Slide 1: Communication is a big idea, and this module focuses on only one part of that idea: what parapros say and do in their jobs. Welcome to the final unit of the module on communication and collaboration. The unit is called, “Putting It All Together.” I’m Emily Kresiak, Research Assistant working for WordFarmers Associates on behalf of the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation at the University of Dayton School of Education and Health Sciences Grant Center.
Slide 2: Communication seems natural, but it is also difficult. Fortunately, getting better at communicating is a process. We just start where we are at and try to get better. Communicating is only partly about conveying a message to someone else. In schools, which are dynamic places, you also often have to decide what the message is in the first place. And you might have to think about how to phrase the message for best effect. And sometimes, once you’ve decided on the phrasing, you might even need to decide who should get the message. And all these decisions rest on your assessment of the people and the situation in play. In addition, good communication is also about careful listening.
Slide 3: You have no choice but to communicate. What you say and do, and how you say and do it are important. The process of learning to communicate better and better can seem daunting. But the module has organized its discussion of various ideas about how to improve communication into small parts. And those parts relate to a set of broad, general principles that are applicable to everything that’s been discussed:
- 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!
Slide 4: Additionally, the module dealt with the special circumstance of communicating with different groups of people. These include parents, teachers, instructional teams, agency staff, and students, including those who speak little or no English.
Slide 5: The module also looked at confidentiality and data collection as features of communication. They are essential practices in schools, but both practices are extra important for some students. Information about such students must be treated with special care. These students include those with learning difficulties, those who get special education services, and immigrant students. Keeping appropriately silent about what you’ve learned—sharing only with those who “need to know”—is part of good communication in your role.
Slide 6: As the module says again and again, instructional teams are where the important decisions should happen. Sometimes the instructional team will include you and your supervising teacher. Often it will include more than one teacher. It might also include a professional providing administrative services (for instance, the principal) or related services (for instance, the physical therapist). In your work with students, you have to observe carefully to make good decisions on your own. And appropriately sharing your observations with others on the instructional team helps the entire organization address the educational mission better. Team members need to be attentive and trustworthy. They need to help define the issues and procedures and stick to the decisions they make.
Slide 7: So getting better with communication is no more than what being an educator requires. After all, students learn from us by communicating with us! And as the adults in the classroom, we’re most often in charge of that communication. We have to manage it well. Communicating well with students involves taking them seriously, building and sustaining rapport, and—most importantly—scaffolding learning in ways appropriate to the student.
Slide 8: Communicating with parents is actually simpler. It requires a similar approach, but also requires that you refer questions about learning and behavior to your supervising teacher or instructional team. If you have specific observations to make about students, share them only with your teacher and team.
Slide 9: There are so many parts to communicating well! But what does getting better at communicating in general really mean? In part it’s about thinking more circumspectly about what you say and do with others on the job. Circumspection just means looking around you in a complete circle, and hopefully seeing what’s there to be seen. That’s why the module stresses care and attention and thoughtful observation. The way you fit in is by helping students learn. Your job is to be loyal to the instructional mission, above all else! Being loyal to the instructional mission requires that you strive to apply your best qualities.
Slide 10: Applying your best qualities means that you have to figure out how to communicate effectively in a wide variety of situations. Is that above your pay grade? Not if you’re an educator. Communication is what you work with.
Slide 11: And the work that you can accomplish as a paraprofessional is decided by the quality of your communication with others. That includes everyone involved: from students to teachers to parents to administrators, individually and in groups or teams. It’s a big picture. Becoming wiser about the big picture is, in fact, the key to getting better at communicating.
Slide 12: When you see the big picture—when you become more circumspect—you begin to understand better and better the overall instructional mission. Yes: it takes years and years. But when you are circumspect, your words and actions will produce more benefits and fewer difficulties. The benefits you bestow on students are the most important, surely. But your capacity to provide benefits to students depends on collaboration with others. So without seeing the big picture, the chances of getting better at communication are not very good!
Slide 13: As a paraprofessional, of course, you’re a helper. You follow the lead of the professional colleagues who make the major decisions. Working so closely with students, as you do, puts you in the position of seeing things that many others may not. So it’s important that you find appropriate ways to share that experience with colleagues! Hopefully the teams in your school include paraprofessionals as team members. If not, though, you can still find good ways to communicate what you know and see.