10 Ways Teachers Can Partner with Paraprofessionals on Behalf of ELLs

Two teachers talking

Learn how classroom teachers, ELL specialists, and other educators can collaborate effectively with paraprofessionals on behalf of English language learners.

Paraprofessionals and education support personnel (ESPs) play a critical role in supporting English language learners (ELLs) in classrooms across the country. This support can have even more of an impact when it is part of a collaborative, positive partnership with classroom teachers and ELL specialists in their school community.

However, sometimes that support is overlooked, misunderstood, or underutilized. When other educators don’t take the time to get to know paraeducators' skills and strengths, they miss out on a valuable resource. Here are some ideas for educators who work with paraprofessionals to build partnerships on behalf of ELLs, compiled from the following veteran educators:

  • Joni Anderson, ELL Paraprofessional (AFT ELL Cadre Member)
  • Ingrid Miera, ELL Paraprofessional (AFT ELL Cadre Member)
  • Michelle Lawrence Biggar, ELL Educator

See more in the related article, 15 ELL Strategies for Paraprofessionals.

Creating Strong Partnerships

Partnering with ELL specialists

If you are new to working with ELLs, it's important to understand what ELL specialists do and how you can work together. Learn more in What is an ELL educator?

1. Build positive relationships from the beginning

Relationships are the foundation of collaboration. Get to know the paraprofessionals with whom you will be working by introducing yourself (ideally before instruction has started) and sharing a bit about yourself. You may also wish to talk a little bit about your experience with ELLs and why you enjoy working with ELLs. If this is your first time working with a paraprofessional, let them know you are new to this kind of collaboration and ask them what has worked well in other classrooms they have supported. In addition, look for ways to make sure the paraprofessional feels welcome in your classroom or work space.

2. Get to know paraprofessionals' strengths

Paraprofessionals bring important strengths to their work in the classroom and with ELLs. Examples of different types of strengths include the following:

  • Strong student and family relationships
  • Experience in providing targeted instructional support
  • Familiarity with how to differentiate and support different students
  • Behavior management skills
  • Advocacy skills
  • Language skills

3. Discuss what classroom support will look like

Talk about how paraprofessionals will be supporting students, and ensure all educators in the classroom have the opportunity to share prior arrangements that have worked well in the past. Questions might include:

  • Will the support be one-on-one, or in small groups?
  • Will paraprofessionals be walking around the room?
  • If paraprofessionals are bilingual, how and when will they be providing language support?
  • Are there meetings paraprofessionals needs to attend?

4. Invite paraprofessionals' input

Your paraprofessional is a resource, especially if they have worked with ELLs in the past. In fact, they may have more experience in this arena than their colleagues. Invite their suggestions and let them know that their input is welcome; they are likely to have valuable insights and ideas that they will share if they feel comfortable doing so.

5. Clarify how paraprofessionals will communicate with families

Another important aspect to clarify is whether paraprofessionals are expected to communicate with families/caregivers, especially if they are bilingual. Keep in mind that while paraprofessionals may speak multiple languages and may actively be in touch with families, they should not be relied upon for translation or interpretation if that is not part of their official job description and training.

If you find that others are calling upon paraprofessionals for interpretation and it's interrupting their work/student time, look for ways to curb that practice and establish boundaries that protect paraprofessionals' time.

Note: See more in this helpful chart about the difference between bilingual staff and interpreters. Also keep in mind that schools are legally required to provide families with information in their home languages. If you feel that appropriate language access is not being provided, bring your concern to an administrator.

Communication and Planning

6. Establish clear communication procedures

Establishing open and clear communication is crucial to any kind of partnership. Some things you might wish to discuss early with all educators in the classroom are:

  • How each person prefers to communicate, both in terms of communication style and tools (e-mail, meeting, messaging, etc.)
  • Systems for regular, ongoing communication
  • How and when to share feedback and suggestions
  • How to handle last-minute changes or adjustments

Also keep in mind that paraprofessionals may have other roles and responsibilities; respect those commitments and work together to find solutions to any scheduling challenges.

7. Include paraprofessionals in planning, collaboration, and meetings

Where possible, it is beneficial to include paraprofessionals in lesson planning. This provides a better chance for alignment in instruction and support. If it's not possible to meet together, you can collaborate by sharing lesson plans and materials during their approved contractual hours.

  • Consider scheduling a regular meeting time to look together at lesson plans, standards, and language objectives.
  • Discuss what is working or not with individual students/groups. 
  • Keep in mind that paraprofessionals who are supporting special education students should be included in student meetings and conversations with families; they are likely to have valuable insights and may be in contact with the families.
  • Consider whether paraprofessionals' schedules and/or contracts can allow for them to grade-level, department, or team meetings. If you need to make a case for this kind of participation, collaborate with paraprofessionals to gather data and examples of how their participation can support students.


Advocacy and Professional Growth

8. Attend professional development and training as teams

Paraprofessionals will benefit from ELL professional development. When possible, ensure that they are included in school-wide training (including paid training) so that everyone is on the same page. Paraprofessionals, classroom teachers, administrators, and ELL specialists can all play a role in advocating for those opportunities. Paraprofessionals can also benefit from attending district, state, or national conferences as well.

In addition, keep in mind that paraprofessionals who work frequently with ELLs may also be in a position to lead training for colleagues, which can spotlight their expertise and offer leadership opportunities.

Note: If advocacy around this issue is needed, paraprofessionals can share detailed examples of how ongoing professional development has helped them strengthen their practice and the difference it has made in their work with ELLs, as well as resources that have helped them in their work.

9. Lift up paraprofessionals' strengths

Paraprofessionals are a critical part of school communities. Lift up their contributions through the following:

  • Show your appreciation on a regular basis.
  • Share paraprofessionals' strengths with others.
  • Share examples of success from the classroom or from your collaboration.
  • Ensure that paraprofessionals are included in key meetings and decisions.
  • Ensure that paraprofessionals are treated with respect and fairness in different settings.

10. Advocate and promote a culture of respect within your school community

All educators and staff members have a part to play in creating a culture of respect within a school community. Keep in mind that respect is part of feeling engaged, valued, and supported within a working environment. To help foster that culture:

  • Commit to treating all of your colleagues with respect, even in moments of disagreement.
  • Talk with paraprofessionals about how they feel within the community.
  • Ensure that other colleagues feel welcome in your workspace.
  • Bring any issues or troubling trends to the attention of administrators to ensure they get the attention they deserve.


Video: How I provided tech support to multilingual families during COVID-19

Carla Fernandes, a multilingual paraprofessional in Brockton Public Schools (MA), speaks Cape Verdean Creole and Portuguese. In this interview clip, she describes how she helped families navigate new technology during COVID-19 and how the word spread that she could provide important support.

Video: Engaging the Whole School Staff in Trauma-Informed Practice

Every person who works in a school makes an impact on a child’s life. Ricky Robertson explores why a whole-school approach is needed to address the impact of adverse childhood experiences and trauma. He also discusses the valuable roles that Education Support Professionals (e.g., paraeducators, transportation staff, etc.) and Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (e.g., school counselors, nurses, etc.) play in creating supportive learning communities. In this episode, Mr. Robertson highlights ways that all faculty and staff can make sure that every student is known by name and by need.  


You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Colorín Colorado and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact [email protected].

More by this author

Donate to Colorin Colorado

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.