Education Support Professionals – the True MVPs in Bully Prevention

by Suzie Gannett (CEA-Retired member)

Recently, I had the honor to present to 400 Utah-ESP on Bully Prevention. These people truly are the eyes and ears of the school when it comes to bullying. Unfortunately, they are considered the Rodney Dangerfields of the school, “They Don’t Get No Respect”. It is clear from the 2010 NEA nationwide survey of education support professionals on bullying; we need to change this perception if we ever hope to win the war on bullying. Even though ESPs have played a crucial role in preventing school shootings, student suicides, and are on the front lines when it comes to witnessing bullying, they continue to play a minor role in whole school bully prevention. We need to change this NOW!

I believe we can accomplish this by:

First-Understand the Vital Role ESPs Play In Schools:

  • They deal with more bullying reports than other school staff, especially bus drivers
  • They primarily work in Prime Bullying Locations, that are mostly unstructured
  • They are usually first point of contact for students/parents, hence a valuable resource to extend home–school communication
  • Students tend to trust ESPs more and thus form better relationships with them
  • They are more likely than teachers to come from the same communities hence students tend to feel more connected to them
  • Students subjected to bullying reported feeling safer when paraprofessionals were nearby versus other school staff
  • ESPs primarily work with students that are more vulnerable to bullies ( LD; LGBTQ; Sped.)

Second-We Need to Address ESPs Specific Needs: 

  • Training materials that specifically address the different training needs and bullying-related experiences of ESPs
  • ESPs need additional training on Cyberbullying; LGBTQ students; Body Image Bullying
  • Need to be given more of a central role in prevention/intervention with bullying behaviors
  • ESPs need to be co-learners and co-leaders in an effective whole school bully prevention curriculum
  • ESPs perceived personal experiences with victimization- Their perceptions as lower status employees relative to teachers, because of their job position and salaries. Therefore, it may influence their willingness to intervene in bullying instances or prevention
  • ESPs Professional development trainings need to focus on school-wide prevention and intervention, instead of typical job specific trainings

Please join me in spreading the word on the ever increasing, valuable role ESPs play in our schools to keep all kids safe.

  • Share this blog with your colleagues
  • Make sure ESPs are actively involved in school wide programs & policies
  • Form a united school with administers, educators, ESPs and parents, working side-by-side
  • Get more information on NEA-Edcommunities Bully Prevention resources, Bully Free & ESP groups, and more at

Suzie GannettSuzie Gannett is a facilitator for the NEA- Bully Free Group on the NEA-Edcommunities website. She is a 32 year veteran educator from Fort Collins, with seven years in the classroom and 25 as a counselor. But it is her first-hand experiences with young people struggling with mental health issues that have prepared her the most to lead this group. From dealing with bullying issues as a teenager to seeing too many of her own students struggling with these same issues thru out the years, Suzie wants to ensure every young person’s voice is heard and never silenced.


  1. Bradshaw C, Figiel K. Prevention and intervention for workplace bullying in schools. National Education Association; Washington, DC: 2012
  2. Bradshaw CP, Waasdorp TE, O’Brennan L. NEA members’ knowledge and experience with bullying questionnaire. Survey instrument prepared for the National Education Association; Washington, DC.: 2010.
  3. Bradshaw CP, Waasdorp TE, O’Brennan L, Gulemetova M. Findings from the National Education Association’s nationwide study of bullying: Teachers’ and staff members’ perspectives on bullying and prevention. Report prepared for the National Education Association; Washington, DC.: 2011.

Evaluating beyond teachers: CEA leads counselor evaluation training in Durango

School counselors are vital members of the education team. They help all students with academic achievement, personal/social growth and career development, ensuring today’s students become productive, well-adjusted adults of tomorrow. However, not all school counselors in Colorado have had a direct connection with their districts in navigating the state’s new educator effectiveness evaluation system.

The new evaluation system went into effect for all teachers and principals in the 2014-15 school year, so the first focus of districts was to prepare teachers and administrators for the change. This left a training gap for school counselors and other Specialized Service Professionals (SSP) to understand and thrive in the new evaluation environment. The Colorado Education Association advocates for all categories of licensed personnel, so it teamed up with Durango School District 9-R to deliver critical training for school counselors in the surrounding region, offering a training program that can be replicated in other districts.

Amie in DurangoCEA and the district hosted training for area counselors, Dec. 9, in conjunction with the Durango Education Association, the Colorado Department of Education, and San Juan BOCES. The all-day session, called Operationalizing Professional Practices for Counselors, was designed to help school counselors and their evaluators understand what to look for during observations that greatly inform an evaluation. The goals of the training were to:

  • understand the SSP state model system;
  • develop “look-fors” to help evaluators provide a fair, credible, and rigorous evaluation based on professional growth; and
  • understand the process for developing and using measures of student outcomes.

To fully understand the importance of understanding professional practices, the groups divided by grade level to identify specific practices for evaluators. Using the evaluation rubrics, the evaluators defined the “look-fors” during professional practice observations.

“This training helped me get a better view of a clear path around evaluation and my role as a counselor. Counselors need time together to understand the standards, curriculum and connections to our professional practice in the rubrics,” said Durango EA member Sallie Kautter, a counselor at Needham Elementary.

Linda Barker, CEA’s Director of Teaching and Learning, Dr. Jean Williams and Courtney Cabrera from CDE led the participants through several activities to understand the Colorado State Model Educator Evaluation System and highlighted the differences between the evaluation process for counselors vs. teachers.

CEA Vice President Amie Baca-Oehlert, herself a high school counselor and member of the State Council on Educator Effectiveness, explained how the counselor rubric was developed. “The counselor rubric is one of nine Specialized Service Professionals rubrics developed by the Council in collaboration with practitioner work groups. Our work involved connecting the practices of the rubrics with the real roles and responsibilities of each category of SSP.

“The rubric was designed not only to be a component of the evaluation of school counselors, but also to be used as a tool to elevate the profession,” she added.

Linda in DurangoCEA will post the counselors “look-fors” from the Durango session on its website once finalized from all the groups’ work.

“This training gave us an opportunity to network with counselors from the surrounding districts to learn about the tools we can use to improve our practice,” said Susie Robertson, a counselor at Sunnyside Elementary and Durango EA member. “It was great hearing from counselors from other districts and how our roles are different based on our school environments.”

CEA has the quality standards for SSP on its website and, in partnership with Cherry Creek EA, has created examples of artifacts that may be used as evidence by members to support their practice in evaluations. SSP are encouraged to download and reference the documents to know the standards and demonstrate mastery of and pedagogical expertise in their content area.

Pueblo educators celebrate with community

Pueblo and Pueblo County Education Associations hosted a community event, bringing out nearly 400 supporters of public education to Pueblo Union Depot, Oct. 20. The second annual ‘We Are Education’ celebration featured live music, prizes and lots of famous Pueblo green chili – all free for the community from the members of the PEA and PCEA.

Pueblo8“I am proud of you – all of you who are a part of the community of education,” PCEA President Roxy Pignanelli told the crowd. “It is very important that we remember to remind people of what we do in this community, the economic force we represent, and our many success stories.”

“We are education, and we need to honor the work we do together and the many students we support in Pueblo,” added PEA President Suzanne Ethredge.

Pueblo5As many children decorated pumpkins and stood in line for face painting, the force of Pueblo’s educational leadership addressed the audience. Dr. Lesley DiMare, president of Colorado State University – Pueblo, said her former job as a junior high school teacher taught her the importance of supporting education at all levels.

“We don’t separate K-12 from the university – it’s K-20. We collaborate together and we concur enrollment, senior to sophomore,” said DiMare. “The University and Pueblo Community College work beautifully together. Our primary concern is that we work with all of the schools within Pueblo and see our children move on to become educated and give back to the wonderful community that has supported them for so many years.”

PCC President Patty Erjavec said nearly 150 kindergarteners recently visited her campus to start thinking about career choices, an example of the strong continuum of education in Pueblo.

Pueblo7“As you go through your educational career, we want you to know that there are many opportunities and many avenues of success,” said Erjavec. “We absolutely appreciate fact that every one of our learners is different and needs different resources and different opportunities. That’s why the continuum is so important.”

Dr. Maggie Lopez, superintendent of Pueblo City Schools (D60), called her schools “a district on the move” that celebrates educators.

“When children come to school, there are a variety of people who support them – from school secretaries to custodial staff to teachers to principals to the volunteers who come day in and day out – they love our kids. What we do is very, very important. In Pueblo City Schools, we have a lot to celebrate.”

Pueblo4“This event provides a great opportunity for us to celebrate ourselves, not as separate educational institutions, but rather one very strong family of education in a city that is building on the strength of our future – our kids,” Pueblo District 70 Superintendent Ed Smith said during his remarks.

“We appreciated the fact that you are standing with us, great collaborators and great leaders,” Pignanelli commented after the event speakers. “We can’t do this unless we do it together.”Pueblo12

School year-end profile: Ann Benninghoff gives students focus through martial arts

The Colorado Education Association celebrates the hard work and dedication of all teachers and education support professionals at the end of the 2012-13 school year with a visit to Dutch Creek Elementary School in Littleton, where paraprofessional Ann Benninghoff volunteers her time before school to give her students a great start to the learning day.

Parapro Ann Benninghoff leads yoga stretches

Parapro Ann Benninghoff leads yoga stretches

“Dahn Mu Do is the art of limitless energy,” explains Ann after a 45-minute session with students before school on a Friday morning. Ann, a paraprofessional of more then 30 years at Dutch Creek, says a personal interest in yoga led her to the energy-based, non-combative martial art from Korea. “It is non-contact martial arts where you use energy to focus and concentrate.”

Ann started leading students in the stretching and breathing exercises of yoga last school year after noticing many kids were showing up to school early with nothing to do. “I saw there were a lot of kids hanging around before school, and so I thought yoga would be a good thing to bring in.”

Black belt instructor Jim Caudill

Black belt instructor Jim Caudill

Ann soon enlisted the help of Jim Caudill, the instructor of her adult class, to teach children the Dahn Mu Do movements made with wooden swords. Jim had never worked with kids before, but he needed to do an outreach project as part of his second-degree black belt program. Ann suggested he come help her at the school.

“Jim said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it a couple of times.’ Well, he’s been here ever since. He loves the kids and he’s very good with the kids,” Ann said.

Ann and Jim run the class three mornings each week, and have seen it grow from a handful of students to a group of 20. Victoria Rodriguez attends the class with her older brother Joaquin.

Joaquin and Rodriguez

Joaquin and Victoria Rodriguez

“It’s a place that helps you calm down in school and have a little bit of fun,” Victoria said. “It helps me calm down in school when something is really hard.”

“You come here to relax,” said Joaquin. “All the things we do are kind of like brain teasers that wake my brain up and get me ready for the day.”

The power of martial arts and yoga to relax and focus students before the start of the school day is helping them to succeed in classroom studies, according to classmates Garin Brown and Alysha Price.

“I think it really helps me get my work done,” said Garin. “It relaxes our brains in the morning so we can have a fresh start in the day, a better start.”

Garin Brown

Garin Brown

“I have a hard time remembering things,” Alysha admitted, but credits Dahn Mu Do exercises in the morning with helping her concentrate later in the day. “Remembering all my forms really helps me to think in school, because I have to think of this really early in the morning.”

“If you get really good at memorizing the things in here, it gets easier for you to memorize other things,” Garin added.

Ann said teachers of her Dahn Mu Do students tell her about the positive changes they see in the classroom.

“When the kids come to class, they’re more ready to settle down, they’re more ready to get to work, they’re more focused,” said Ann. “Some of our kids in special reading groups have seen a marked increase in achievement. Some of them have achieved to the point of being able to get out of the special reading class.”

Math scores are up as well.

“It helps with their reasoning abilities,” said Ann. “They learn certain steps and certain sequences of [Dahn Mu Do], it just goes over into math and the sequencing of math steps.”

Alysha Price

Alysha Price

And while the martial arts and yoga routines are enhancing the students’ abilities in the academic world, they also have a bit of fun doing them.

“We’re hurrying to do this, and we’re hurrying to do this, and Dahn Mu Do gives them a little bit of a breather where they can just have some fun in an academic situation, and get settled down to do the academic,” Ann said.

When asked about his favorite part of Dahn Mu Do, Garin said, “I like the swords part, and I like to do it really fast because it feels fun.”

It’s also fun to tell other kids you get to use a sword in school.

“People kind of look at me like I’m crazy when I say that,” said Alysha.

Dahn Mu Do3Ann thanked parents for supporting the program by getting their kids to school early, noting some parents are already looking to sign their kids up for a summer martial arts program. See video of Ann Benninghoff’s Dahn Mu Do class at Dutch Creek Elementary on CEA’s YouTube channel.

Celebrate Read Across America Day, March 1

You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild
To pick up a book and read with a child.

You’re never too busy, too cool, or too hot
To pick up a book and share what you’ve got.

In schools and communities, gather around,
Pick up some books and pass them around.

There are kids everywhere who really need
Someone to hug, someone to read.

Come join us March 1 in your own special way,
and make it Colorado’s Read to Kids Day!

Friday, March 1 is Read Across America Day, an Association celebration observed by parents, students, elected officials (the Colorado Legislature), and educators across the U.S., maybe even around the world. Read Across America Day is not a fancy celebration, or one that costs a lot of money. It’s pretty simple: Pick up a book and read with a child.

Need some ideas? Parade Magazine has idea and tips for everyone. NEA has dozens of Resources to Get Reading, from a wide array of booklists to summer reading ideas. Get the facts about children’s literacy. SchoolTube has a Read Across America channel where you can share your Read Across America videos.

Check out Read Across America on the NEA web site too.

Join us – we’re reading to students and reading with students of every age, not just on Read Across America Day. Every day!

Art therapist suggests “put down the guns, pick up the crayons”

Originally posted on John Wilson’s Unleashed blog by Deb Shoemaker, MAAT, ATR-Registered Art Therapist, LPC – Licensed Professional Counselor, who has a private practice in Wilmington, NC.

School started back on January 2nd in my county after a two week winter break. On that same morning I drove by my neighborhood elementary school as I do every weekday; and, as I always do, I looked at the school as I drove by it. On this particular morning I saw a sheriff’s car parked in the front lot. The sun reflected off the metal, calling even more attention to it and the armed uniformed officer standing at the school entrance. It was then that I became very sad.

Our local Board of Education had elected over the holiday break to mandate law enforcement officers in each of the elementary schools in our small, quiet resort town. This initiative was in reaction to the devastating massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The intent? To provide safety for our children.

I am a professional art therapist in private practice. Many of my clients are students in these schools. More guns, more security? These cannot be the only solutions, I thought. In fact, more guns and more tightened security only serve as reactionary Band Aids. They are not solutions to the problem at all. I’m not sure the whole problem has even been identified.

What is needed is for stakeholders to further examine the issues, to put magnifiers on the tragic events that have impacted our children, our schools and our nation. A great starting place is to ask, “What exactly lead someone like Adam Lanza to carry out that horrific act (killing 20 children, six adults and himself) on that morning?” A Band Aid won’t fix that problem; it will only make it worse because it gives the false perception of safety. A Band Aid hides the injury.

As it turns out, in the past two weeks, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, agrees that more guns and tauten security is not the only solution. He cautioned that firearms alone do not make schools safer…and an overwhelming majority of teachers are echoing that thought with pleas for more resources, stating that they do not want more guns in their schools. Duncan iterates that ‘fear prevents students from making the most of their time in the classroom.’ I would venture to say that the same is true for educators. Furthermore, Duncan reports that security officers at schools does not translate to reduced violence, citing former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer, “I had schools who used to have nine security folks…I put all that money into nine social workers and I saw huge reductions in violence.”

The National Rifle Association-NRA-has indicated that they would like to help reduce (gun-related) violence in schools. Then let them fund school art therapy programs. Instead of placing more guns and fear in our children’s schools, place mental health professionals and art supplies in our schools. According to experts, currently less than 20% of students with mental health problems are receiving treatment for or even have access to mental health services, mostly because they cannot afford the services.

Teachers may and can be trained to identify students who have mental health issues and needs (they already do this), but they are professional educators not mental health professionals. Thus, the argument to make therapists accessible to students in their schools.

Art Therapy is the ideal application of such. It provides a two-prong solution: trauma recovery and prevention. With professional facilitation, drawing provides a safe outlet to communicate what children often have no words to describe, and it engages children in the active involvement in their own healing, providing a sense of control.

Art Therapy is a viable solution.

Adults just need to put down their guns, which only serve to model weapons as a solution, and students need to pick up their crayons and start drawing.


John Wilson is the former NEA Executive Director. He writes for EdWeek Blogs as “Unleashed.” Read more Wilson blogs.

“Trans” film can be a much-needed resource for educators

On November 27, One Colorado Education Fund and the Denver Film Society will present Trans, a feature documentary that provides a personal look at the lives of transgendered people: the highs and lows, joys and challenges. Public school teachers and support staff who work with students of all ages may find the film an important resource for their schools.

The showing of Trans begins at 7:00 pm, November 27, at the Denver Film Center at 2510 East Colfax Avenue in downtown Denver. Tickets are $12 ($10 for Film Society members). A panel discussion will follow at approximately 8:30 pm.

CEA is a sponsor of this special event, along with the Colorado Public Health Association, Gender Identity Center of Colorado, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. (Tickets)

Why do we recommend this film to our members? Because our Association believes that a great public school is a fundamental right of every student – a school free from intimidation and harassment and safe for everyone including students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered.

We know that all students are more likely to learn and succeed in safe, supportive environments. Unfortunately, safety can be an issue for children and teens who are seen as different because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. From the earliest grades, students routinely use homophobic language, and verbal taunts often escalate to physical confrontations.

The effects of bullying, harassment, and discrimination are obvious to educators, administrators, and parents. Students who are subjected to frequent harassment do less well academically, and are much more likely to be truant or drop out of school, be depressed or suicidal, consume drugs or alcohol, or carry a weapon to school.

As an organization, we are committed to addressing the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students. That’s why we provide information and resources, such as the documentary Trans, for educators to create great schools for every student.