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...'

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sensory Assault Operations

This summer, I met a local Hudson Valley mom, Sherri Pruner. She is the creator of a company called Sensory Assault Operations - Gear for Kids on a Sensory Mission. Based out of necessity and influenced by military life, her husband is in the ARMY, this Pleasant Valley mother of a four year old with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder created Sensory Assault Operations.

Early on, Sherri noticed that her son had sensory issues. He hated baths, having his diaper changed and was overwhelmed by loud noises. After being diagnosed with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, her son was evaluated by her local CPSE team and placed on a sensory diet.

Inspired by her son, Sherry opened an online store for parents with kids on a “sensory mission!”

From her press release:

Parents with kids who have sensory needs alone or in addition to Autism, ADD, or ADHD will find products created by a fellow parent.

The mission that Sensory Assault Operations is embarking on will be to provide fun products in a cool and empowering way so that children with sensory needs learn how to manage them when they are away from home.

The goal of Sensory Assault Operations is to help parents navigate the winding journey through the world of special needs by providing unique products, tips, and information.

Two featured products on the site include: The Sensory Assault Pack and the Propaganda Pad. The sensory assault pack is a bag of sensory items that you can customize to your child's needs. The propaganda pad is a weighted bag that is naturally scented with cloves and cinnamon to add to the sensory experience.

Unique to the site is the SAP Briefing Area where Sherri offers some scenarios and suggestions for tools that might address the specific sensory needs of a particular child in your life or under your care.

While this site is geared toward parents, there are a variety of tools that are appropriate for school and could be considered for use in the classroom depending on your learning environment and the needs of your students. Please visit the site and explore.