Saturday, February 13, 2016

4 Tips for Managing Paraprofessionals

So many special education teachers say that the hardest part of the job is managing paraprofessionals. Although it can be tough, it's honestly one of my favorite parts of the job! Here are 4 tips for creating a strong and cohesive team with paraprofessionals. 

1) Complete work style inventories with your paraprofessionals. And don't just complete them- Spend time analyzing and talking about them. The inventories can give you great insight into how paras want to be managed, how they deal with conflict, and they want you to make lesson plans for them. It's been really helpful for me to sit down with my paras at the beginning of the year, complete the inventories, and then all talk about the similarities and differences of our work styles. I really like this free work style inventory (page 1-3).
 2) Show paraprofessionals that you appreciate them! Sped. paras have TOUGH jobs! Their paychecks are small and they often don't get much credit for all of their hard work. Try to do something small for your paras once a week or month, like writing them a card to say thank you, bringing them coffee or a chocolate bar, sending them an encouraging text after a hard day, or bringing them bagels. I'm know they will love to have your appreciation! I love little treats with catchy phrases like these:

3) Don't expect a paraprofessional to do anything you wouldn't do. This one is easy... Don't be one of those sped. teachers who won't do stuff that you expect paras to do, like toileting and wiping boogers!

4) Include paraprofessionals in making decisions! I realize that sometimes the teacher needs to make decisions about certain aspects of the classroom, however it means a lot to paras when you include them on making some decisions. Most of us give our students options/choices throughout the day, so we should give them to our paras too!
A few decisions that you can easily include paraprofessionals in:
-What lunch break does the paraprofessional want? (I have 3 different lunch times for my paras and let them choose at the beginning of the school year)
-Do the paras prefer to work with the same 1-3 students for the entire school year or do they prefer to rotate students/groups daily or weekly?
-When students are going on field trips with other classrooms, let your paras pick who wants to go on the trip with the students and who wants to stay back at school
-What lessons do they want to help adapt/ create/ modify (do they prefer texturizing books, laminating/ cutting materials, planning art lessons, or creating task boxes, etc.)

Do you have any tips that have helped you to create a strong team with your paraprofessionals?

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Task box/ independent work time organization

I've had a few comments asking how I organize and switch out my task boxes/ independent work activities. My organization system is super simple- All of the actual task boxes (like the "put in" boxes and others with manipulatives) are stored in their boxes in this storage cabinet.

All of the other independent work tasks (like file folders or any paper task) are stored in this plastic storage container that includes 3 drawers/categories- literacy, science/social studies/fine motor, and math.

At some point I will probably want to create a system that organizes the activities based on levels, but right now I don't have many students and their levels don't vary too much so it is easy enough to keep the activities organized without a leveled system.

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

A few super EASY and FAST data collection systems

Don't get me wrong, I know that many teachers hate data because of the time commitment it can be and the pressure it seems to put on classroom staff. But I have to admit that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE data and everything that has to do with data..... I love collecting data, I love interpreting data, and I love graphing data!  I haven't always loved data though- over the years, I've found a few systems that make data collection a little easier and quicker.

Alphabet book during circle time:
I use this alphabet during our morning meeting/ circle time to teach letters and take data on letter recognition. Students can verbally say the letter, match by pointing at letters in their personal books, or match by pointing at the letter that's the same at the bottom of the page. I currently have 2 students who are working on identifying letters, so I have a little card Velcroed at the top of the page with the corresponding letter and the student's initials. If the student gets the letter correct independently, then I remove the little letter card and put it in my pocket. At the end of the lesson I can then record all of the cards/letters that the student got independently without trying to take data wile I'm teaching the lesson.

Clickers/Tally Counters:
They are amazing for tracking the total number of high and low frequency behaviors. I keep one on my lanyard and use it to keep track of the total number of self-injurious behaviors of a specific student. It's so easy to just click away throughout the day and then record the total at the end of the day!

Pennies in pocket:
Use small items in your pocket to collect frequency counts. Simply put a bundle of pennies (you can also use beads, paper clips, or any other small object) in your left pocket. Every time the behavior occurs, move one penny into your right pocket. At the end of the day (or mid-day) count the pennies in your right pocket and record the total number of pennies/ occurrences of the behavior. I find this super easy to do because it allows me to leave the pen and clipboard behind!

Do you have any super quick and easy data collection systems? I'm always looking for ways to make it easier for me and my paraprofessionals!

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Simple Task Box Ideas

There's something exciting and refreshing about creating new task boxes... I literally make new ones on a weekly basis. Here are some of the latest ones I've made-

Color sorting boxes with color bears and manipulatives. I bought the cups and teacups at the Dollar Tree and used manipulatives that I already had in the classroom.

Counting task boxes with counting bears and number cards. You can download the counting bear printables seen below for free here.  You can download other free counting and pattern bear printables here and here,

"Put in" task boxes are the simplest task boxes and are great for working on fine motor skills! My students love the box with the bells because it makes noise.

Shapes matching and sorting task boxes. I found the puzzle at the Dollar Store, I glued half of the puzzle as a visual prompt and added color shading as a prompt too. I found the fabric shapes for $3 at Target.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Circle time/ morning meeting vamp up

It's that time again... you know, the time of the year when you get a little bored and need to mix things up in the classroom. I felt like our circle time needed a little face lift from how we started this year.

Things I tweeked/ added:
-I started some explicit teaching around the First 40 Core Vocabulary words. Check out this resource from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It explains what the first 40 are, how to implement/ teach them and why they're important! I have a large core vocab. board that all students use and I use for the direct instruction. Each student also has a smaller core vocabulary on their desks or in their personal books. This week, our vocabulary words were "you", "stop", and "go". We read a quick story about things that go and practiced saying "go" and "stop", and practiced following directions in regards to the vocabulary.

-Our service dog, Ike, "travels" every weekend. Ike travels all over the world and students learn about his travels during circle time! Students learn 4 facts about where he traveled, work on matching skills by matching the pictures, and work on identifying the different countries by moving Ike's picture around.

-I added a GoTalk9 with the pictures and faces of all our students and staff. Students use it to greet peers and staff in silly and fun ways like: "Guten tag," "Sup homie?" "Waaaaaz up?" "How you doin'?" "Long time no see," "Buenos dias," and "Howdy, partner!" The kiddos get a total kick out of the silly greetings.

-I added a super short reminder about what we are learning for the week. We review pictures about what we are learning (this week it's the ocean) and then watch a super short video that relates to it.

Have you mixed up your morning meeting/ circle time lately?  Send ideas and tips my way, I'm always looking for ways to mix our days up!

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Valentine's Day printables and activities

Thanks to a fabulous snow day, I was able to get some fun stuff for Valentine's Day knocked out. I made worksheets for tracing, sorting, extending patterns, simple addition, and same vs. different.
Check it out! You can get them from my TpT site here.

And of course we will play Bingo!

You can find the bingo game here from my TpT site.

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