Paraprofessionals play a central role in educating students with disabilities. Working under the guidance of a certified teacher, these individuals ensure that students receive appropriate special education services and supports that enable them to meet their individual goals. The importance of paraprofessionals is widely recognized in the special education literature. Issues related to roles, responsibilities, collaboration, and training have been explored in an effort to improve the quality of special education services students receive (see Doyle, 2008; French, 1998; Giangreco, Edelman, Broer, & Doyle, 2001). In addition, minimum employment qualifications have emerged for paraprofessional staff. Federal law now requires all paraprofessionals to have completed two years of study at an institution of higher education, an associate degree, and demonstrate knowledge and ability to assist with reading, writing, and math (No Child Left Behind Act, 2001).
The development of a highly qualified paraprofessional workforce is essential to ensuring that students with disabilities receive an appropriate education. It is with this belief in mind, that Causton-Theoharis wrote The Paraprofessional's Handbook for Effective Support in Inclusive Classrooms. This text is unique in that it is written specifically for paraprofessionals. Topics addressed include special education; inclusive education, collaboration, and teaming; and paraprofessionals' roles and responsibilities in providing social, behavioral, and academic supports. Each chapter is designed to emphasize core content on a topic that is relevant to the work of a paraprofessional. The amount of information presented about each topic is substantial, yet not so in-depth as to become overwhelming to a novice paraprofessional in his or her first year on the job. Experienced paraprofessionals will likely find the content equally useful in reinforcing their knowledge of special education and gaining ideas about how to become more effective in their role with students with disabilities.
An important component of this text is its emphasis on inclusive education. The history and rationale for inclusion are introduced, and numerous examples are provided to illustrate how paraprofessionals can successfully support students in general education classrooms. As the field moves increasingly towards educating students who have disabilities with same-age peers without disabilities, it is only fitting that a new text should reflect this trend. In fact, many of the skills required of paraprofessionals who work in general education classrooms are much broader than those historically required in separate special education classrooms. The focus of this text on inclusive classrooms moves the field forward by articulating the advanced techniques needed by today's paraprofessionals.
In addition to emphasizing the principles of inclusion, the author presents a strong and compelling rationale for several other concepts that form the foundation for effective special education. Perhaps most evident is the value placed on collaboration. With the author weaving positive and diverse examples of collaboration throughout the text, paraprofessionals cannot help but recognize the valuable role they play as a member of the educational team. These examples reinforce the importance of working directly with students in addition to coordinating activities with a range of other professionals. Because of the strong emphasis on collaboration in each chapter, paraprofessionals will realize that inclusion is not simply a term used to describe the education of students with and without disabilities together; it is also a term that conveys the value a school places on ensuring that all members of the school (faculty, staff, students) belong and are respected for their contributions.
The format of the text makes it particularly easy to read. The combination of text, figures, tables, lists, and real-life examples provides sufficient variety to maintain reader interest. As I read this text, I could not help but reflect on my own experiences working with paraprofessionals. These reflections were triggered by the author's style of writing. She frequently describes her experiences as a former special education teacher (including some mistakes!) and stimulates readers to think about their own personal and professional experiences. These connections reinforce the need for all educators to take time for reflection and continuous learning.
No text is sufficiently broad to cover all aspects related to a particular subject area. This text, like others, is not without some limitations. Although the emphasis on teaching in inclusive settings is admirable, many paraprofessionals continue to work in a variety of other educational settings, including resource rooms, self-contained classrooms, community-based settings, and vocational sites. These individuals make an important contribution to supporting students with disabilities, but their role is not discussed. Second, the text provides only a hint about the role of paraprofessionals in supporting students with severe multiple disabilities, who may be pursuing curriculum goals that extend beyond the general curriculum. Paraprofessional involvement in teaching life skills and supporting students with complex health care needs is missing. Finally, the language used within the text is characteristic of instruction at the elementary school level, and most examples focus on this population. Differences in the roles of paraprofessionals across grade levels are not adequately explored. Narrowing the focus to inclusive classrooms, the general curriculum, and elementary schools may limit the extent to which paraprofessionals who serve in other capacities identify with the text, although the content presented is clearly applicable to other educational contexts.
Despite these limitations, would I recommend this text? Absolutely. Newly hired staff may find the content useful in learning more about their roles and responsibilities prior to the first day of employment. The text could also be used as part of a book club or professional development series that occurs in conjunction with other professionals and support staff. This would allow discussion of concepts covered in the text and exploration of their relationship to specific students and educational settings. As I read this book, I also contemplated its value for preservice teachers. These individuals are easily intimidated by the thought of assuming their first job and supervising individuals who are frequently twice their age. This text could promote reflection on the teacher's role in collaborating with paraprofessionals as well as generate discussion about how to create a collaborative working relationship where paraprofessionals feel valued and respected.