4 Ways for Paraprofessionals to Embrace Remote Work

Becky Dees

Educational Consultant

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In these uncertain times we are challenged with the task of managing a variety of responsibilities while adapting to changing expectations. Paraprofessionals, who are typically hands-on with students every day, are now working from home and finding creative ways to stay productive and engaged. During this time they should be sure to familiarize themselves with and stay on top of their district’s current policy for work expectations. The following are suggestions for how to stay connected, be productive and continue to grow as a paraprofessional while working remotely.

1. Support the lead teacher

There are many ways that a paraprofessional can and should continue to provide support to the lead teacher. First and foremost, communicate with the lead teacher to understand the plan for providing remote instruction to students and how you can best support that plan. In coordination with the lead teacher, make a plan for conducting virtual lessons. Take advantage of video-conferencing software to carry out small-group or one-on-one instruction.

Contacting individual students and families is an important way to stay connected to students, to offer support for families and to provide instructional content. Contact can be made in a variety of ways—by phone or text, by video chat or simply by writing letters. When writing letters be sure to tailor the language to meet your students’ needs and use picture symbols if needed.

Often in the classroom, it is difficult to find time to create new teaching materials. Use this time to refresh classroom activities, individualize materials for specific students or create new tasks to support students’ skill acquisition. If possible, use this time to send or deliver materials directly to families who are in need of hands‑on activities at home.

If working on-site is still an option, use this time to help organize the classroom. What better time to spring clean, purge old materials and reorganize the learning space?

2. Explore professional learning opportunities

Spend time refreshing your skills or gaining new ones to enhance your instructional practice. Online professional development comes in a variety of formats, many of which offer continuing education units (CEUs).

Learn about evidence-based practices (EBPs) as a staple of effective special education instruction. Autism Focused Intervention Resources & Modules (AFIRM) offer self-paced modules and resources for implementing EBPs with fidelity.

Further explore the behavioral strategies being used in the classroom. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), reinforcement strategies, physical interventions and Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs) are all ways of preventing, planning for and addressing behaviors in the classroom. Revisit strategies already in use or explore a new one.

There is no shortage of professional content being shared by research journals (Exceptional Children, TEACHING Exceptional Children), educational blogs and webinars and professional organizations, such as the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET). Take this time to catch up on current research, learn about a new strategy and hear from fellow educators.

Take advantage of free access, webinars, downloadable resources and other opportunities provided by n2y. Explore our Remote Learning Plan and Foundations and Essentials Courses (accessible via an n2y subscription).

3. Revisit IEPs and BIPs, if possible

Keeping up with the details and frequent changes in students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) is a daunting task, especially in the middle of a busy school year. Now that you have more time, if policy allows, taking a fresh look at a plan can benefit you, your instruction and ultimately, your students.

By taking advantage of your district’s online access to IEP software or collaborating with your lead teacher, you can familiarize yourself with students’ long-term goals again to make your day-to-day teaching more relevant.

Similarly, reviewing BIPs will allow the entire team to implement strategies in a consistent way. Along with the lead teacher, take this time to analyze progress monitoring data to get an accurate picture of your students’ performance. This may be a good time to explore digital data collection options as well.

4. Look to others to request, or offer, support

Once coordination and planning with the lead teacher are well underway, reaching out to others in the school or district may be an option—department heads, principals and instructional coaches may be good resources. Offer your support as they, too, are juggling new and difficult tasks.

Ask for additional professional development opportunities or relevant resources. If possible, request a coaching session to receive feedback and have questions answered as you are learning how to create and deliver remote instruction. An instructional coach can join a scheduled remote lesson and provide feedback on your instruction and student engagement.

Despite the changes imposed by remote work, you can retain your connection with others and continue to positively influence your students’ development and your own as you implement the recommendations that fit your situation. Teachers and families need your help more than ever during these challenging times.

About the Author

Becky Dees is an Educational Consultant who specializes in Autism Spectrum Disorder. She has worked as an autism clinician, an educational coach, and a special education trainer. Becky currently works with the autism group in research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Becky received her degree in psychology from UNC‑Chapel Hill.