Special Education Classrooms often have many members of the team. It is important to work as a team.
We took that to heart in my classroom. They knew so much more than I did when I first entered the classroom. They guided me. They told me when my ideas for activities were just a little bit to wild and crazy and needed to be toned down, like when I wanted to bring in real sand to empasize a beach theme. Without the guidance and support from my paraprofessionals, I would not be where I am today.
It shouldn’t be too surprising that this job can be tough. But, who says you can't have fun and maybe gain a work bestie too?
Here are 5 tips for an effective special education team-building strategy.
1. Act as a support network, not a group of coworkers.
Working with paraprofessionals presents unique challenges that general educators don’t necessarily experience, so it’s critical to function as a support network rather than a group of distant coworkers. Take care of one another with weekly check-ins, spend time doing extracurricular activities outside of work, and be honest when you need additional help and support. If you treat your coworkers like an extension of your family, you’re sure to get through the inevitable tough times with each other in a more manageable manner.
2. Student success equals team success.
Working together in a support network dynamic allows you to spend less time bickering or disagreeing about lesson plans, organization methods, or teaching techniques. Rather than feeding into negativity or dissent, your focus can be purely on your students’ success. Special education students need dedicated attention and care, so spend your energy channeling positivity towards them and keep your eye on the prize. There’s nothing more important than seeing your students thrive, and it doesn’t have to be overly complicated.
3. Keep things simple with your students and with each other.
Create an organization system that works for both students and teachers alike. By maintaining a consistent level of order and mitigating potential chaos, your students can continue to flourish, and your team can operate like a well-oiled machine. Structure and consistency are paramount for special needs students, so try to find ways to keep track of all your students, projects, and deadlines and always encourage that the classroom remains a clean, orderly environment.
4. There’s no such thing as too much communication.
Working as a paraprofessional often requires sharing space with dozens of students and 2-5 coworkers. So, it’s essential to overcommunicate with one another. Keep in mind that nobody wants to micromanage or be the recipient of micromanaging. But, at the same time, maintaining the simple, orderly system you’ve created requires regular communication between all team members. Have routine team check-ins, keep your students and team aware of any changes to the curriculum or deadlines, and don’t hesitate to speak up if you believe something isn’t correct or want to give positive feedback. You and your co-educators are all there for the same reason, to communicate effectively to achieve your goals.
5. Remember the common goal you all share.
You likely chose your career as a paraeducator or teacher because of your love and passion for education and helping students who need extra attention and care. Therefore, do your best never to lose sight of the “why” behind what you do at work every day. You’ve dedicated your life to serving the special needs community, so lean on your teammates and peers to stay entirely focused on the common goal you all share.
Special education team building isn’t easy, but if you’re committed to creating a more inclusive, communicative, and efficient classroom environment, you’re on the right track. There’s no doubt if you lead by example, your coworkers will follow suit. Everyone wins, particularly your incredible students.
I certainly should have listened to the paraprofessionals in my room when they warned me against the sand idea. Who knew the sand would be everywhere? Who knew the sand would dig into the floor and act just like sand paper? Who knew the custodian would not want to be the one to deal with that sandy room?
They did. My team members did.