Rethink Ed Spotlight Paraprofessional of the Month: Clifton G. Jones III

Position: Paraprofessional Educator

District: Prince George’s County Public Schools (Maryland)

Mr. Jones Paraprofessional Educator at Prince George’s County Public Schools

Clifton G. Jones III is a Paraprofessional Educator at Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland. He has used Rethink Ed in his classroom for the last two years, and it has become part of the classroom’s daily schedule. He considers Rethink Ed as a “great resource for staff at the school.”

 

Mr. Jones uses Rethink Ed to help with Individual Education Plans (IEP) goals, objectives and data collection. For paraprofessionals, the program is helpful when working with special needs students because of its detailed information pertaining to goals and objectives which help in producing positive outcomes in students. Also, Rethink Ed improves the teaching of new skills. When one of Mr. Jones’ students was not progressing in a newly presented skill, he was able to compare his own lesson plans and materials to Rethink Ed’s materials and gain new ways to implement the lessons and support the student.

“(I would) just document the behavior, the setting, time of day and the frequency of the behavior,” Mr. Jones states of his tactics, before using Rethink Ed. Now, Mr. Jones documents all the same things as before but also focuses on what happens before and after the behavior, as well as the possible function for it. Understanding the problem behavior allows him to implement strategies to reduce it.

The Rethink Ed Basic and Advanced Training series is the most valuable aspect of the program for Mr. Jones and his classroom. The training series has helped him prepare for the Registered Behavior Technician Exam (RBT), and has taught him how to use the skill of reinforcing to motivate students and increase their instructional participation. Excited to pursue his RBT Certification, Mr. Jones believes, “the basic and advanced ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) training’s are great for professional growth and development.”

Mr. Jones with his Students

Rethink Ed has helped Mr. Jones realize the necessity of the RBT certification for his future career development. He trusts that the certification will help “paraprofessionals to articulate what we do in the classroom when working with our students with special needs and how we teach and help them to learn and progress with new skills.” Rethink Ed has also taught Mr. Jones the necessary terminology to help explain exactly how he supports his students in the classroom.

Rethink Ed has proven to assist Mr. Jones in his role as a paraprofessional, and it will continue to support him in the next stages of his career.

Development and Career Advancement for Paraprofessionals

By Christina Whalen, PhD, BCBA-D Director of Research at Rethink

The role of a paraprofessional is heavily dependent on the needs of each student, and as such, their duties are ever changing. Some of the most important changes to highlight are the fluctuations in student behavior and performance that many paraprofessionals encounter. This is significantly heightened in school environments where paraprofessionals support students with disabilities and those who exhibit challenging behaviors.

To meet these challenges, it is important for paraprofessionals to learn and apply behavior analytic skills in their work. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an effective and commonly used approach for special education and inclusive models for students with Individualized Education Programs. It used as a means to apply interventions that help to significantly improve and impact behavior. Learning how to use it successfully can help paraprofessionals remediate disruptive behaviors, provide new learning opportunities for students and assist teachers in helping students build the skills necessary to meet their IEP goals.

In addition to managing student behavior, there are a number of additional skills paraprofessionals must master. These include:

  • Implementing behavior intervention plans
  • Using effective reinforcement to assist students
  • Using prompts after instructional stimulus
  • Using prompt-fading strategies
  • Implementing evidence-based instruction
  • Accurately recording student progress
  • Providing maintenance and generalization opportunities
  • Providing opportunities to build communication and social skills

Despite promise in the profession, many paraprofessionals who encounter issues on the job struggle to find adequate training for the skills they must possess. Many convey they are not adequately trained or prepared to take on the responsibilities that are required of their position.

Paraprofessionals also report that they are often left alone with students to make important decisions and act independently, despite federal mandates that require paraprofessionals to work under the supervision of a certified teacher. This discomfort is illuminated when paraprofessionals receive professional learning opportunities from sources that are lacking in cohesion and comprehensiveness.

Creating opportunities for paraprofessionals

Paraprofessionals can positively influence student achievement and the classroom environment when they are provided with adequate training and professional support.

This type of support means granting more opportunities for paraprofessionals to grow professionally and learn skills they can use to benefit their students and their schools. Like any job, career growth provides motivation for engagement and learning. Once basic skills are acquired through relevant training, paraprofessionals should be given the opportunity to advance their skills and advance in their career.

Here are two ways that paraprofessionals can experience high-quality professional development:

Registered Behavior Technician training

The Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) credential from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is for paraprofessionals who wish to demonstrate competency in behavior analysis under the supervision of a certified behavior analyst. Acquiring the credential requires 40 hours of instruction in behavior analysis, demonstration of these skills in an observation conducted by a certified behavior analyst and a competency exam. Certification also improves the confidence of administrators and parents that students are receiving quality services from paraprofessionals.

On-demand training

On-demand training provides opportunity to learn the necessary skills with flexible scheduling. On-demand professional development in conjunction with strong coaching and leadership leads to a higher quality in instructional support. On-demand training is delivered in a number of different forms, including video modeling, video self-modeling, didactic instruction via video, narrated PowerPoint presentations and assigned readings. Training includes learning assessments for those receiving training and requires teachers and administrators to monitor the progress of those engaged in training. On-demand professional development is also convenient and it can increase confidence, reduce costs and decrease time needed for training.

Shifting the Professional Learning Model to Improve Teacher Retention

An extraordinary shift is upon us in the field of education. Students are accessing information and demonstrating their capacity to learn differently. They are learning and using skill sets far different from past generations to prepare for life outside of the classroom. Indeed the fast-pace of change regularly revolutionizes the skills needed for adult success. The landscape for students is changing , and the landscape of what we ask of educators who teach and prepare students for the world and the workforce is also changing.

Our collective expectations of teachers extend way beyond organizing lessons and measuring student performance. We expect teachers to cater to individual student needs, use different learning techniques, incorporate technology and cater to the social and emotional needs of students.

These expectations are common threads for teachers who vary in practice and disposition. They also make the teaching profession much more difficult. Although teachers do a great job helping students succeed, the intricate demands and lack of professional development on the job has led to a decrease in the amount of teachers who choose to remain in the profession after their first five years.

Why do teachers leave the profession?

There are a variety of reasons for natural attrition in jobs including relocation, family matters, different schedules, salaries or distaste for management. The decision to leave for others stems from issues or concerns they feel cannot be resolved. According to the National Education Association, this includes:

    • A lack of support
    • Unfair demands and mandates
    • A lack of assistance with student discipline
    • Underfunded programs and low salaries
  • A lack of influence or respect at work

 

The National Center for Education Statistics identified 7.7% of teachers left the profession at the end of the 2012-13 school year with this number on the rise. The same study found that 46% of those who left the profession said opportunities for professional development in their new position outside of education were better. Although the answer seems simple, increasing the quality and access to professional development for teachers continues to be a challenge .

How do we retain more quality teachers?

Many districts are responding to this data and other statistics by reshaping the professional learning experience. Professional development is also becoming more relevant, personalized and useful. When translated on a larger scale, districts can use research to not only to improve teaching practices, but to increase teacher retention and buy-in for the profession. Developing custom professional development options for teachers with different skills, levels of experience and areas of interest can help increase teacher commitment to learning communities and help them take an interest in giving back to those communities.

Taking professional learning to the next level

Educators should always have a choice in how and what they choose to learn. This can include classroom modeling and access to different learning activities, platforms and online learning communities. Social media channels such as Twitter can also be a great tool for encouraging discussion among educators. Other methods to engage teachers in professional learning opportunities can include summer learning institutes and year-long campaigns to help them find joy in implementing new practices.

Of course some teachers still enjoy learning in a traditional lecture environment, but the important thing to consider is their right to choose the most accommodating option for them.

A common framework to keep in mind is one developed by  , which follows four stages:

  • Engagement – Ensures teachers have buy-in to what they are learning.
  • Learning – The environment content is delivered in, which helps move teachers from knowledge acquisition to application.
  • Support – Ongoing refinement of skills into successful practices that lead to improvement in teaching and student learning.
  • Measurement – The data collection on the teacher’s practice or commonly known as educator evaluations.

This four-stage framework can be applied to any professional learning opportunity and will help keep teachers on track when they embark on their own learning path. The hope is that with enough reflection on the benefits of more opportunities for teachers, we’ll start to encourage the best educators to stay in the profession with more support and room to grow.

Strategies for Instructional Coaching

Experience tells us, and the field of andragogy confirms, that adults learn differently from children. Andragogy refers to the adult learning theory and was coined by American educator Malcolm Knowles. Instructional coaches need to employ principles of andragogy as they support teachers in improving their practice.

The four principles of adult learning are:

  • Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  • Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities.
  • Adults want to learn about subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life.
  • Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.

How do these principles apply to coaching teachers? It’s simple. According to the Annenberg Foundation for Education Reform, “effective instructional coaching encourages collaborative, reflective teaching practice.” For example, if a teacher organizes a lesson a successful coach can help the teacher reflect on strengths and areas that need improvement. The best coaches offer guidance and resources related to teaching the subject or improving the delivery of lessons in a way that aims to tackle challenges in the classroom. An effective coach should also help teachers reflect on what they’ve learned during evaluations and help them apply it to their work with students.

It is equally important for teachers to use data to inform their practice. Data is a useful tool for understanding student challenges and identifying areas in need of focus. Sometimes isolating the right areas of focus can be difficult for teachers. In those instances, it is wise for the instructional coach – to support teachers to self-identify a focus area. The University of Kansas’ Center for Research on Learning provides a framework for coaches and teachers to decide where to start. It’s called “The Big Four.” These four focus areas include classroom management, content, instruction and assessment for learning.

Coaches can use these four focus areas to help teachers choose where to start. Support can expand to sharing data and monitoring progress with them over time. Applying current research in the area of focus as well as modeling research-validated instructional strategies for teachers is also helpful.

Five strategies to help translate research into practice from Jim Knight’s book, Instructional coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction:

  • Clarify: read, write, talk
  • Synthesize different sources
  • Break it down
  • See it through teachers’ (and students’) eyes – What does this look like in the classroom?

Finally, just as teachers should reflect on their area of focus, instructional coaches should reflect on their experience too.

We hope these strategies help guide your experiences helping teachers succeed.

Good luck and happy coaching!

Why Self-Directed Professional Development Matters for Educators

As the role and function of schools continue to change, so do duties and responsibilities of educators. Educators are often asked to help students succeed amid challenges including growing class sizes, new tests, new rules and new evaluation measures.

Educators must choose appropriate resources to help prepare for the challenges they will face during their career. Effective professional development provides educators training in meaningful and important aspects of their job. Through active engagement in professional development educators improve the quality of classroom instruction, grow professionally and strengthen their practice.

Professional development sometimes carries a stigma. It is viewed as inconvenient, not comprehensive enough and often ineffective. Indeed much of the professional development in education has been deemed costly and ineffective. Single-day professional development opportunities limit the ability of educators to ask important follow-up questions, access knowledge banks after sessions or learn in-depth strategies and skills that take time to master.

Unlike traditional professional development, self-directed professional development opens learning possibilities for educators in any place and at any time. It allows educators to acquire a wide variety of skills and gain access to training outside the classroom at their own pace.

Why is self-directed PD important?

  • Educators gain access to quality instructional materials, similar to receiving training from master teachers or high-quality instructional coaches. Video modeling is particularly effective in this professional development model.
  • Educators can review difficult concepts without fear of running out of time or not grasping complicated concepts.
  • Related service providers, who often don’t have access to classroom educator professional development, can discover new and inventive ways to help students with special or social/behavioral needs. This comes in handy for those who implement behavioral intervention plans or serve students with Individualized Education Programs.
  • Self-directed PD can solve challenges associated with integrated co-teaching. Teachers can learn highly effective techniques and use them to strengthen classrooms where students with special needs learn alongside general education students.
  • Teaching assistants can access professional development as they are often excluded from professional development provided to credentialed staff but are pivotal in supporting students with disabilities.

Time is a valuable commodity for educators. Self-directed PD may just part of the answer. When progress is measurable and professional development produces effective outcomes, it is meaningful.