Paraprofessionals and professional development: An approach based on principles of adult learning

Date of Completion

January 2009


Education, Administration|Education, Adult and Continuing




Increasingly paraprofessionals provide inclusive special education services to identified students in general education classrooms within public schools today. Often, however, professional development opportunities for paraprofessionals are limited in scope or are insufficient to match the paraprofessionals' expanded instructional roles. This qualitative, theory-building study explored the problem of enhancing the professional learning of paraprofessionals using principles of adult learning as a theoretical basis for examining the supervisory supports, social supports and other factors that were related to the professional learning of paraprofessionals. ^ Data were obtained from interviews with a sample of key participants—the principal, regular education teachers, special education teachers, and paraprofessionals—in an urban elementary school setting, as well as from observations and document review. Findings indicated that an operative process which promoted the learning of paraprofessionals occurred when individuals with certain attributes grappled with problems of practice within a climate of continuous learning that included support from supervisors and peers. The study results also indicated (a) that on-the-job, informal learning was the primary mode of professional development for the paraprofessionals, and (b) that the key experiences that enhanced paraprofessionals' learning best were mainly ill-defined, equivocal problems encountered in the school environment. Implications for practice are included that could improve professional learning opportunities for paraprofessionals in order to enhance their capabilities in the school setting. ^