Practice, Culture, and Policy: A Mixed-Methods Approach to Exploring Paraprofessional Relationships and Roles in U.S. Public Education

Brown, Tiara, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Stanton-Chapman, Tina, Associate Director and Associate Professor, University of Cincinnati

This three-manuscript dissertation examines paraprofessional relationships through three separate paths: (1) extant research, (2) data collected from a rural preschool and across local school agencies, and (3) data collected from multi-site preschools in order to expand on study two. In the first manuscript, A Systematic Review of Paraprofessional Relationships in U.S. Classrooms: Implications for Future Practice and Cultural Considerations, I review existing research on paraprofessional relationships to explore the ways in which these associations side with, and differ from, the IDEA expectation of paraprofessionals as cultural bridges from the classroom to the community (Lewis, 2004). Specifically, I examine the ways in which qualitative and quantitative measures have been used in research over the last 17 years to define and explore the intricacies of paraprofessional relationships within American public education. This analysis reveals 28 studies with interesting findings about the different views of paraprofessionals, teachers, and families and also shows how culture may impact these interpretations. Specifically, I show how paraprofessionals align themselves with three key relationships: (1) relationships between paraprofessionals and students (2) relationships between paraprofessionals and teachers, and (3) relationships between paraprofessionals and families or the community.
The second manuscript, Experiences of Paraprofessionals in U.S. Preschool Special Education and General Education Classrooms, contains data I collected during five months at a preschool in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The mixed methods study used qualitative interviews and observations, as well as quantitative survey analysis to examine factors impacting paraprofessional experiences. The goal was to directly understand these relationships through the eyes of the paraprofessionals and teachers while empirically understanding the factors that influence this relationship and determine job satisfaction. This initial study was used as a seminal piece, and starting point, to understand these relationships and served as the foundation for the third study, in manuscript three.
Finally, manuscript three represents a study which builds off of the results of manuscript two to include a larger sample size, multiple perspectives, and adds an in-depth case study approach. In A Case Study of Compounding Views of Paraprofessional Roles and Relationships in Preschool Classrooms: Implications for Practice and Policy, I extend the previous study in manuscript two (Brown & Stanton-Chapman, 2014) by exploring the dynamics between teachers and paraprofessionals in preschool classrooms. Specifically, I examine the relationship between eight paraprofessionals’ perspectives of job responsibilities and satisfaction in comparison to their assigned eight teachers’ perspectives of these same ideas. Data collection includes semi-structured interviews of the 16 participants as well as classroom observations and document collection. Four key themes emerged from data collection: responsibilities are often influenced by the level of teacher and paraprofessional motivation; paraprofessionals often assimilate to match the lead teacher’s demeanor and perspectives; teachers and paraprofessionals view recognition and appreciation very differently; and the majority of classroom outcomes are primarily influenced by structured school policies. Considering these findings, implications for practice and directions for future research are discussed.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
paraprofessional, early childhood, practice, culture, policy
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