Soft Skills for Education Support Staff

Education support staff—paraeducators, administrative assistants, custodians, bus drivers, food service workers and other school employees—are the lifeblood of every public school. They keep kids healthy, safe and engaged in learning so they can thrive at school.

Education support roles are available on a full-time or part-time basis and provide a work-life balance. Researching these roles is a great way to learn about different opportunities and what skills are needed.

Communication Skills

Communicating effectively is an essential soft skill that helps people thrive in both personal and professional endeavors. It is important for education because it influences students’ ability to understand instructions and classroom learning. It also supports collaboration and teamwork and allows students to express their thoughts clearly.

Communication can take place verbally, in writing (including emails and texts), through visual media such as pictures and charts, or nonverbally with body language and gestures. The most effective communicators use all of these methods to convey information in a way that creates understanding and engagement.

To teach the basics of communication skills, give students opportunities to role-play with peers in small groups. Having students practice active listening skills, such as concentrating on what others are saying and showing that you’re listening through verbal or visual cues like nodding and saying’mmm’, will help them build confidence in sharing their ideas with classmates. This will allow them to better work with teachers and classmates, and will ultimately lead to a more positive educational experience.

Listening Skills

Listening is the ability to receive sounds and understand the meaning conveyed in those sounds. It is an essential skill for many different types of professions, including teachers and students.

Students with good listening skills are more comfortable communicating with their teachers and peers. They are more likely to ask questions and share concerns with teachers, which can help reduce stress levels for both students and teachers.

For example, when a student is struggling with a class assignment or homework, a teacher can show their support by listening attentively and encouraging them to keep trying. Teachers should avoid interrupting and showing signs of frustration, such as looking at their watch or fidgeting, which can detract from the student’s feelings of being heard.

Another way that teachers can demonstrate their active listening skills is by insisting on one person speaking at a time in whole class discussions or paired work. It is also important for teachers to make eye contact with their students when listening.


Empathy is an important skill for students to develop, and it can also help them form strong relationships with teachers. Empathy involves noticing others and understanding their feelings. It also requires taking action to help them. Teachers who have empathy for their students can create a more positive classroom environment and support learning outcomes.

However, it’s important to understand that empathy is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy can lead to feelings of pity for students and may cause you to lower your expectations. Being empathetic, on the other hand, allows you to connect with your students and reinforces your belief in their ability to succeed.

To demonstrate empathy, be attentive to your students’ non-verbal cues and respond to their needs. For example, if a student is withdrawn or upset, try reflecting back their feelings and rationale for their behavior instead of reprimanding them. You can also promote empathy through activities such as perspective-taking games, role plays, books and “what would you do” vignettes.


Inclusion is the process of ensuring that individuals, regardless of their differences feel welcomed, respected, supported and valued to thrive. It is often viewed as the key to fostering diversity in the workplace and ensuring everyone feels they can participate fully.

In education, inclusion involves integrating students with disabilities into general education classrooms to the greatest extent possible and offering them all services and accommodations they need. This is also referred to as mainstreaming, integration and full inclusion.

To truly be inclusive, teachers should take the time to get to know each student and their family and try to make sure they have a good understanding of the child’s needs. This includes learning how the child communicates, what their cultural background is and if they have any additional support systems like an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan). This allows children to be exposed to students who may learn or perform differently than them, which helps to develop acceptance, empathy and inclusivity in their own lives.

Soft Skills for Education Support Staff
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