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Elevating Paraprofessionals in Woonsocket Schools

Jaretta Konneh

Jul 18, 2023

NE Basecamp partners with the Woonsocket Education Department to create specialized professional learning series for paraprofessionals, addressing the lack of adequate training opportunities. Through engaging sessions covering mission-focused learning, effective communication, collaboration, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), paraprofessionals enhance their skills and support student success in the classroom.

Paraprofessionals are an essential part of the school community, working directly with students under the supervision of classroom teachers, special educators, or administrators. Despite their critical role in the classroom, research has shown that training opportunities for paraprofessionals often do not meet their needs (Ren et al., 2018). Dr. Angela Holt, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Woonsocket Education Department (WED), reached out to NE Basecamp (NEB) in Fall 2021 to create professional learning sessions for paraprofessionals who often do not receive adequate training beyond their first year. Given Woonsocket’s successful partnership with NE Basecamp (NEB) creating support for newly hired educators, they reached out to NEB for help. 

To address this gap, Hannah Goodwin-Brown (NEB Director of Systems and Programs) and WED brainstormed topics based on district priorities and what they felt would be relevant to paraprofessionals. They came up with three topics, each serving as a separate professional learning series:

Series 1: Bringing Woonsocket’s “Three Questions” To Life

In this series, participants explored Woonsocket Education Department's Mission Statement and how it applies to students and educators. They also learned how to support students in using the 3+ Questions – "What are we learning?", "Why are we learning it?", and "How can we demonstrate our learning?" – to accomplish these expectations.

Series 2: Communication and Collaboration

In this series, participants discussed and described the roles of teachers and paraprofessionals in the classroom, analyzed difficult classroom situations and brainstormed outcomes, and examined characteristics of healthy relationships between instructional partners and assessed their current partnerships.

Series 3: Introduction to Universal Design for Learning

In this series, participants were given an  introduction to Universal Design for Learning (UDL)and evaluated lessons through the lens of UDL, a research-based framework that guides educators and others as they provide rich instructional support, reduce unnecessary barriers to learning, and improve outcomes for all learners. 

Each series is designed to provide professional learning for up to 15 paraprofessional educators with the guidance of 1 NEB Coach. The series consists of four 90-minute professional learning sessions, which are supplemented by three on-site application experiences. These application experiences may include class visits, 1:1 support conversations, and co-teaching experiences. The series is typically completed over the course of 4-6 weeks, with participants cycling through each of the components.

Paraprofessionals have expressed their appreciation for the professional learning sessions, highlighting the value of "collaboration with other colleagues" (Laurie Withee, WED Paraprofessional). Pauline Cournoyer, another WED paraprofessional, enjoyed seeing examples of  a teacher who implemented UDL in his classroom, and how he observed positive outcomes such as increased engagement and problem-solving among students. NEB regularly surveys the educators they work with, and the feedback from the Woonsocket School District has been overwhelmingly positive, with between 92% and 100% of participants responding favorably to their time with NEB.

During classroom visits, Nicole Grant, an NEB professional learning specialist, meets with paraprofessionals to see how they are implementing the content they’ve explored during their sessions. Mike Davis at Pothier Elementary incorporates the 3+ Questions in his daily morning routine with the students. When asked about NEB he states: “The professional development offered through NEB has always been extremely beneficial and relevant to my profession as a paraprofessional. Nicole Grant is nothing short but a Rockstar!”

The role of a paraprofessional is a valuable addition to any classroom. Ensuring there are frequent and appropriate opportunities for professional development reinforces the value and importance a paraprofessional brings to the classroom and learning environment of their students, as well as their colleagues. NE Basecamp has done just this with establishing the Paraprofessional Applied Learning Series through their partnership with WED.

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