously assigned technology still working? Do they have enough access to food? Are mental health needs of the whole family being met? 
    • Sometimes just being another adult to talk to can be helpful. 
  • Teach parents how to use distance learning programs, i.e. Canvas, Zoom, email, etc. 
    • You could hold a webinar, a one-on-one video chat, or just record yourself sharing your screen. 
  • Help parents that don’t have an email address set one up and teach them how to use it. 

Ways Paras Can Support Teachers

Classrooms look different than they used to…
  • Attend Zoom classes to help teachers keep track of attendance, monitor the chat, admit people from the waiting room, and watch for raised hands. 
  • Help support a teacher’s lesson.
    • Create an activity that goes along with a teacher’s lesson that can be done at home.
      • Don’t forget to plan for families who have limited access to resources.
    • Create Boom Cards to support a teacher’s lessons.
      • These are interactive, gamified digital flashcards. 
      • There are also some ready-made decks available for free. 
    • Find visuals, videos, and other resources that can go along with a lesson. 
    • Create worksheets or quizzes using Google Forms or other platforms. 
  • Work with teachers to help prep digital materials. 
    • For example, if a student has an IEP related to money math – you could spend a short amount of time researching how this could be taught through distance learning. 
    • Help load these assignments and materials into Canvas. 
  • Help modify and differentiate assignments for individual students, especially for gen ed assignments.
    • This could be scaffolded notes, word banks, sentence starters, etc. 
    • Record a voice-over of instructions for an assignment, especially gen ed assignments. 
  • Have a teacher create a shared to-do list that you can tackle in your free time. 
    • This could be shared by multiple teachers and paras – just have a strong communication system on who is taking on a task and who they will follow up with. 
  • Work with teachers to create a shared parent/student contact log.
    • This way, we don’t end up contacting families repetitively with the same information. 
  • Help a teacher create a newsletter that can be sent out on a regular basis with updates, suggestions for easy ways to work on goals at home, community resources, etc. 
  • Ask teachers if there is any help you can provide for prepping for our eventual return to in-person learning. 

Ways Paras Can Support Other School Team Members

Working from home isn’t all bad
  • Check in with related service providers.
    • They may have specific tasks they need help with or specific suggestions to work on IEP goals for students you share. 
  • If you speak another language, check in with admin to see if there are translation or interpretation needs that you might be able to help with.
  • Check in with building- and district-level admin to see if there are any other tasks you can help with, such as coordinating food or technology pickup for families.  

Ways Paras Can Support Themselves

  • Take continuing education/professional development.
  • Create a professional development plan
    • Do you want to further your education? Specialize in a specific area of special ed? Get more certifications? 
    • You can also consider interviewing teachers and other school team members who hold specific jobs you may be interested in. 
  • Get in touch with paras at other sites and collaborate.
    • You could video chat or share a Google Doc on things that are working well for you and your team. 
  • Monitor your own health and needs.
    • If you are a high-risk population or are feeling unwell, don’t take on in-person tasks. 
    • Don’t feel the need to work more than your contracted hours! 
    • If possible, try to keep a regular schedule and stick to it. 

If you have any ways that you have been supporting distance learning that I didn’t mention here, I would love to hear them!

2 thoughts on “Paraprofessional Support During Distance Learning”

  1. I was wondering what you include in the accountability form that you have pictured. I love all the information that you have on your website. Thank you!

    1. Hey there! It’s just a form that our students use to track what assignments they worked on in Study Skills that day. You can actually see pretty much the whole form in the picture – it’s just a half-sheet of paper. Assignment name, how long they worked on it, their self-rating.

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