Today’s blog post is a guest post written by Kaylan Long of Caffeinated Behavior Change. She is a school district behavior specialist and BCBA who supports classroom teachers and students in special education. She shares all about the what and why of staff training in a Special Ed Class.

The What and Why of Staff Training in a Special Ed Class.

Your staff are your backbone. Your life line. Your saving grace. 

Your staff are your reason for success. 

You are not successful without your team. When I started out as a first year teacher, I had an amazing para who taught me this- and I know it could not have been easy to do yet she did it with grace and kindness. Honestly, I have had a few paras who taught me this along the way (thank you Ms. Williams, Mrs. Cathy, Mrs. Tonya, Mrs. M and many more). 

I came in guns blazing trying to prove myself. It was my way or the highway. I had all these ideas I had learned from college and internships and I didn’t want any advice… I can be a little stubborn 😉 But over the last 10 years, I have learned more and more each year the true meaning of the saying “there is no I in team”. 

You truly cannot survive in this field with a strong team.  

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always easy. Sometimes you butt heads. Sometimes you disagree on practice (definitely been here). Sometimes your personalities just clash. Sometimes you are younger and “less experienced” (been there too). So where do you even start? 

Here are my 5 Tips to Staff Training.

They may all sound a little familiar if you have been following Cassie or myself at all over the last 5 years…  

First and foremost, you build rapport. Relationships are EVERYTHING. And that doesn’t just apply to students. But it’s not always that simple. 

So here are things I asked my paras and I continue to ask staff to this day. 

  1. Ask their advice. you may not agree and honestly you may not follow it but give them the respect they deserve and ask it anyways
  2. Ask for their input. Coming up with a new procedure or schedule, ask them what they think. Ask if they think it is doable or it will work. Remember they are often with the students even more than you are so use that to your advantage. Again, you may still try out the schedule anyways and that’s okay but ask them first. We often say to include students in their own intervention plans and to take responsibility for their days but why do we forget about this for staff? 
  3. Find out what their strengths are. Are they organized? Are they artistic? Are they sociable? Do they love running circle time or snack procedures? I once had a para who was super artistic, was it the most useful for the class on a daily basis? No, but man if there was an art project to be done or a door decoration she was my girl! And she loved it! Staff need to feel useful and appreciated. Just like kiddos, play to their strengths. 
  4. What are their passions. Now, I’m not saying to have long drawn out convos instead of working with students (because if you ever see me at a school you would know this is a pet peeve) but that doesn’t mean don’t get to know them. Find out what they are passionate about. Ask about their day… at an appropriate time. They are human, treat them like it. I think we too often find ourselves in situations where we are so focused on the students (for good reason) that we forget that our staff have the same needs. You are working in very close quarters with them for a very long time, get to know them. 

Second, you need to create systems and routines

I told you this was all going to start sounding a little familiar. But your staff can’t read your minds– they just can’t. Create systems and routines to help their day go by easier… and yours. I have been in so many classrooms where the paras have to continuously ask the teacher “what’s next?” or “what am I supposed to do?” and those are the most chaotic classrooms I’ve been in. I know sometimes it can feel awkward to give an adult (who may be older than you) a schedule and procedure list but TRUST me they will thank you. 

My second year teaching, and in a new classroom, I found my groove when it came to schedules and routines. And yes, my paras may have pushed back a little at first… they weren’t used to it and like I said I was head strong so I probably didn’t approach it well at first (please learn from my many mistakes). But after I moved on from that class do you know what they did?? They called and thanked me and then begged for help creating a schedule because they NEEDED it! They didn’t know what to do without it. Their days were back to chaos and continuously asking what to do. 

They are adults, treat them like it. Give them responsibility and then trust them with it. But remember they cannot read your mind so you need to be explicit in what you want. It’s your classroom so act like it. 

  1. Schedule the staff when and where you want them every minute of the day 
  2. Schedule the staff with who they are working with every minute of the day 
  3. Have a routine for who is in charge of what data, what activity, what routine throughout the day 
  4. Create a system of organization for student work, visuals, staff activities so there are never any questions. 

The more your staff have to ask you what’s going on the more you are away from the kids and the easier it is to “lose” them. If you have pull your attention away from your small group you have lost your kids, trust me, it happens to the best of us. I have watched so many teachers chase after kids who walked away from their small group or lining up because they were trying to tell staff what was going on. Create a system and routine for EVERYTHING. Trust me you will thank me, and they will thank you. 

Third, set clear expectations. 

This may sound similar to the second tip but there’s a big difference I want to address. 

You are the teacher in the classroom and don’t forget it. Don’t be a bull or a lion but be in control. At the end of the day if something happens it is your name on the line. If your staff don’t trust and respect you it creates challenges and sometimes compliance challenges. If something happens, the parent is coming after you, not your staff. If they aren’t following the IEP, it’s on YOU. No excuses. Sorry, that one is tough but there is hope.

Be kind but tell them what you expect from them. 

1.Give them written procedures for what you expect. 

  • In this class, we use positive language. 
  • In this class, we are kind. 
  • In this class, we respect all communication attempts. 
  • In this class, we __________

2. Give them written expectations and procedures for following IEPS. 

3. Give them written expectations and procedures for following BIPs.

4. Give them written expectations and procedures for responding to escalated behaviors 

and crisis situations.

5. If you have a procedure for the student do yourself a favor and create written 

expectations and procedure for the staff. 

Fourth, TEACH.

I know you got into this field to teach children and they don’t tell you this in college. But when you become a speducator you also become a leader. Teach and lead them in how you want things done. Teach and lead them how to use evidence based practices– do not expect them to know this.  For training staff on procedures I always lean on a behavior analyst’s bread and butter– Behavior Skills Training. As an educator you know the steps so now put them in practice with adults. Again, it may feel awkward at first to teach adults but they will respect you for it. 

Behavior Skills Training Procedures

  1. Instruct: Provide rationale for teaching the skill. Provide written summary of skill. Provide checklist of tasks needed to complete the skill (my fave). 
  2. Model: Show them exactly how to do it. Show them exactly what you want to see from them. 
  3. Role-Play/ Practice: Let them practice the skill while you watch. Have them practice with you or other staff members first before working with a student. 
  4. Feedback: Provide reinforcement if they completed the skill well. Provide constructive feedback if there is something to work on… don’t be afraid of this step. Use the checklist to your advantage here. Show them what steps they completed and what steps they missed or need to continue to work on. 
  5. Repeat: Do this until they have mastered the skill. 

And lastly, Reinforce! Reinforce! Reinforce! 

  1. Bring them coffee and/or donuts randomly some mornings. This doesn’t have to be often or even every week but show them you appreciate their hard work.
  2. Give them 30 minutes extra duty free lunch once a month for doing their job well (self-monitoring data sheets for staff are amazing). 
  3. Bring in a case of Dr. Pepper or Diet coke. 

Reinforce and strengthen their behaviors. As the saying goes “behavior goes where the reinforcement flows”. The same goes for you and for me and your staff… it’s not just for kids! People are more willing to work and try harder if they are appreciated– which is just a nice way to say you are reinforcing their behaviors.

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