Undivided: The Evolving Role of Paraeducators in Inclusive Schools

A Case for Inclusion: One Illinois School District’s New Model for Paraeducators

Feb. 2, 2023Updated Feb. 3, 2023

Inspired by the research of Michael F. Giangreco in his article “One-to-One Paraprofessionals for Students With Disabilities in Inclusive Classrooms: Is Conventional Wisdom Wrong?”, which challenges the overreliance on one-to-one paraprofessionals, Illinois’s Lake Forest School District decided to shift to an inclusive model by using paraeducators in a different, more flexible way.

They believed that the paraeducator/teaching assistant has an important role in promoting the inclusive values of membership, participation, and learning. Their solution: focus on inclusive practices and move away from all aides being 1:1 so as to build independence for their students and train paraeducators to have more skills to support students. To learn more about this new model, we spoke to Lake Forest, Illinois, school district’s Dr. Kate Cavanaugh, Cherokee Elementary School Principal, and JoAnn Ford-Halvorsen, Director of Student Services.

In this clip, Dr. Cavanaugh explains why they initiated the change toward an inclusive, service delivery model, and how they did it:

Less burnout, more support

Ford-Halvorsen adds that the change also focused on exploring and utilizing resources differently and uniquely — for example, by “looking at all the adult supports that we flexibly move in and out of classrooms, including that TA role. Part of that was not only shifting the role of the TA, but overall, how we utilize resources across a grade level with that role being a piece of that puzzle.” This new model effectually helped reduce paraeducator burnout, facilitated more teamwork, and opened up new avenues for paraeducator training.

Dr. Cavanaugh explains the importance of training, and what training sequences they built for their TA’s, including fostering independence and de-escalation strategies:

A focus on student independence

This new model centers inclusive practices, and how paraeducators/teacher’s assistants can empower students to be more independent. This meant utilizing resources differently and moving away from overly relying on 1:1 aides. Dr. Cavanaugh tells us that they use Dr. Paula Kluth’s term ‘burn the chair,’ referring to paraeducators who sit next to students for the entire day, which can make the student overly reliant on the paraeducator, hindering their ability to gain the skills they need to be independent and self-sufficient.

She also explains that while her school utilizes multiple 1:1 aides, they’re never with one student all day. “They’re either a.m. or p.m., and they split half days with another aide. This helps decrease burnout for aides who work with students with complex needs, and it helps with consistency if one of the aides is absent. It also helps decrease student dependency on one person.”

What this means for families

If this is something that your school or district is implementing and you feel concerned, Ford-Halvorsen assures us that kids are more flexible than we think they are and that it’s all about getting used to a new routine. It also builds a backup plan in the system for students who have high support needs because now there’s more than one person who can support those needs.

Overall, this new change has been met with positive feedback, from students to teachers to parents. Dr. Cavanaugh tells us that having parental trust is important in facilitating these changes: “Parents trusting that we train our teaching assistants and make decisions based on a lot of information as to who's going to be supporting, and it's not just a random placement of adults.” She adds that utilizing TA’s not only in a 1:1 role, but more flexibly, has created an environment that feels a lot calmer.

For more information on paraeducators and how they support kids in school, check out our article Paraeducators 101. For a deeper dive into 1:1 aides, check out our article The 411 on 1:1 aides.




Less burnout, more support

A focus on student independence

What this means for families

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Related Parent Questions

What does a 1:1 aide do?
A dedicated 1:1 aide can help with behavior management, instructional support, toileting, safety, social skills training, task redirection, support during meals, and assist in many other ways depending on what a child needs.
What should I do if my school is not supportive of inclusion?
If your school district is not supportive of inclusion, you can use the law to insist on placement in GenEd. All services should be portable, so you can ask for expertise to be brought to your child in their GenEd classroom.
How does my child qualify for a 1:1 aide?
Before your child can get support from a 1:1 aide, your district will likely want to conduct an assessment to determine whether your child qualifies for the support. After receiving the results of the assessment, the team will determine which type of aide or support your child requires.

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