Date of Award

Spring 4-7-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Dr. Walter Buster

Second Advisor

Dr. Lynn Larsen

Third Advisor

Dr. Dayton Gilleland


Purpose: The purpose of this mixed method study was to identify and describe what paraeducators perceive as factors that lead to effective and sustainable engagement in special education special day classes, and identify what strategies are effective for encouraging discretionary effort as perceived by paraeducators.

Methodology: The participants in the study were 69 paraeducators employed by a Southern California County Office of Education. Participants partook in two research instruments: (a) a 37-question survey and (b) a semi-structured interview.

Findings: Data based on the mixed method analysis revealed that paraeducators are highly committed employees who want to know that they are making a difference. They want to be acknowledged, trusted and shown respect. Paraeducators are eager to be considered a teaching partner and leader given effective strategies and tools to sustain their engagement and increase discretionary effort.

Conclusions and Recommendations: To be respected, paraeducators need to be empowered by: having opportunities for growth, be connected with positive emotions, be part of the decision-making process, have ownership, receive positive feedback, acknowledge initiative, and be able to communicate opinion with teachers being open to suggestions. This study can be used to inform the education field on how transformational leaders can transform special education: by elevating special education paraeducators, providing a voice for paraeducators and providing strategies that sustain engagement and increase discretionary effort.