This module on communication has covered a lot of ground: overall principles, communicating with different groups (students, speakers of other languages, parents, teachers, teams, agency staff), and issues of particular concern to special education parapros (confidentiality, handling data). All of these discussions, however, lead back to the overall principles. Here they are again:

  • Be wary of your assumptions, and be ready to change your mind.
  • Listen more than talk.
  • Listen carefully in order to help the team understand issues.
  • Think before speaking.
  • Prepare well by trying to make objective observations.
  • Effective communication is difficult: confront the difficulties with the team in mind!

This is not the whole story, of course. By now you’ll have understood that the concern of this module is to help you think more circumspectly about what you say and do with others in your job—yes, “circumspectly.” What does that mean?

It’s related to the word circumference—the length around a circle (“circum”)—or circumnavigate—navigation by circling the globe. Circum-spection means looking or seeing all around the circle. So “thinking more circumspectly” is thinking with the bigger picture in view.

Schools are complex and often difficult places. Certainly there are challenges in every school, wherever it is located and however it operates. As a paraprofessional, you’re in the role of helper. You follow directions. You help the people who are making the main decisions. Your role involves implementing the plans that others make. Those others might be a supervising teacher, an instructional team, the principal, or some combination of all of them. They define the instructional mission and the steps needed to accomplish it. And your role requires you to be loyal to the mission they define and the steps they choose. And that mission must be about helping students learn.

Being loyal means that you bring all of your best qualities to the work you perform. And by thinking circumspectly you can figure out how, when, and where to make use of your best qualities. In fact, by thinking more circumspectly about what you say and do with others in this work, you can become better at it. Every time you say or do something, for instance, it influences something else. This is why care and attention—listening more than talking, thinking before speaking—are so important.  When you are circumspect, your words and actions will produce more benefits and fewer difficulties.

One more thing: if you are not used to thinking circumspectly about your job, the challenge of “effective communication” might seem like it’s too much to take on. But it’s not. It’s what all educators must do. After all, we do our work with students by communicating! There’s no other way. We determine how to spend our time during the workday by communicating with a supervising teacher, other educators, or the principal. There’s no way around it. Communication comes with the territory.

It’s reassuring to realize, though, that getting better at communicating is a process. We just start where we are at and try to get better. Becoming more effective as a communicator is what being an educator is all about!