Back to School Series: Pairing with Paraprofessionals

Just as pairing with our students with autism is a crucial with our students, it's also vital to pair with our paraprofessionals.  Read about how you can pair with paras in order to start the school year off right.


Before we dive into the how’s of training, teaching, and getting out paras doing what we need them to do, we need to talk about the most crucial thing we need to be doing: pairing.
Hopefully, you have some background knowledge on what pairing looks like for our students.  Pairing, in essence, is building rapport with the client or staff are working with.  You are PAIRING yourself as a reinforcer.  It’s a crucial part of the process of making our classroom and ourselves motivating to work with.  For more information about pairing with students, you can read my previous post here
Like I said before, the concepts are the same with our staff as with our kiddos.  We wanted to make the classroom motivating for our paras.  Why?  Because, just like our kids, if they’re motivated and happy, they are more likely to engage in the working behaviors we want to see (this all sounds so familiar)!

 Assessing preferences

Finding out our paras preferences are going to be the key to pairing.  There are three things we should keep in mind when we are trying to understand our paras’ preferences.  Frankly, these things we should be taking into consideration when we’re also assessing our student’s preferences:
  • Don’t assume you know what your paras want.  Preference is individual.  You might love a big juicy hamburger, but as one of those annoying vegans most people can’t stand, if you dropped that same hamburger in front of me, I wouldn’t feel the same.
  • Preference changes.  Maybe you loved sushi in September, but after getting food poison, I’m sure you didn’t feel quite the same way after that incident.
  •  Be careful when using long term tangibles.  Just like when are thinking about the long term with our kids (in that we do not want them to be working for tangibles on the same schedule at 20 years old as they were when they were 4 years old), we don’t want to get in a habit of using less natural reinforcers in order for our paras to work.  You want the classroom to be naturally reinforcing.

So how do we get to know our para's preferences?

The great thing about adults is many times, you can just ask them!  When I am preparing for the beginning of the school year, I like to give them a chance to make choices about the type of responsibilities they like to have in the classroom and have them reflect on what they don’t feel as strongly about.  I will usually hand out a survey similar to the one below.

Want a copy of this para survey?  It's free in The Resource Vault.  Click here to sign up!

I feel like giving the paras an opportunity to voice their opinions and preferences gives paras a chance to see that you are interested in what they have to say about the type of work they’re doing.  It gives them some ownership about the ways they are useful in the classroom.  Of course, there’s always going to be activities in the classroom they’re not so keen on having to complete.  However, keeping in mind what they enjoy doing and implementing that when possible with make them more likely to engage in the activities that they don’t love as much.
Even though we don’t want to become reliant on giving our paras tangibles, I think it is important to take the time to find out what things they like and dislike.  Like in the example I gave before, I wouldn’t be so excited if somebody brought me a Big Mac.  However, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me when my para brought in a vegan cookie she saw in the store (which happened to be my favorite cookie brand!).  It meant so much to me when she remembered my personal preferences.  It helps to pay attention to what your paras just happen to say in passing about food preferences, hobbies, etc.  This will give you great insight into what they like (or dislike!).  

Above all: Build relationships

While researching this topic I found this quote that I really love by Aubrey Daniels, known as the “father” or organizational behavioral management (aka ABA for business):
“To make reinforcement, reward, and recognition effective, you must first develop relationships with people.” (Daniels, 2000)

Although it’s important to assess our staff’s preferences, there are some things most people want from a manager.  Think of any personal relationships we have.  Most our relationship are built because of a mutual respect, trust, and appreciation for one another.  For most of us, a leader who is caring, respectful, and honest will above all with make us much more reinforcing to our staff.  Ask them about their grandchildren, or show interest in something they love to do over the weekend.  Make sure you always treat staff in a way that shows they are valuable to the team.  Don’t fall into the "us and them" mentality that (unfortunately) some teachers fall prey to.




Read more from this blog series:
Week 1: Pairing with Classroom Staff
Week 4: Handling Conflict with Staff


Just as pairing with our students with autism is a crucial with our students, it's also vital to pair with our paraprofessionals. Read about how you can pair with paras in order to start the school year off right.


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