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7 Tips to Support Support Staff

October 27, 2021 by Christopher Olson




Have you ever walked past a support staff member and just said hello or asked them how their day is going?  Support staff in schools are often an overlooked and underutilized position.  However, they can make your life and job much easier! Here are seven tips and recommendations to make your support staff feel more supported!  

When I started as a first-year teacher, many years ago (I refuse to date myself), I was 20 years old, and let’s face it…I didn’t know a thing.  So here I go walking into my new classroom and having three Paraeducators working alongside me.  I worked in Early Intervention at the time and taught 3, 4, and 5-year-old students with behavioral and other special needs. I was totally overwhelmed and nervous because who am I to lead and tell these three “older” women what to do and help me with.

These women were so skilled, tenured, and experienced.  One, who was in her 60s and working in the classroom for over a decade.  Gosh, I was so wrong with my feelings!  They truly helped in those early years and made each day special for me and the students.  They stood beside me when we were laughing and as we cried together.  Thank you so much for my initial paraprofessionals – Eleanor, Joy, Angela.  These three and many more over the years have helped me grow into the confident educator that I am today.  I cannot say enough….thank you!  You truly changed my life, my career, my outlook on education.  

Who are our Support Staff?

The gratitude doesn’t just stop at Paraeducators!  There are so many more support staff that deserve our appreciation.  From Bus Drivers who start off a student’s day to the Cafeteria Workers that are making sure our students are healthy and fed.  Custodians who are usually the first ones to arrive in the morning and last ones to leave at night to our amazing Secretaries who literally are the face of our school and run our day-to-day operations! They are all superheroes in my eyes!  

When you value their input, ask for their feedback and just treat them as any co-worker it makes our jobs way easier!  They choose their profession for the same reason we as teachers choose ours.  To help students grow and learn.  We as adults need to grow and learn to work together with a team approach in our classrooms.  So Let’s Check out these seven tips and recommendations to work alongside them and how we can Support our Support Staff!

Tip 1 – Introduce Them

Make sure at the beginning of the year you point out the important “helpers” of the school.  I always made it a goal for my students to learn the janitors, cafeteria workers, secretaries’ names, as well as any support staff that is in and out of my room.  This way students know they are an important part of our community as well as they are able to greet them by name when they see them in the halls, cafeteria, office, etc.   

“They are there for the kids early in the morning and give the kids possibly the only food they will see all day. Often they get no thanks for all they do. Their care, smiles, and nutritious food brings comfort to our students and staff every single day.” ~ Catherine C.

2 – Say “Thank You” Throughout The Day!

This is extremely important.  Paraeducators as well as other support staff work very hard each day.  Even though just verbalizing a “thank you” may seem like a small gesture, it sure goes a long way!  Make it a habit and a personal goal at the end of every day to approach a support staff personnel and thank them for their assistance or something that you noticed them doing that day! 

“I’m thankful for our custodians for working to keep our classrooms and school clean, safe, and healthy for the staff and students. It’s an important part of feeling pride and enjoyment in your surroundings!” ~ Nicki G.

3 – Ask For Their Feedback (AND Value It)

This is probably one of the biggest and most poignant suggestions in this list in my eyes!  Asking support staff for their feedback speaks volumes.  Oftentimes paras are sometimes told just what to do.  However, they may have a suggestion or something that they’ve seen in the classroom that you missed.  Talk to the paraeducator that is working in your classroom and what’s working and what could be improved.

Value their feedback and suggestions!  It is one thing to ask for it, but it is more important to value their opinion and ideas.   Becoming a team with your paraeducators can truly help you and your classroom become better and more efficient.

For other support staff that may not be in the classroom, don’t think we’ve forgotten about them either!  Asking for support staff’s suggestions and feedback for your school community is important.  If you sit or lead a team for your school, don’t be afraid to approach your support staff to join the team!  They are a great addition to any team and will learn and follow your team’s expectations with the students they interact with daily.

“Paraeducators are the heart and soul of the classroom… their insights and relationships with the students are integral to successful learning and building a class climate where everyone can thrive. They allow the teacher to focus more on content, assessment, differentiation, and everything else that is done daily to make a classroom tick positively. Without them, teaching is a lonely job, and also one that can quickly become consumed by monitoring bathroom use; monitoring mask and distancing protocols; filling out nurse passes; resolving disputes; monitoring students in the calming corner; locating students’ missing supplies; etc., etc., etc.” ~ Terry K.

Tip 4 – Give Them A Break

If you notice that a support staff member is having a tough day or struggling with a particular student or situation, offer to switch off with them!  This is easier when it is a paraeducator that may be working in your classroom.  Don’t be afraid to tag them out, or even better offer them a few minutes’ break!  Tell them to feel free to take a walk, use the restroom or go grab a coffee in the lounge area and take a few minutes to themselves.  What a morale booster, let alone showing an individual that you care. 

5 – Get to Know Them & Include Them In The School Community

To start off, I just want to share that I am NOT a small-talker.  I don’t enjoy small talk and during the school day, let’s face it, I don’t have tons of time for small talk.  However, with that said, it is so important to know the people you work with!  Ask them about their family, inquire about their hobbies and check in with how their weekends were.  

“A secretary in a school knows EVERYTHING that goes on. She can replace the Principal! They handle every emergency and know who to call for what and when from custodial staff to bus drivers to the cafeteria staff. She knows the kids and parents. From fixing the copier to handing out books and supplies. When the secretary is gone, the school literally falls apart. School secretaries deserve more credit and higher pay!” ~ Karen L.

6 – COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE!

Communication is KEY. Find out what your support staff knows, what their strengths are, and where they need more support. Assumptions can easily be made that a support staff member knows how to do a specific task or lesson just because they’ve been working in a school.  Don’t be afraid to ask them appropriately “do you need this modeled for you?” or “can I provide you with any examples?”  Offer feedback and positive support.

Tip 7 – Support Staff Are Part Of The Team!

Just like in #6 we need to continue to communicate!  Don’t forget it is crucial that you are consistently communicating the needs of the students in your classroom to the support staff that works there.  This includes, but is not limited to IEP goals, behavioral systems, medical alerts, prompt levels, and classroom schedule/routine.  Paraeducators and other support staff may deem appropriate to invite to IEP meetings or other team meetings where they can have a voice and offer suggestions as an active team member. 

“Our bus drivers (both of them) have been driving their routes for years and know the kids and the families and can deal with problems that arise. They’re very good at their jobs.” ~ Fiona S.

Remember: You are a vital and irreplaceable part of a classroom community that is often overlooked, underutilized and undervalued.

I personally want to thank each and every Support Staff personnel!   I see your hard work and I appreciate it so much.  You are a vital part of education and you make teachers’ lives and jobs easier.  I love being able to stand beside you not only as a coworker but as a friend as well.  Do you want to give a shout-out to a support staff member of your school?  Let’s hear it in the comments below! 

Written by – Christopher Olson

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