My first year teaching I had an amazing paraprofessional in my classroom, Ms. D. She was assigned to support Robbie (name changed), but she did so much more. During writing workshop, she floated from table to table spreading compliments and encouragement, making all children feel confident about their reading and writing. She gave Robbie room enough to work on his own, to let him work through the tricky spots by himself, but always seemed to know just when to give a little support, so that he wouldn’t become frustrated or disengaged. She understood her role was not to pave the way for Robbie, or to make things perfectly simple or easy– but instead she knew her role was to allow him to be challenged, to problem solve, and to create a support system to prevent him from giving up.
Then, just like that, she was gone! She wound up getting switched to some other lucky classroom.
In her place, came Ms. G. I was a brand new teacher, much younger than Ms. G.. I didn’t know what to say or do when she hovered over Robbie, doing everything for him, taking out his writing folder for him, handing him his pen, repeating all my instructions over for him, and (gasp!) spelling words for him and making him recopy pages where he had crossed parts out to revise. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. Who was I anyway? I was the newbie, not her! But day by day, Robbie went from being confident and seemingly unaware that he was any different than any other kid, to becoming completely dependent on Ms. G. It wasn’t easy for me at the time, but I had to say something.
Fast-forward fifteen years to now. As a literacy coach, part of my role is to support teachers with how to work together with all the professionals who will come in and out of their reading and writing workshop. Lately, I’ve been brainstorming with some super smart teachers to figure out how we can get all the grown-ups in a classroom to be more consistent with one another.
For one, we can have meetings with paraprofessionals to help them understand what writing workshop is all about–especially the independence part. In our meetings, we can role play a few conferences, and watch a video clip or two of children at work to discuss how to support kids–without doing everything for them. Often a meeting or two outside the classroom helps to break the ice, so that more conversations can happen in the classroom.
Second, we can create some resources for paraprofessionals and other adults who work in our classrooms. A few simple handouts and cheat sheets can go a long way toward providing clarity and consistency for children.
Here’s another handout, geared more toward parents and caregivers at home (click to enlarge):
Resources like these serve as conversation starters, to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
One teacher I work with created a little card that has a script for conferring that paraprofessionals can use. Now, when there is another adult working in her classroom, it’s easy to say, consistently, “Here’s what we’ve been using in our classroom. This is what my students will be expecting.”
The script for conferring goes something like:
“How’s it going?”
“I notice the way you tried _________ in your writing today. Can you show me other places where you’ve tried this?”
“One new thing you might try is _________. Go ahead and try it now.”
“Don’t forget you can do this, plus all the other strategies, every day, not just today.”
This teacher asks the adults to fill in the cards and give them to her so that she can stay on top of what everybody is saying to each of her students.
I wish I had thought of that fifteen years ago!
We can always work on building better communication between classroom teachers and support staff. We can take a “If you see something… say something…” approach to communication, instead of biting our nails and wishing things were different. We can have those tricky conversations, remembering that it’s all about what’s best for students.
It’s just like the old song:
Oh, the more we get together
Oh, the more we get together
The happier we’ll be.
Literacy Coach, Consultant, Author, Graduate Course Instructor, and Mom. Passionate about fostering a love of reading and writing in learners of all ages.