Users’ Guide for OPEPP Professional Development Modules

OPEPP Professional Development Modules

The information in the OPEPP modules is for paraprofessional educators, but this guide for using the modules is for two different audiences: (1) parapros working on their own and (2) educators (e.g., school district and regional personnel) who train parapros. We encourage both groups to pick and choose what looks most useful and most interesting. Trainers can also adapt the materials in the OPEPP modules, so long as they credit OPEPP as the original source.

Teaching is the core of what happens in schools, and these four modules (and their 42 total units) explain concepts and ways of thinking about the teaching work that parapros can do. Parapros in Ohio (and everywhere) make an important contribution to schools’ efforts to provide high-quality education to all students, but they get little support or training. The information in these modules can help. The modules present and explain the big ideas related to: Helping with InstructionCommunication and CollaborationHelping Students Read, and Helping Students Do Math.

Of course, paraprofessional educators are diverse: their roles in schools differ, job experiences prior to working in schools differ, and their own schooling experiences differ. Despite these differences, many parapros provide support to students by serving in the role of instructional helper. To support paraprofessional educators performing this role, the modules include content that assists parapros and the teachers who work with them in developing foundational knowledge and skills that support instructional planning, delivery, and assessment.

General Information

The modules reflect the standards for paraprofessionals developed by the Council for Exceptional Children, and the essential competencies identified by OPEPP, both of which are listed by module on the OPEPP website.

As for the units, each includes an overview of the major ideas in the unit and a video webinar that gives the details. Several other features (for example, activities and tools for the field) help parapros (1) think about the relevant ideas and (2) practice the relevant skills. Most units also include links to related resources such as videos, websites, and brief documents. Because they focus on the instructional helper role, the units don’t address other important things that parapros often do: manage behavior, facilitate social interactions, or provide personal care.

For Paras Working on Their Own

You may be working on your own in one of several ways. Maybe the teacher with whom you work or your supervisor has asked you to complete one or more of the OPEPP modules. Maybe the teacher or supervisor has specified a certain module and perhaps some of the units within it. In that case you know what to do.

But you may also be working without a pre-set plan or guidance from the teacher or supervisor. In that case, you will need to decide for yourself which modules and units to use. Ask yourself what questions you have about teaching. Here are some questions you might have and suggestions about which modules might be the best starting place for answering them:

  • How might I learn to work more effectively with teachers, administrators, and parents? Look at the units in the module titled Communication and Collaboration.
  • What role can I play in teaching since I’m not really a teacher? Look at the units in the module titled Helping with Instruction.
  • What’s important for me to know about teaching reading? Look at the units in Helping Students Read.
  • What’s important for me to know about teaching math? Look at the units in Helping Students Do Math.

Although the units within modules do have a logical sequence, the units can stand perfectly well on their own. We expect most users to pick and choose, and we designed the units and modules with that likelihood in mind. Scan the titles of the units and see what interests you or answers a specific question you might have. If you click on a unit, you can find and read the short overview to help you decide.

If you are working on your own without help from a teacher or supervisor, good for you! The challenges of working on your own through on-line materials but without support are familiar:

  • Deciding what modules and units to use might be difficult, especially if your time is limited.
  • Without a live instructor to guide you or give you feedback, you may feel lost at times.
  • You won’t have classmates—other parapros—to talk with about the training—although you could certainly try to interest some of your colleagues in working on the modules in tandem with you.
  • You won’t necessarily receive formal acknowledgement (or even informal appreciation) for doing this work.
  • And, as a consequence of all these challenges, staying motivated can be difficult.

If you are aware of the possible challenges, you can do things to prepare and minimize them: you can get your teacher, supervisor, or team leader involved. For instance, you can plan a meeting during which the teacher (or supervisor or team leaders)  can help you choose modules and units. In fact, the units in the modules will give you opportunities to involve your supervisor (or other colleagues) in the assigned activities. The payoff could be huge: not only in terms of your own professional learning but also in terms of the learning of the whole instructional team.

Finally, as you work through units, please remember that step-by-step procedures for teaching in a particular textbook or curriculum need to come from teachers, team leaders, or administrators. These modules and units—which are designed for all parapros in all places and nearly all curricula—cannot drill down to that level of detail.

For Trainers or Facilitators Working with Groups of Paras

OPEPP has developed and field-tested these modules for the widest possible use because few high-quality professional development (PD) opportunities for paraprofessionals are available. In fact, most programs that exist are completely local efforts. Asking local districts to invent the relevant materials—especially for the instructional role of parapros—is not a reasonable expectation.

The materials in these modules, therefore, are intended for adaptation and re-assembly to suit  your local situation and its needs. They are accessible for use by anyone—and that use includes modifying the elements, altering activities a little, or adding additional supplementary resources. When you make such changes simply acknowledge OPEPP as the original source (a standard acknowledgment to use appears at the end of this guide).

Although the focus of the modules is on parapros’ work in helping to teach, units from the Communication and Collaboration module can be adapted to training programs that focus on other duties typical of the role (managing behavior, socialization, personal care). And units from the Helping with Instruction module can be adapted to a general orientation for newly hired paraprofessional educators.

In short, OPEPP encourages selectivity in the use of its modules. It’s not even advisable to use the modules as a total package. Local planning is required. By creating modules, OPEPP has done some of the work, but not most of it: choose what you need and plan the rest of the training carefully.

The challenges of delivering professional development for parapros are well-known:

  • role definition is vague and supervision inconsistent;
  • parapros are treated as low-status educators;
  • local efforts to create and deliver PD are typically after-thoughts to other PD planning;
  • access to high-quality PD from third-party sources is spotty at best; and
  • PD for parapros is seldom a local priority because, with many demands on their time and other resources, local districts often place their attention elsewhere.

These challenges can be daunting. But your interest in using materials from the modules to begin a PD effort for parapros in your district or region is commendable. Just rushing into training by copying the materials and reviewing them in a group setting, however, is probably not the best approach. Thoughtful planning will be necessary in order to get the most out of the modules. You might want to take the following steps as you plan for PD opportunities using the materials in one or more of the modules:

  1. Conduct a brief needs assessment to see what instructional skills parapros themselves believe will help them in their jobs.
  2. Conduct a brief needs assessment to see what the teachers who supervise parapros believe would help parapros become more comfortable with the instructional helper role.
  3. Convene a planning team that reviews one or more modules to determine which units (or which activities within units) might be best for addressing the needs of parapros in your district or region.
  4. Develop a process for getting feedback from parapros who participate in PD derived from the materials in these units. A simple exit slip asking for “warm” and “cool” feedback might be sufficient.
  5. Review some of the slideshows that the OPEPP team has already developed for districts in Ohio. (See the section of the OPEPP site called “Training Packages.”)

It sounds like a lot to take on as a way simply to plan the training, but unless those who are planning the PD have a good grasp of (1) what they want parapros to learn and (2) how the training will improve parapros’ performance of the work they are expected to perform, the training effort might backfire. To help ensure the effectiveness of the effort, start small! Don’t plan a full day of training using these materials alone. Instead, select one or two relevant activities to use in a one-to-two-hour session. It’s also helpful to make the training feel like a special event by being attentive to the need for amenities, such as an inviting setting and snacks or meals.

For More Help

For parapros working solo, most of the units have links to other resources, and there are more of these resources than you might expect. For educators who are working to organize training for parapros, the links in the units are also very helpful. OPEPP also offers fee-based assistance in planning PD for local districts. OPEPP staff are particularly interested in helping educators align PD for their parapros with the district or school-wide improvement plan. For more information, contact Judith Monseur, Ph.D., assistant director, at (614) 897-0020 (x103), or via email at

Standard Acknowledgment
(for use on all materials and adaptations of the materials)

These training materials were developed in part or in whole from those provided by the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation primarily supported through a grant (#H325N110007) with the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Additional support provided by the Ohio Department of Education, Office for Exceptional Children. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.