Allowing Paraeducators to Safely Work with Students
by Annette Satterly, Risk Management Associate
School Districts are full of unsung heroes, and certainly, our paraeducators are among those in our midst whose important work often goes unnoticed or underappreciated. To be sure, these individuals deserve credit for all that they do on a daily basis; and to demonstrate our appreciation for this vital role that they play in the lives of our staff and students, I enjoin you to honor them, in part, by helping to attend to their safety needs.
Paraeducators conduct many tasks throughout the day, but one of the most important entails working closely with our special needs students. Though undeniably rewarding, this constant and sustained attention to these students can put these professionals at risk. Over the last three school years, for instance, there were approximately 1,200 claims from paraeducators injured by their students; and these injuries commonly stemmed from being hit/punched, kicked, head-butted, bitten, slapped, scratched, pinched, and having their hair/jewelry pulled.
With the above in mind, instructing para-educators to consider the following guidelines and related precautionary steps when thinking of their own safety and that of their students will help to reduce the type and number of injuries:
- Know your student.
- Awareness of the disability is essential to prevent possible injuries.
- If the student has been abused, s/he will not likely respond well to being held or touched in any way.
- When correcting a student, try not to wave a finger in his or her face.
- Remember that weekends and holidays might be a time of rest and relaxation for you, but they may not be for all your students.
- Know your surroundings.
- Some students when struggling will view anything in reach as a weapon, such as chairs, desk, pens, etc.
- Observe a student’s personal space; many special needs students require a larger boundary. Shadowing does not mean hovering.
- Realize that a staff member may be injured anywhere. Without question, no area of the school, bus or playground is off limits from an injury; and, as is commonly understood about these working situations, the most predictable thing about a student’s behavior is its unpredictability.
- If you encounter bodily fluids, follow proper protocol and report the incident to your supervisor.
- Know how to prepare and respond to a variety of possible problems.
- Statistics show that more injuries from students stem from everyday situations than from restraining an upset student.
- However, if a student does need to be restrained, please remember that his or her head can still be used as a weapon in the form of a head-butt. Also, usually their feet are not restrained, and thus they can still kick you.
- If a student does have a “meltdown,” it is safer to move the other students in the class to another location, rather than move the one struggling student. This arrangement protects the student’s dignity by removing an uncomfortable and unconstructive audience.
- Try to stand with your feet in an “L” position with your dominant foot forward. This will allow better movement for a student to pass by you or to deflect/defend movements if necessary.
Finally, thoughtfully and proactively consider what you wear to work when knowing you will likely be confronted with the above scenarios and challenges. Long sleeves, for instance, can help lessen the severity of bites, just as tying up long hair can likewise help you avoid injuries. Further, jewelry – especially hoop earrings – should be avoided, as should other eye-catching or loose clothing that can easily be grabbed.
The MSGIA offers these excellent online training programs for paraeducators’ safety on our Safe Schools platform found on the MSGIA main website under safety resources.
- Playground Supervision: This course provides an overview of the fundamentals of playground supervision. In so doing, it reviews playground supervisor responsibilities, important procedures and policies, common playground hazards, and effective methods for protecting children from such hazards.
- De-Escalation Strategies: This course educates school staff on the use of de-escalation strategies in properly managing student behavior. Topics covered include the Conflict Cycle and preventative measures, the development of meaningful relationships, the common ways to recognize signs of escalation, and the most effective de-escalation tips.
- Special Education – Lifts and Transfers: This course helps school staff members who assist students with special needs to avoid common injuries that occur during lifting and transferring students. Topics covered include injuries and prevention, types of equipment, and proper lift and transfer techniques.
- Special Education – Safety in the Classroom: In this course designed to prevent staff injuries, you will learn to become more aware of the dangers associated with students and classrooms. Topics covered include everyday safety, communication skills, and avoiding classroom injuries.
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder: Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) are easily angered and/or irritated; they thus frequently defy authority figures and disobey rules and are purposely disruptive and annoying to others. Not only does their behavior pose a significant challenge for teachers and other school professionals, but it also affects their own educational experience as well as that of the students around them. Against this backdrop, this course will assist school staff members in better understanding Oppositional Defiant Disorder by examining its symptoms and risk factors and by providing insight into effective approaches to working with children with ODD.
- Paraeducators – Behavioral Management Basics: Many paraeducators support certified and licensed school staff as they help students learn the behavior skills necessary for success in educational environments and beyond. In this course, we will examine the role of the paraeducator, common factors related to challenging student behavior and the basics of behavior management.
- Paraeducators – Roles and Responsibilities: Under the supervision of teachers and other school staff members, paraeducators are asked to perform a wide variety of tasks, including preparing learning materials, assisting individuals or small groups of students and providing individual support to children with special needs. In this course, we will define the important role of the paraeducator, discuss the need for teacher and paraeducator teamwork, and highlight best practices related to commonly-assigned paraeducator tasks.
If you have not already taken advantage of Safe Schools and would like to, please contact me or Harry Cheff, and we will gladly assist you. You may reach Harry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-457-5315. You may reach me at email@example.com or 406-457-4410. Return to newsletter