These are very exciting times in District 49, Colorado Springs. A brave and supportive zone leader took a bold step in the right direction and for the first time made funds available to have a group of paraprofessionals trained in Movement Method. Colorado’s first paraprofessional training!
The national average on training for paras is around 30 hours a year; in comparison, for our highly important and essential paras in Colorado, training is mostly not available at all. After collecting data on job satisfaction in our district, it was evident that a very very weak area was the happiness of our support staff. Many were asking for training and professional development to support their work and help them be more effective.
One agenda item that was mentioned frequently and stood out above everything else was that paraprofessionals were not getting any training and often felt helpless with the situations they were placed in and students they had to work with. Not surprisingly, our success data for student growth for our children with individual education plans and special needs was also not very impressive- in fact- one of our lowest achievement areas- coincidence? I think not!
Having been in the classroom for over 20 years, I have seen it over and over again. Rightfully, as a society we tried to move to total integration, however the real picture is that often kiddos with IEPs or special needs are simply ‘place occupiers’ in a room of huzzle and buzzle, undertrained paras, and overwhelmed educators.
Teachers mean no harm and often try their very best, but in classes with 25- 30 students and hardly any support, often reality hits, time and training limitations restrict what true integration looks like. When students have a paraprofessional working with them, it could be the student’s key to a magical kingdom of growth and love for learning. Paras are the ones that often have the one-on-one time, often have the freedom to change the environment quickly to avoid negative triggers by physically moving with the child, they are the ones that can get to know the child the best and can follow them, if they know what to do and are trained on basic strategies and neuroscience for understanding.
When, after some struggles and road blocks, the training was finally agreed on and financed by the district, I was very excited, inspired, and highly motivated to give participants the best tools possible. I have been to many professional development, have given a lot of classes to teachers and administrator; I wanted the best possible tools for the paras that were so motivated to learn, so excited to grow, and so enthusiastic to help their students as best as they could. I wanted them to be able to make the difference we wanted to see for all students. My choice was Movement Method because it could be implemented right away and staff would have the ideal tools for every single child we work with. It aligns with IB, Common Core, and any other curriculum expectations a school might have because it is a supporting philosophy with exceptional tools and simple basic neuroscience to support anybodies understanding of brain function while learning.
Movement Method has been a true blessing in my classroom, changing the social climate to be more peaceful and at ease, less pressures, more pleasant interaction. It allows me to teach what I am required to teach and at the same time to bring the creativity, movement, and enjoyment back into learning that so often gets lost in pressure to follow curriculum, collect data, present scripted assessments etc.
I was in awe with the passion the paras brought to the training. They gave up two entire days of their personal time to train without getting paid, right before Spring Break, when many teachers and support staff were already on their way to relax after being exhausted from a long stressful quarter. I will describe some of our training adventures in a later blog, for now, it is just amazing to see how the partnership between the paraprofessionals and the teacher changed even during the training. We only had a handful of teachers join, but the collaboration and teamwork grew immediately. Ideally, we need to train educators as well because if they can align their teaching to best practices from Movement Method, that will present the ideal setting for all our students to get the most out of the teaching and learning. Paraprofessionals can now effectively make decisions, choose and implement supportive activities, differentiate what they see the teacher do, therefore provide true integration that will lead to improved student learning outcome.
They now added a huge amount of strategies and background knowledge to their tool box and can work in close partnership with the teacher, backing their work to provide an ideal learning environment for students.
It is obvious why we wanted our paraprofessionals trained, but the reason I chose Movement Method as their first training is because I think it connects every teaching strategy I ever learned in a effective system and adds to it with very unique ideas and approaches. It builds on a solid best practice philosophy and even addresses mindful compassion and self compassion to prevent educators from burn-out. It is a training that presents background knowledge on neuroscience to understand student behaviors we see and allows for creative impactful ways to engage in those situations in a less stressful way for the educator and the child, avoiding suffering on both sides.
The method supports conceptual and inquiry based learning by making it a priority to follow the child emotionally, mentally, and physically. That makes it very much student centered and allows for best practices to align and be used. When students buy into their own learning and are intrinsically motivated, we all know they learn better, and the situation is ideal to develop lifelong learners.
We are not adding to the workload, far from it, we are simply reframing how we do things, use the outside peaceful environment with fresh air and positive natural sensory triggers as often as possible, and build movement based of learning into our teaching strategies wherever possible.
These are just a few examples of tools our paraprofessionals now have on hand. Their feedback was extremely positive and they found the training to be enriching, helpful, and eye-opening. Many of them requested me to continue to encourage the district to allow for more educators to be trained in the method and maybe make it district wide since it is so helpful and guides us to take action right away to improve our student’s learning on a large scale. We will see- the journey continues.