Ideas for educational support professional support during distance learning

In its March 24 update, the Minnesota Department of Education provided examples of the kinds of roles education support professionals can take during a distance learning model.

In addition to assisting with staffing your school-age care program for emergency workers and assisting in the delivery/distribution of meals to students, there are many ways to incorporate ESPs into your distance learning planning and programming. 

  • Organize student work to send home. 
  • Develop sensory activities that can be done at home. 
  • Plan movement activities that can be done at home for a break. Create videos to demonstrate. 
  • Compile a list of online resources that can be sent home to parents in categories to supplement activities (music, reading, movement) for parents needing additional supports. 
  • Write specific directions for the art projects (aligned with standards) developed by the teacher. Create a finished product and take a picture. 
  • Assist with uploading documents to online platform, if using one. 
  • Read and record books that will be utilized for courses. 
  • Read aloud and record any other content that will be used by teachers (tests, worksheets). 
  • Find a daily inspiration, quote or video to include in correspondence. 
  • Work with mental health team to provide extra supports and outreach to high-need students. 
  • Pick a functional skill and teach it. Create instructions (a written version and a picture version) so that teachers can use that to incorporate into other lessons. Record completing that functional skill. 
  • Create fun activity packets that support the learning standards (word searches, crossword puzzles, math sheets). 
  • Create mystery reader videos or general story time videos. 
  • Write notes to be sent home to students so they remember we care and are thinking of them. 
  • Schedule online meet and greets for check-ins and support learning if there are questions. 
  • Spend time learning the technology your school staff is using, help others learn as needed. 
  • Find supports for students to use technology or help with any technology issues.

We have heard several additional ideas from around the state:

ESPs should be consulted regarding their ideas for student learning (especially for students with special needs).  They often know more about student communication styles and student home life than other staff.  

This is a great time to allow ESPs to engage in professional development that rarely fits into the school year. Here are some suggestions:

  • AFT – Share My Lesson (must be a union member) (these could provide ideas for filming “demonstrations” as described above)
    • Paraprofessionals and School Related Personnel: 59 Lessons and 3 Collections
    • Special Education Fundamentals Resources and PD: 46 Lessons and 3 Collections
  • Starr Commonwealth – Free online course on Trauma Informed Resilient Schools- Use the code TRAUMAINFORMED for the free course
  • Coalition for Community Schools – monthly webinars 
  • Pacer Center – – Online streaming and workshops
  • Minnesota State Voluntary Credential - If you would like to work on getting your state credential here are the links to information grids for the requirements for the portfolio. The district could offer practice tests and tutorials to help people earn this credential.

ESPs who typically support students with IEPs can continue to do so in a distance learning environment. They can host a “resource room” accessible online, or staff a “homework help” phone line for students to access when they need assistance.  

These staff can also continue to collaborate on modifying materials/assignments.  

ESPs could also make phone calls, send emails or do video conferencing to check in on families to see how distance learning is going and to see if there are any additional resources needed. Using staff who have existing relationships with families can be especially critical to the success of the distance learning plan.  

ESPs can make phone calls to check in on students who are not turning in assignments or not joining in on the online classes.  

ESPs can participate in the classes so they can be available after class for questions.  

In one district, ESPs are even assisting in calling prospective Birth-5 families to see if they need any resources during this time, and making similar calls to senior citizens in the community and recording data on a spreadsheet for follow up.

ESPs can also help with technology distribution and support.  

In addition, ESPs can certainly assist in organizing, compiling and distributing needed supplies for students: paper, pencils, packets and other school supplies. 

*Some of these ideas will require technology, with perhaps some reimbursement if private equipment is used voluntarily (phones/minutes). Other ideas may require training, but they can all be worked out when everyone is working together to best provide for students’ distance education.