Updated: Jun 29, 2021
In my blog series's final post about teachers working with paraprofessionals, I want to talk about the most important foundational piece regarding working with paras (or anybody): RELATIONSHIPS.
It seems pretty straightforward, but I've watched many teacher/paraprofessional relationships endure massive strain simply because there was no effort put forth. No attempt was made to establish a rapport.
If you're reading this, I assume it's because you have an interest in education & you understand the value of relationships.
You know that investing in people before academics, expectations, or anything else is the most proactive step you can take not only in being a good human but in being effective in your mission, whatever that may be.
The relationships you establish with others are what drives your ability to make things happen.
I'm not advocating that all teachers and paraprofessionals become BFFs and share secret secrets. There is no need to learn each other's life stories and attend family functions together, but I am advocating for professional, positive, and healthy working relationships.
Some working relationships come easy, but others may require a bit more specific attention and effort.
People can be difficult, y'all!
So if you find yourself in the latter and are determined to beef up your working relationship with your paraprofessional colleagues, read on.
Carve out time to get to know things about each other that are not related to work. In The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, he identifies 3 groups of people: connectors, mavens, & salesmen. Connectors are people that make connections (pretty simple, right?). Connections such as hobbies, people, skills, experiences, etc., are what drive connectors to be able to relate to many people. It's similar to the concept of the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game. Working to find connections can be a great building block in establishing common ground and a rapport.
Are things feeling 'off' or a bit 'wonky' between you and the para you work with? Before jumping off the diving board and into the waters of uninformed conclusions & assumptions, talk to the other person. There is no fancier solution than calmly and objectively approaching a conversation with genuine inquiry, not skepticism.
Be real. Be gracious.
Are things going well? Great! Share that!
In a rut and need a little extra support? Share that, too.
Everyone has challenging days and situations, regardless of their titles.
Faking something until you make it is disingenuine and does not bode well for authenticity. No need to be uber vulnerable and expose your soul, but saying what you mean and meaning what you say helps establish trust in relationships.
Have each other's back
Want to put your actions where your mouth is? Go to bat for each other. In my experience, there are many opportunities for the relationship between teachers and paraprofessionals to crumble when one person isn't around. There may be issues that the two of you need to work out privately, but publicly, be supportive.
As professionals, we all have a vested interest in continuously evaluating our relationships with others. Taking time to build a foundational relationship and get to know the other person will pay off dividends when the school year gets up and going.