MCLA’s Education Department Launches Professional Development Project for Paraeducators

October 28, 2022

For the annual county-wide professional development day this November, the MCLA Education Department will present a new series curated for paraprofessional educators in Berkshire County.  

The Professional Development for Paraprofessionals Project will seek to grow and strengthen the corps of educational professionals in Berkshire County through in-person and online training opportunities and through collaborative activities centered on the care of self, colleagues, students, and families as whole persons and as vital members of the pre-kindergarten through high school learning community.  

This project is spearheaded by Dr. Sharon Head, a faculty member in MCLA's Education Department, and Michelle Colvin, MS Ed.A, Director of Field Education and CAP Manager. During the November 8 county-wide professional development day, Colvin and Dr. Head will deliver a presentation for the 2022-2023 program participants. It’s sponsored by MCLA and is inclusive of 10 local schools and districts.  

The county-wide PD Day is sponsored by BERK-12 and consists of 54 workshops that occur in-person and online with something for every type of educator. 

"The intention of the PD Project is to make space for paras to be heard," said Dr. Head. "We wanted to create a dedicated space for paraprofessionals in this county-wide PD Day." 

The session will address the following objectives: 

1. Understand the importance of communication and identify specific strategies and tools to use for increasing effective communication and collaboration with team members.  

2. Understand and provide examples of individualized accommodations and modifications.  

3. Identify content-specific strategies that will benefit a particular student.  

4. Define natural supports and identify at least 10 natural support strategies to use with students. 5. Analyze student misbehavior as communication.  

6. Create potential supports to meet the student's communicated needs. 

Currently, 10 districts and 341 paraeducators are participating in the year-long course. The series is a combination of synchronous and asynchronous work spread over the course of the 2022-2023 school year. The online course consists of six modules with approximately 12-18 hours of content and learning activities. 

"This emerged as a critical need that the field brought to our attention,” Colvin said. "We kept hearing that the role of paras had changed so much and that, as a result, they required additional training. Districts across the county have been enthusiastic about this project." 

Colvin and Dr. Head strived to develop this project as a service of the Education Department at MCLA. The long-term intention is to hand off the online PD course for districts to use on their own systems and to "adapt it in support of the needs of their schools and districts," Colvin said. The only cost to districts is the textbook that is used in the course. Dr. Head received some grant money to cover some of the cost of swag bags that each participant will receive. The bags will contain materials that paraprofessionals will use during the PD session on Nov. 8 and throughout the year-long series.  

“We’re just at the beginning here. This really is a pilot year with the modules and the training,” Dr. Head said. “The ultimate goal is that this is self-perpetuating.” 

This past summer, a small group of experienced paraeducators reviewed modules in development and suggested edits. Colvin said that was a crucial part of creating the series of modules and a great collaborative opportunity. 

“The PD Day is a really wonderful opportunity to get your training needs met as an educator in Berkshire County,” Dr. Head said. 

“It feels really good when you know you have tapped into a critical need and you’re providing a level of service to those districts that make it feel like a partnership,” Colvin said. 

Learn more about the Nov. 8 Professional Development Day at

About MCLA  
At MCLA, we’re here for all — and focused on each — of our students. Classes are taught by educators who care deeply about teaching, and about seeing their students thrive on every level of their lives. In nearly every way possible, the experience at MCLA is designed to elevate our students as individuals, leaders, and communicators, fully empowered to make their impressions on the world. In addition to our 128-year commitment to public education, we have fortified our commitment to equitable academic excellence. For 10 of the last 12 years, MCLA has been named a Top Ten College by U.S. News and World Report. MCLA also appears on the organization’s list of top National Public Liberal Arts Colleges. Since the list was created, MCLA has risen to #33 as a Top Performer on Social Mobility and ranks first among all Massachusetts liberal arts schools, which measures how well schools graduate students who receive Federal Pell Grants. Learn more at