Paraeducator Support:

Developing a Shared Understanding:
Paraeducator Supports for Students with
Disabilities in General Education

Michael F. Giangreco
Eileen CichoskiKelly
Linda Backus
Susan W. Edelman
Priscilla Tucker
Steve Broer
Chris CichoskiKelly
Center on Disability & Community Inclusion
University of Vermont

Pam Spinney

Family & Educational Support Team
Vermont Department of Education

Giangreco, M.F., CichoskiKelly, E., Backus, L., Edelman, S., Broer, S., CichoskiKelly, C., & Spinney, P. (1999, March). Developing a shared understanding: Paraeducator supports for students with disabilities in general education. TASH Newsletter, 25(1), 21-23.

Support for the preparation of this article was provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services under the funding categories, Model Demonstration Projects for Children and Youth with Disabilities, CFDA 84.324M (H324M80229), and Personnel Preparation to Improve Services and Results for Children with Disabilities -- Models of National Significance, CFDA 84.325N (H325N980022) awarded to the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion at the University of Vermont. The contents of this paper reflect the ideas and positions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the ideas or positions of the U.S. Department of Education; therefore, no official endorsement should be inferred.

Project staff wish to thank the following people for their feedback during the editing of this document: Gwen Beegle, Susan Cano, Chigee Cloninger, Mary Beth Doyle, Nancy French, Sharon Henault, Barbara Hylind, Ginny Iverson, Jan Keffer, Rorie Lackey, Cathy Quinn-Malgeri, Pat Mueller, Frank Murphy, Anna Lou Pickett, Vermont NEA Paraeducator Task Force.


In order for groups of people to become effective teams it is vital that they develop a shared understanding of the underlying beliefs, values, and principles that will guide their work together. This shared understanding evolves over time as members learn about each other, spend time together, and engage in the work of their group. Having a shared understanding provides a basic structure within which teams develop common goals, determine actions that will lead toward the attainment of their goals, ensure that their actions are consistent with their beliefs, and judge whether their efforts have been successful. In essence, having a shared understanding helps team members develop their collective vision of the direction in which they would like to be headed. Therefore, a shared understanding is a statement of what is aspired to, rather than necessarily what currently is. In seeking to establish the what, prior to the how, developing a shared understanding is an initial step that must be followed by effective planning, implementation, and evaluation if the aspirations of the team are to be realized.

Throughout the remainder of this document you will notice that we have used the generic term "paraeducator" to refer to individuals who are trained to work with, and alongside, educators in classrooms and other educational settings to support the education of students with and without disabilities in a variety of capacities (e.g., physically, socially, instructionally). Paraeducators are school employees who, while not hired to work in the capacity of a professional position (e.g., teacher, special educator, related services provider), do provide important supportive services in schools under the direction and supervision of qualified school personnel. We recognize that the terms used to refer to these school personnel vary widely and often are used interchangeably (e.g., teacher assistant, teacher aide, instructional assistant, program assistant, educational technician, job coach). Individuals with these various job titles are referred to in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as "paraprofessionals." We support the use of locally adopted job titles that are descriptive of the work done by these school personnel and which are designed to establish or increase respect for individuals who are providing these vital educational supports to students.

What constitutes an appropriate level of training to be an effective paraeducator currently is a topic of national debate, though there seems to be widespread consensus that some level of orientation and training is required for individuals to be effective paraeducators. While some states have developed standards for paraeducators or enacted certification requirements, many have not. Ultimately, under the provisions of IDEA, it is the responsibility of each local education agency (LEA) to ensure that "qualified personnel" are working with students in their schools.

This document lists a set of statements that reflect the shared understanding of the authors regarding paraeducator supports for students with disabilities in general education classes. This shared understanding is based on our collective personal and professional experiences as parents, community members, advocates, paraeducators, teachers, special educators, related services providers, and administrators. We have combined those experiences with what we have learned from educational literature and research.

In presenting the following set of statements that reflect our own shared understanding, it is not our intention to suggest that these are the only, best, or correct components to be included. Rather we present them as our thoughts at this point in time, with the knowledge that they have changed since we first drafted them and we expect that they will continue to evolve. We hope that they will be helpful to other groups who are interested in paraeducator issues and foremost are interested in quality education for all students. In this context they can be used as a starting point in developing a shared understanding among the people in your own setting. Ask yourself what you think about the items we have listed. How might you reword them to reflect your own collective thoughts and match your own situation? Are there any you would delete or add to those listed here? The set of statements included in one's shared understanding can also be used as a practical tool. It can help teams identify and prioritize their needs by collecting facts about the status of each component of the shared understanding using a self-assessment format. An action-planning process that includes this application of a shared understanding is currently being developed and field-tested by staff at the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion in conjunction with the Vermont Department of Education and local schools.

Please note that Additional Resources Available include: Non Data-Based Literature; Data-Based Literature; Training Materials; and Ideas From the Field. To recommend that a resource be included on this site please contact Michael F. Giangreco.

Acknowledging Paraeducators

Paraeducators should be considered members of the educational teams for the students with whom they work. These teams typically consist of the student (when appropriate), the student's parents, teachers, special educators, and others as needed on an ongoing or situational basis (e.g., related services providers, school nurse, bus driver, mentors with similar disabilities as the student). Additional Resources Available

Paraeducators provide important services, under the supervision of a licensed educator, that influence student learning, social/emotional development, and inclusion.
Additional Resources Available

Paraeducators should be valued, appreciated, and recognized for their unique competencies, hard work, and contributions to the classroom, school, and community.
Additional Resources Available

Orienting & Training Paraeducators

Paraeducators should receive orientation (e.g., information about the student, classroom, and school) and entry-level training prior to working directly with students (e.g., family-centered principles; multicultural and other diversity issues; teamwork; inclusive education; roles and responsibilities of team members; principles of learning). Additional Resources Available

Paraeducators should receive ongoing, on-the-job, training to match their specific job responsibilities and assignments. Additional Resources Available

Paraeducators should have access to ongoing learning opportunities, in addition to their on-the-job experiences (e.g., workshops, courses, internet study) that promote their skill development in relevant areas (e.g., supporting students with challenging behaviors; approaches to literacy; use of technology; needs of students with low incidence disabilities) and have input into what training they need.Additional Resources Available

Paraeducator training experiences should be designed to allow individuals to gain continuing education or college/university credit. Additional Resources Available

Hiring & Assigning Paraeducators

Practices should be established to recruit, hire, and retain paraeducators. Additional Resources Available

Substitute paraeducators should be recruited and trained to ensure that a student's access to education and participation in his/her educational program is not unduly disrupted when the regular paraeducator is unavailable due to occurrences such as illness, injury, personal leave, or professional development. Additional Resources Available

Each school should have an agreed upon team process and criteria for determining whether paraeducator support is needed for students with disabilities to receive an appropriate education. Additional Resources Available

When paraeducator support is determined to be necessary for a student, a written plan should explicitly clarify the nature and extent of the support and explain how it is referenced to the student's educational program (e.g., IEP goals, general education curriculum). Additional Resources Available

In most circumstances it is advisable to assign paraeducators to classrooms or instructional programs rather than to an individual student. In the rare cases when a paraeducator is needed for an individual student, efforts should be made to ensure that paraeducators provide supportive, rather than primary or exclusive, services. Additional Resources Available

When administrators are making work assignments and re-assignments to meet students' educational needs, it is advisable to gain input directly from paraeducators and other team members (e.g., parents, teachers, special educators, related services providers) to understand factors that may influence job performance, job satisfaction, and reduce burn-out (e.g., variety of duties; interpersonal dynamics; individual skills and interests; longevity with a particular student). Additional Resources Available

Paraeducators should have an accurate job description that outlines their roles and responsibilities. This job description should be commensurate with the paraeducator's skill level as it pertains to students both with and without disabilities. Additional Resources Available

Paraeducators should be compensated in accordance with their level of education, training, experience, and skills. Additional Resources Available

Paraeducator Interactions with Students & Staff

Paraeducators are expected to demonstrate constructive interpersonal skills with students and other team members (e.g., use respectful communication when speaking with or about others; maintain confidentiality; ensure dignity when providing personal care). Additional Resources Available

Paraeducators should develop and demonstrate attitudes and work habits that encourage: student independence; foster appropriate interdependence; promote inclusion and peer interactions; enhance each students' self-image; and prevent the unintended negative effects often associated with the potential over involvement and proximity of adults. Additional Resources Available

Roles & Responsibilities of Paraeducators

Within the classroom, on a day-to-day basis, the classroom teacher is the instructional leader and interacts directly on an ongoing basis with students who have disabilities. Paraeducators function as a vital support to students under the direction of the teacher and special educators. Additional Resources Available

Teachers, special educators, and related services providers (e.g., speech/language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, school psychologists) have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the appropriate design, implementation, and evaluation of instruction carried out by paraeducators. Additional Resources Available

Paraeducators should be informed about the educational needs (e.g., IEP goals and objectives; components of the general education curriculum) and characteristics of the students with whom they work, as well as classroom and school practices and routines. Additional Resources Available

Paraeducators should have opportunities to contribute to the development of the educational program, instructional plans, and activities created by each student's educational team, but should not be given sole responsibility for these and related activities. Additional Resources Available

Some of the primary functions of paraeducators are to: support the implementation of instructional programs; facilitate learning activities; collect student data; and carry out other assigned duties (e.g., supervise students at lunch or recess; provide personal care supports to students; do clerical tasks) based on plans developed by the teachers and special educators. Additional Resources Available

Times and mechanisms should be established to allow opportunities for paraeducators to be oriented to teacher's plans, report on student progress, ask questions, and offer their perspectives. Additional Resources Available

Supervision & Evaluation of Paraeducator Services

Paraeducators should receive ongoing supervision and regular performance evaluations which are based on their job descriptions and apply clearly defined processes and procedures. Additional Resources Available

Supervisors of paraeducators (e.g., teachers; special educators) should be trained in effective supervisory practices through preservice, inservice, or graduate training. Additional Resources Available

Paraeducator services should be considered in school and district-level school improvement action-planning to ensure that appropriate services are available and effectively utilized. Additional Resources Available

When a student is receiving support from a paraeducator, an evaluation plan should be established to determine, if possible, how and when paraeducator services can be faded through increased student independence or replaced by more naturally occurring supports (e.g., classroom teacher, peers). Additional Resources Available

School districts should develop ways to evaluate the impact of paraeducator services on individual students, classrooms, and staff. Additional Resources Available


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