Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's 'OUR' Room - Strategies 4 Successful Co-Teaching

It's that time of year again folks. Time to head back to school! For some co-teachers, this task can be particularly daunting and frustrating. Especially when you're new to inclusion or placed in an inclusion classroom with a teacher you may not get along with. I hope that none of you, special or general education teachers, are in a situation where the first day of school is the first time you'll be speaking with your co-teacher.

This post is inspired by a friend that is in a situation where she hasn't connected to her co-teacher all summer, yet this is the second school year where they will be working together. Like many co-teaching situations, they had a 'my kids/your kids philosophy.' This is unfortunate, because both teachers are now returning to their shared class with invisible mental and physical boundaries that have already been drawn. This, "I'm not sharing" approach to teaching can foster negative animosity between co-teachers before the school year has even begun. Teachers in this situation might as well have drawn a line down the middle of their room, and in some cases an uneven split. If this is your situation, then this post is for you.

First of all, if you haven't done so already, it is time to open up the lines of communication with your co-teacher whether you get along or not. I don't care what venue you choose to pursue conversation, just do it. Call, e-mail, mail a letter, send a postcard, or light a smoke signal (j/k). It is important that you do this, because those invisible boundaries I discussed before start to become more permanent every day you let pass. If neither of you has taken the first step yet, get to stepping.

So, what are you going to say to your co-teacher? Whether you feel this way or not, "I'm happy we're going to work together this year." Kill your partner with kindness. Why? Because negativity festers and it is NOT worth the impact it will eventually have on your health for the next 180+ days you'll be teaching together. But in the same breath, you need to establish your expectations for the year. Note: Your partner may take this in a negative light, but it is your responsibility to put this information on the table now, rather than keeping this information to yourself and letting it fester all year until you explode on your partner in the middle of lesson on a cold day in December, in front of the kids. Professional? I think not. Guess what? You're also expected to be a good listener too when they lay their expectations on the table. Remember, for the sake inclusion be proactive not reactive.

Some reasonable expectations that you should set forth for each other include everything and anything that revolves around being inclusive of the students and establishing parity: the quality or state of being equal or equivalent.

First of all, if you're a co-teacher, then the classroom is yours to share whether or not you're pushing into a room for 45 minutes or spending the entire day together. Co-teachers need to make a conscious effort to be inclusive of each other, whether or not they like each other, because they are role modeling inclusion for the students in their co-teaching class. Remember the circle of life? This is the circle of inclusion. Fake it if you have to at first, as it will become second nature after you've progressed through the developmental stages of co-teaching. There is no time line for this, because your growth as a co-teacher all depends on your ability to share and be a good listener. You have to learn to dance with your partner and you will both need practice doing so. If you don't practice, you will not succeed.

Depending on your comfort level, you may want to state your expectations to your co-teacher in an e-mail or via phone if you're too uncomfortable stating your expectations/feelings in person, but you will ultimately have to meet. You're going to have to spend the whole year together!

Some expectation suggestions:
  • General planning for the school year should be done together (in person, phone, via Skype, through e-mail, using Google Docs, etc.) and different co-teaching models should be appropriately considered for each lesson. [Note: The one-teach, one-assist model should be used the least in a co-teaching situation.]
  • Decisions regarding the class should be discussed together and compromises should be expected before a final decision is made, unless determined by the principal. [It is appropriate for you to say, that your co-teacher should not make decisions for you and vice-versa.]
  • "It is important for us to set up our classroom together so the room reflects both of our needs and meets the needs of all of our students."
    • If a separate room is also used, this should also be set up together. In co-teaching/inclusion, the teachers should set up and share all spaces available to them. Doing so helps you to determine what resources are available to help all of your students, the ultimate goal in teaching.
  • We have the responsibility to share/connect with each other often in school and out via f2f communication, e-mail or phone in order to successfully work together and meet the needs of all of our students. Communication should not be limited to the first 15 minutes before school starts and/or your prep time when you're busy with copying and/or preparing your materials for an upcoming lesson.
Each teacher needs to look equal in the eyes of the students in a co-teaching class, because doing so does wonders for the self-esteem of students. Students don't want to be singled out or labeled, their teachers shouldn't be either. It should be a top down approach to inclusiveness and in a co-teaching class, good communication between co-teachers can provide a learning environment for students where seamless instruction takes place that not only meets state standards but IEP goals at the same time.

As a visual and auditory approach to parity, both of co-teacher names should be on the classroom door and/or combine your names to make one name if you're in a full-time co-teaching model. When only your co-teacher's name is called over the loud speaker or announced at a concert, and your name isn't, you've lost parity. I.e. "Will Mr. Smith's class please report to the auditorium for the assembly?" Make a mental note of this and be sure to mention this to the school principal and secretaries, a combined name may be more appropriate for your co-teaching situation. This may seem trivial, but it is really important.

As co-teachers, you are two teachers who will be sharing a space as well as responsibilities for the upcoming school year. If you want to successfully differentiate learning to help all of the children in your class, then you need to communicate your philosophies accordingly. Ultimately, you should have a common goal in that you want to establish a space where students feel safe, want to learn and feel good about themselves. An inclusive, co-teaching environment should be that ideal space.

For a co-teaching class to be successful, it is important to connect with your co-teacher in order to set the stage for parity and inclusiveness before the school year starts. "Silence is a text easy to misread." (A. A. Attanasio) and, "Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals." ( J. Isham).

Despite the challenges that lie ahead for you my co-teaching friends, communication really is the key. I wish you the best for a successful year.

Image: 'Chalk...'
www.flickr.com/photos/30379316@N00/326772174

10 comments:

loonyhiker said...

What an awesome post! It will go into my library of resources for our inclusion teachers and definitely be shared with others often! Thank you for some great suggestions!

Teryl Magee said...

Great post, Christine! I will be sharing this with my teachers who are embarking on their co-teaching relationships this year.

Lisa Parisi said...

Great post. This is a must read for both special ed and regular ed. Too often, regular ed teachers have a hard time sharing the room. For successful co-teaching, it is imperative to share and for both teachers to understand that they both have a full class to work with. Here's looking forward to another great year with a super co-teacher! ;)

Chris said...

Especially in the case where one is a para-professional, like in my school, asking for input and treating that person as an equal, not a "helper" means not just happy co-teachers, but better students as well.

JFord said...

Great to hear confirmation from the outside about the philosophy we're trying to instill in our schools. Great post.

Mithrass said...

Cross posted on Christines FB page as well.

Christine I had similar co-teaching experiences a few years back before I took the position I'm in now. I was paired with a newer teacher who was still learning her wings so to speak. I worked very hard to she the my/your student and did a pretty good job of it. My big roadblock was me doing all the work. I tried like the dickens to get her to plan... Read More with me, for her to present lessons, come up with ideas and it was all for naught.

I finally gave up and pretty much assumed 100% control of hte classroom as if this person was not there. Being a social studies teacher I had MANY great ideas to use parallel teaching to really drive home topics. It was a shame it didn't work. However, I'm a firm believer that the co-teach model works when it is used in its correct way.

And to answer your question on Facebook Christine. We spent a week together training on the Co-teach/Inclusion model. We were also promised the 1/3 to 2/3 ratio of students to balance out the classes. We consistently got class sizes of almost 20 ese students to 25 regular ed student. So yes, 45 students was not very fun. We were also promised a full day of shared planning per month that never transpired. I really can't blame her because the school didn't follow up on some of the things it promised us. Which ultimately really only hurt the children we were teaching.

I will say in closing is this. I truly LOVED the ESE students that I had in my class. By and far they were the most eager to learn and well behaved. Moreso than the students labeled "regular education". That's why I laugh and poopoo on people who use the argument that the ESE students in these situations are the most troublesome with behaviors. NOT

Christine Southard said...

Thanks for the positive feedback everyone. It is interesting to consider how co-teachers get paired @mithrass, b/c co-teaching dynamics can really have an impact of the success of the students and the co-teachers. I love that you were willing to compromise in order to be more inclusive of your new co-teacher and your students. It sounds like more training, follow-up and consistency in promises from above could have made the transition to co-teaching a better process for the two of you. My district is providing year long co-teaching training and support for all of the co-teaching models in our school this year and I'm really interested to see how it works out. There are lot of specifics that need to be addressed with regard to parity and how the teaching models will progress throughout the day to meet the needs of all students and IEP goals as well. As @Chris stated happy co-teachers make for happy students, but I wonder if parity can truly be achieved when you're asked to co-teach with a paraprofessional that is often on a very different pay scale. In that situation, it is fair to expect the same effort on both parts?

Deven Black said...

Hi Lisa,

Thank you for your blog. It’s good to see that people are still passionate about teaching. I’m glad I found you through Twitter.

Your blog has touched me for many reasons, mostly because what you do with your students is a model and inspiration to me. As a reward, I left you a present on my blog – I’ve nominated you for the Lemonade Stand Award. To accept, you must comply with the following conditions:
- Put the Lemonade logo on your blog or within your post. You can lift it off my blog http://educationontheplate.wordpress.com .
- Nominate at least 10 blogs with great attitude or gratitude.
- Link the nominees within your post.
- Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
- Share the love and link to the person from whom you received this award.

Please accept the award. I can’t wait to see and follow the people you give it to.

Teacher World said...

I have been very fortunate to have already worked with the lady who is the co-teacher in my room prior to agreeing to the co-teaching assignment. She was our LD tutor, and we worked so well together that I actually asked her if she would be interested in co-teaching. I knew from working with her that we could work together seamlessly, and it has been a rewarding opportunity. I made sure I provided a desk and work area for her, and I consciously try to make her feel that it is her room, too. It does make a difference in your ability to work together if you have a relationship first.

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