Authentic Relationships and All Means All: Observations from a Paraeducator
There are so many things I genuinely love about my job as a paraeducator in an inclusive school:
- working with exceptional students —with and without disabilities
- working with talented teachers — both generalists and specialists
- working with involved families — especially those from diverse backgrounds
But as the holidays approach, I'm taking a step back and observing what I am thankful for.
During our school’s harvest celebration, one fact stood out to me among all of the academic expectations, behavior protocol, and daily schedules. Our school is truly embracing All means All. One way this fact is evident is through the observation of non-structured peer interactions. As the class prepared for their celebration, I observed, listened, and took mental notes of the interactions that demonstrate friendships among students with and without disabilities and how these interactions embrace All means All. All of the students in the room were fourth graders and they all were interacting as fourth graders do: laughter, giggles, comparing outfits, making crafts. “It’s working,” I thought.
Guiding authentic peer relationships is an essential ingredient to All means All.
As paraeducators, we have an important role facilitating and showing, by example, ways for students to form genuine friendships. Stepping back and listening for statements among students such as “first…then,” “I’m proud of you,” “Can I trust you?” “When you…I feel…” reinforce our knowledge that classmates are developing authentic relationships.
Working with students and teaching and modeling for them how to communicate so that all students feel included and valued is such a bonus to being a paraeducator. As a paraeducator, I believe our goals are to:
- Teach with kindness and respect for all students. The rest of the students are observing and learning from us throughout the day.
- Give all classmates the tools and strategies that you use and are familiar with to encourage authentic and respectful relationships among all students. A paraeducator is a facilitator toward success.
During a recent class party, I introduced myself to a parent, whose child has formed a true relationship with a student who requires more intensive supports, and we had a brief conversation. I mentioned that I like to watch her daughter interact with this student because it comes from an authentic, genuine, and kind heart. With that in mind, I also shared with Mom that in the beginning of the year, I had spoken to her daughter and other friends and classmates reminding them that 'their classmate is not a baby. She is nine years old and in fourth grade just like you. She is excited to have friends and have friendships just like yours and probably shares many common interests once you get to know each other.’ Mom's response was an excited, “That's exactly what she said to me at home. I was wondering where she had this insight.”
Being a facilitator for all students in an inclusive classroom trickles outward beyond the classroom to home and social environments. It's wonderful to see inclusion working within the classroom and school, during related services, and during lunch and recess; but isn’t one of our goals to give confidence to all students so that they can bring this knowledge into the world outside of school and carry the knowledge and insight through to their teenage and adult lives? Our students today will be the future teachers, parents, policymakers, and doctors in our society. By embracing All means All within our schools, we can almost guarantee for the future a more respectful and welcoming world!
For this, I am truly thankful for the genuine, authentic, kind, and real relationships that I watch grow during the school day among ALL students.
- Janet Gnall