Editor's Note: This article refers to Graphite, the former name of this website.
As I wrapped up a Master Teacher Innovation Lab on using Google Classroom in the 1-to-1 classroom environment last year, one passing “thank you” as the attendees filed out of the room stood out. “Thank you for treating me like a professional.”
One of the paraprofessionals on my campus had asked me the week before if she could attend the session, which was unusual. We’d never opened these peer-led professional development labs up to paraprofessionals before. She asked, and I thought, “Why not?” My principal fully supported the idea, and the paraprofessional took diligent notes, asked relevant questions, and was the happiest participant in the room that day.
Paraprofessionals. Teacher assistants. Call them what you will, but they are a vital piece of the education process for students with IEPs or 504 plans. Para, from the Greek, means beside. These educators work beside classroom teachers and beside students every day, yet they often are overlooked when it comes to professional development.
In the weeks that followed, more paraprofessionals approached me asking me to lead the workshop again. Eventually, we added paraprofessionals to our Tech Tuesday, an after-school gathering for teachers to learn new tools together. For the paraprofessionals, I started with some tech essentials. We’re a Google Apps for Education district, so they see these tools used by the students every day. With the help of resources from Graphite, we worked through Google Drive and Google Docs, and then Google Classroom. I introduced them to Twitter and Google Plus, too. It was effective for one simple reason: They were learning to use the same technology the students were learning to use. After we worked together on it on Tuesday, they saw it being used in multiple classrooms the rest of the week. It was relevant.
These gatherings accomplished more than teaching technology. Together, we formed a PLC. The paraprofessionals began to unite and work with each other, solving problems and exploring new ways to help their students. On the last Tech Tuesday, I introduced them to Graphite and encouraged them to sign up and use the Web resources to help them help each other and help their students. Through Graphite, they saw the power of a PLN. One told me that I should have showed them Graphite first. Now I have a starting point for next time!
Just like any other educator, paraprofessionals want to be treated like professionals. Given the opportunity, an effective PLC model, and PLN choices, paraprofessionals can be in charge of their professional growth. I’ve seen a positive connection between effective professional development opportunities and student success. For a paraprofessional, an educator who spends more one-on-one time with the neediest of students, PLCs and PLNs should be used as a means for professional growth to promote student success.