Back to School Resources:

Utilizing Your Support Staff

This page is part of a larger series titled Back to School Resources 2020.  To see the full list of topics, visit the Back to School Resources 2020 Landing Page.  



As schools work through plans for the 2020/2021 school year during this pandemic, it is important to keep in mind an essential resource that schools have: support staff. Teacher’s aides, paraprofessionals, ancillary staff, therapists, etc. have wonderful gifts that can be utilized in important and interesting ways given the unique learning situation in which we find ourselves.  

The following resources will provide some ideas for your use of support staff, but please see them as jumping off points for more specific plans that you can make to fit your particular learning situation and particular student needs. This is a challenging and yet exciting time in education; tapping into creativity and ingenuity will be vital and fun! 

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Below are some suggestions on potential roles for para-educators during remote or hybrid learning times:

  1. Use paraeducators/aides in the same manner that students are used to interacting with them. For example, if Drew is used to being supported by Cindy in the morning each day, have Cindy call or Zoom with Drew in the morning, even if it is just for ten minutes. They can talk, she can read him a story, ask him to say certain words, etc. This type of connection is important for students so they may feel that they have not lost the support people in their lives. Cindy could also continue with her fluency work by asking students to read orally to her over the phone or online through a video conferencing platform, such as ZoomShe could provide passages by taking photos of them or accessing ReadWorks, or other similar resourcesConsistency for the students is key!
  2. Use paraeducators/aides to support the general education teacher in making accommodations/modifications of assignments they are giving. Each paraeducator could be assigned a caseload of teachers or students to do this work for.
  3. Use paraeducators to modify classroom materials for upcoming units. Take this opportunity to work ahead on subject areas that we can anticipate will need to be modified for students. Paraeducators can log their hours while working from home on these projects.
  4. Use paraeducators/aides to connect with particular families each week. They could be assigned to call the family to ask how things are going, what the family needs, how long the work is taking, etc., and then report back to ESS. You could target “at risk” families even if they are not on the ESS caseload.
  5. Use paraeducators to hold Circle of Friends meetings or send out lessons on social skills and social emotional learning that students could do from home.
  6. Use paraeducators to video-conference oneonone with students to check in on their progress, answer questions and hold a virtual study hall in which the student completes work while the paraeducator is present via video. 
  7. Use support staff to remediate particular skill deficits, such as math facts, long division process, word families, etc. Support staff would spend a few minutes each day remediating a particular skill with a small group of Tier II students or one on one.
  8. Use support staff to make deliveries and pickups of school materials from student homes.
  9. Use support staff to “meet” with students outside of normal school hours in order to best support the family’s schedule. 

Eager to start planning the best ways to utilize your support staff, but don’t know where to start? Below are some questions and suggestions to guide your planning:


Questions 1: Which students will need academic or emotional support from staff either on or off campus 

  • Suggestion: Make a list of students who you anticipate will need supports and revise the list as additional student needs become evident..

Questions #2: What support staff do we currently have?

  • Suggestion: Make a list of all staff who did not have a full-time course teaching load. 

Questions #3: Which students already have a relationship with certain support staff members?  

  • Suggestion: If possible, match students with support staff they have worked with in the past or know well. 

Questions #4: Do we have enough support staff to meet the list of student support needs?  

  • Suggestion: if no, perhaps form a small groups of students based on grade, subject area, or skill focus. 
  • Suggestion: if no, prioritize hiring additional support staff.

Question #5: Which general education teachers need support due to the current living and working conditions? 

  • Make a list of teacher needs and match support staff. 

Question #6: How could support staff be utilized to ease some of the general education teacher’s responsibilities? 

  • Suggestion: Brainstorm a list of possibilities: creating videos or choice boards, tracking missing assignments, modifying lesson materials, meeting with small groups, etc. 

Question #7: Which support staff have the knowledge and skill set to fill the general education teacher’s support needs?  

  • Suggestion: Match support staff with general education staff; think flexibly and creatively. For example, consider allowing a general education teacher to teach a lesson from home while the support staff is with the students in the building. 

Check out the resources below, designed to strength your collaboration efforts in your classroom:

Webinar: Making It Work: Co-Teaching for Special Education in the Age of Distance Learning

You can access this webinar here. As you think about collaboration, consider listening with your support staff and/or recording notes. Schedule a time to meet virtually or in person to share ideas or questions that this presentation stirs up.  Consider using this chart to shape this conversation.  

Reflection: Models of Teaming 

Defined: Two or more people sharing responsibility for teaching some or all of the students assigned to a classroom (Some have called this a “professional marriage”). 

Benefits: a fun way for students to learn from two or more people who have different ways of thinking and teaching. It is a creative way to connect with and support others to help all children learn, a way to make schools more effective, it aids in increased energy, increased insights into students, greater variety of pedagogy, and increased teacher skill. 


Who: general education teachers, ESS teachers, paraeducators, content specialists and support therapists 

Where: shared classroom 


  • Supportive: one teacher takes the lead instructional role and the other either a)observes b) assists c) circulates d) reteaches e) questions for clarification 
  • Parallel: split the class and each teacher takes a group to work with either to a)teach same thing b) teach alternate thing c) preteach d) reteach  
  • Complementaryone teacher does something to enhance the instruction by the other teacher, such as model note taking, draw visual, build a display, etc. 
  • Team Teaching: both teachers deliver the same instruction at the same time with equal responsibility for planning, teaching and managing students i.e. one teacher interviews the other, they act out a scene together, they bounce back and forth with the delivery of content, etc. 

When: type of teaming depends on a)skills to be taught b) learning needs and skills of the students c) comfort and skill level of the two teachers in an approach 

Why: benefits student learning, increases student engagement and increases teacher satisfaction  

What can it look like? Is sitting in the back of the room still valuable? 

Example from Kimbra (Fall, 2018): “This year, I have a paraprofessional in my room about a half hour per day. I often provide a brief lesson plan outlining their role for the day, which may include working with a small group, assisting the whole class as needed, working one on one with a child, or working with the large class so that I can spend more concentrated time with one child or a smaller group. In the past, when I have had a paraprofessional in my room more frequently and for more extended periods of time, I had the flexibility to completely change the structure of our learning environment and utilize the skills of two teachers, as all of our paraprofessionals are highly equipped with degrees in education.” 

Example from Dan (Spring, 2019): “Jim and I team taught to the entire 8th grade by collectively presenting the information. We took turns, acted out parts while the other spoke, tapped out the telegraph while the other spoke and acted out scenes from history together.” 

Example from Dan (Spring, 2019): “One of us presents the material, but both of us circulate the room to support the students and confer with them during workshop time.” 

Example from Dan (Fall, 2019): “The parapro prompts students to take notes, find materials, track the notes, stay focused and write assignments down while I am teaching the content. If the para is sitting in the back of the room she is learning the content so that she can help the students study at a later time.”