AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Working as a Team

A successful classroom team must:

  • Plan,
  • Be assertive and demonstrate mutual respect,
  • Define roles and responsibilities, and
  • Share feedback

Planning together as a team will keep you productive and motivated. Consider implementing this tips to your planning routine:

  • Encourage input and suggestions from your paraprofessional.
  • Plan weekly schedules and daily activities
  • Try using a daily "things to do" list with prioritized tasks.
  • Work together on bulletin boards, games and special activities.

An effective classroom team is composed of members who are assertive and who demonstrate mutual respect.

Assertive behavior means:

  • Expressing yourself clearly, but without resentment or rage;
  • Asking questions when you need to; and
  • Addressing problems in a non-confrontational way as soon as they arise.

When asked what "respect between co-workers" means, teachers and paraprofessionals mention the following behaviors. Of course they acknowledge that no two co-workers can live up to this dream list, it's just something to strive for:

  • Show a positive, caring attitude toward students.
  • Be dependable, prompt and reliable.
  • Share perceptions of students.
  • Assist each other without being asked.
  • Value each other's contribution.

It is also important to define roles and responsibilities to prevent confusion and conflict. Often the paraprofessional starts the job with only a vague idea of a teacher's needs or the task he/she is expected to perform. The first weeks in the classroom together can be confusing, especially since teachers can vary in the kind of help and the specific job duties they expect from a paraprofessional. While it's the teacher's job to communicate this information clearly, both colleagues can move the process along by asking questions, speaking in a direct and honest way, and bringing up problems before they become crises.

A paraprofessional has a right to ask questions such as:

  • "What are my regular duties?"
  • "What is the daily routine?"
  • "What student records are available to me?"
  • "How much contact should I have with the parents?
  • "What is expected of me in terms of student discipline?"

In turn, the teacher has the right to expect the paraprofessional to be reliable, flexible and cooperative.

Finally, team members must share feedback. Feedback builds a working team. While the teacher takes the lead in the classroom, both the teacher and the paraprofessional should have the chance to share feedback. Feedback cuts down on confusion, duplicating tasks, and resentment between paraprofessional and teacher. You may find a tune-up checklist like the one shown here to be helpful.

Sample Tune-Up Checklist:

  • Are we meeting frequently enough?
  • Are we sharing information about student performance, behavior and growth?
  • Do we need to work further on defining job roles, setting goals and evaluating students?
  • What areas would we like to see improved? What areas can we congratulate ourselves on?
  • Are we treating each other as co-workers rather than supervisor and subordinate?
  • Do we each feel free to offer suggestions or bring up problems?
  • Are we both fulfilling our job descriptions so that neither of us is overburdened or underutilized?