Throughout all schools in the Monroe School District, paraeducators are a vital part of the educational team. From preparing learning materials and implementing behavior modification plans to leading small group instruction and working one-on-one with students who need additional support, they bring immeasurable value to our classrooms.
Paraeducators, also known as paraprofessionals, teacher assistants, or "paras" are trained professionals who work in the classroom under the supervision of the classroom teacher. In Washington state, they are required to hold an associate's degree or higher, or pass a state exam or complete an apprenticeship as a paraeducator.
Once on the job, however, paraeducators nationwide have historically received little to no additional professional training. The lack of training opportunities has been the result of no common statewide standards of practice, no set training requirements, and no additional funding.
"Paraeducators are a central part of our education team and make up a large portion of our workforce. They play a critical role in supporting some of our most at-risk students and unfortunately, much of their skills have been learned 'on the job'," said Joanne Dickinson, MSD Director of Human Resources. "Without uniform training guidelines or funds for training and compensation outside of their regular work day, we have struggled to provide relevant and meaningful training to some of our most vital staff members."
A state law passed in 2017 is now changing that. The new law (RCW 28A.413.070) has standardized such training throughout Washington and requires lawmakers to fund the mandated training. Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, school districts now must provide 14 hours of professional development training on the Fundamental Course of Study (FCS) to all of their paraeducators, which is funded by the state legislature. In successive years, all newly hired paraeducators will be required to complete the training within their first year of employment.
The FCS covers the new standards of practice for paraeducators, including: Supporting Educational Outcomes; Demonstrating Professionalism & Ethical Practices; Supporting a Positive and Safe Learning Environment; and Communicating Effectively and Participating in the Team Process.
With early release days for students this week and teachers conducting parent-teacher conferences in the afternoon, all of Monroe School District's paraeducators received 8 hours of the newly required training. Instructional leaders from varying departments, including Learning and Teaching, Special Education and Technology, provided our paraeducators training in the following areas:
Supporting Educational Outcomes
- Methods of Supporting Education and Instructional Support
- Technology Basics
Supporting a Positive and Safe Learning Environment
- Behavior Management and De-Escalation Strategies
"These trainings have actually been the best we've ever had...very informative and fun. The presenters were amazing and we learned a lot of information that will be an asset to our current assignments. As paraeducators, it is our main goal to support students and after attending these trainings, I feel even more capable of doing my job effectively," said Maltby Elementary paraeducator Jayne Blake.
An additional 6 hours of training will be provided in the afternoons on several early release Fridays throughout the remainder of this school year and in the 2020-2021 school year, another 14 hours of training will be provided, pending continued legislature funding. After that, within three years of completing the FCS, paraeducators in Washington will need to take an additional 70 hours of training, provided by their school district, in order to earn their General Paraeducator Certificate.
"As a district, we have put a lot of time and energy this year into developing engaging, relevant and meaningful lessons for our paraeducators that align with the new standards of practice. It is our goal to support our paraeducators by equipping them with the necessary tools to be successful in their vital roles, which ultimately benefits all of our students," said Dickinson.