Co-Teaching. In my teaching career, it’s also been called inclusion and team teaching. I think all of those terms have taken on different meanings over time. But I digress.
In its simplest terms, it’s a tag-team effort to meet the needs of a group of kids. And it’s good for both teachers and students. Teachers gain camaraderie and the ability to think and plan and bounce ideas off each other. And watching someone else teach and interact with students, helps develop new skills and ideas. Plus its really nice to share the burdens and successes. Students gain ideas and ways to think about work from two different perspectives and students have two potential people to connect with and be supported by. I like it when I have a group that I can just be responsible for and not worry about involving someone else, but I truly love being part of a team.
I’ve already talked about collaborating well in IEP teams, and working in a co-teaching arrangement is very much like that. A co-teaching team can have success right out of the box if you know one another and your ideas about kids and teaching line up. However, this is not the case for most people. For most partners, it takes some time and energy to get on the same page about things.
The effort pays off though when you can both walk into the classroom feeling confident in your role. You know what each other would do, how things would be handled and what will come next. You can take each other’s place. Then, a lesson clicks along like clockwork, work gets accomplished, problems get solved and everyone is feeling good.
Here are the 3 biggest things I focus on in co-teaching relationships:
Get on the same page
Getting on the same page is really about laying the groundwork for the good collaborative relationship you want. You are being honest about how you want to do things and building trust. Over those first months, working together you will both uncover strengths and weaknesses, passions and things you hate, and your belief system related to how to teach, how to manage behavior, and what you each want your roles and responsibilities to be.
Aside from you getting to know one another, you need to get to know the kids and what they need. Sometimes, the things you may want to do, you can’t because there isn’t a way to both meet student needs and do that fun lesson you enjoy or that teaching method for that type of activity. The IEP needs may dictate some of the roles and responsibilities you will have.
In those first days, you can’t know everything there is to know about your co-teacher. Be patient. Start by getting to know each other on a more personal level. Family, kids, pets, whatever they are willing to share. Talk some about how you envision sharing the load. My first weeks I’m really getting kids acclimated to their schedules, to their teachers and making sure they know who their support people are. With all those new things, I can’t really focus on teaching a lesson too, so I’m honest about that.
Then focus on introducing yourselves to students in as equitable a fashion as possible. If your co-teacher does a slide show, make sure you have a section on it too. If your co-teacher does some game, be part of it. Start learning kids names. And spend some common time talking about upcoming activities and your best thoughts about how to make it happen effectively with the kids you have.
Keep an open dialogue going
As the week’s progress, things will go well and things will go poorly. Keep talking and checking in. If you aren’t sure how your co-teacher feels about how you handled this or that situation or activity, ask. Be open to suggestions or different ways to do things. Recognize the dance that’s needed. Sometimes things need to go your way or a kids way(because their IEP says so), and sometimes they need to go your teaching partner’s way.
Glitches, problems, and differences of opinion will happen. We all have different ways of looking at things and that’s okay. What doesn’t work very well is not saying anything or just getting upset and making assumptions. Be forthcoming about concerns so that there can be some conversation about what to do next. And be respectful of each other’s viewpoints.
Present a united front to students
When problems do arise, be willing to work through issues, take in new ways of looking at things and make plans that both of you can live with. Then, stick to the plan you made, whether you are 100% behind it or not. Just like with parenting, kids know how to divide and conquer. So it’s super important to stay on the same page and stick to any agreements you made. Plus you are sending the message to your teaching partner that you care about upholding your agreements. It builds trust.
What do you think are the biggest roadblocks to co-teaching? Let me know in the comments below.