I just got married and I’m already talking divorce?! Co-teaching divorce, that is. It is never easy to admit failure, especially after putting in significant effort to make something work. I can’t really say whether co-teaching is like a marriage, as I’ve only been married for 53 wonderful, beautiful days (which explains my very long absence from the beloved danikennis.com - previously PancakePD - blog!), but I want to start the 2015 blogging school year with a major edu-win by sharing my co-teaching story and five tips for creating a successful co-teaching environment.
Over the past six years, I have been the Special Education teacher in two failed co-taught 9th grade Social Studies classes. Despite the multitude of co-teaching ‘how to’ courses in my undergraduate (GO HOOSIERS!) and graduate schooling, as well as numerous in-service workshops, I continually felt as though my skills and knowledge were underutilized and that my role had become more of a glorified Teaching Assistant than a true co-teacher. While a lack of common planning time certainly made things difficult, my co-teachers and I differed in our teaching philosophies and classroom management approaches. I felt stifled because I desperately wanted to contribute strategies and ideas that I felt would benefit the variety of student needs in the classroom.
Now for the edu-win…
At the end of last year, I approached my supervisors about wanting to be in co-teaching environments with opportunities to take on a more proactive and involved role. Luckily, my bravery paid off! This year I have been placed in two new co-taught classes with new co-teachers. I feel extremely lucky because these new teachers, Brian and Danielle, happen to be two of my closest friends and biggest role models - both of which have contributed to success thus far. After only two weeks of school I already feel a renewed sense of enthusiasm towards co-teaching and have been more productive and involved than years prior.
Why It Works: Tips for Successful Co-Teaching...
- Communicate, communicate, communicate! My first few years of co-teaching were also my very first years of teaching in general. I was overwhelmed and unsure of my style or voice as a brand new teacher. I felt anxious and intimidated to approach the regular education teachers about ideas and changes I wanted to implement. This year before school began I sat down with each of my co-teachers and we discussed our clear-cut visions for the school year. We made sure to discuss policies on bathroom use, homework, grading, cell phone and technology use in order to show students that we are truly a team with a common vision and shared classroom management strategies.
- Make Time: Delegate a time each week specifically for planning with your co-teacher(s). Decide what topics you will each be teaching and exactly how you will be doing it. Whether before or after school, during lunch, or even on Google Hangout or text message if you are strapped for time, this is a key element to incorporating each teacher’s voice, goals, values and visions into the collaborative teaching environment.
- Reflect: After each day or lesson, take time to consider what went well and what needs improvement. Teaching is typically a solo trade, however, co-teaching allows the opportunity for collaboration that we so often crave. This is a great time to bounce ideas off of someone and discuss best practices. During these conversations I like to use Evernote to keep track of changes or notes during these conversations so that when I have more time I can go back and address them.
- Find a model that works for you: Focus on each teacher’s strengths and figure out the best way to incorporate these assets into your co-taught classroom. For example, I am the technology coach in my school and Brian happens to be excellent at leading lively student-driven discussions. Last week we maximized both of our talents in the classroom to facilitate collaborative student-led group projects using GAFE tools. Similarly, Danielle’s strengths are organization and teaching study skills. She and I have adjusted our lessons to build in time to teach these skills to our students as they work on various assignments.
- Mind your language: ‘We’ and ‘us’ should be an integral part of your vocabulary in a co-taught setting, never ‘I’, ‘me’, or ‘my’. This may seem to be a minute detail but it is crucial to show students that both teachers are equal in their roles as classroom teachers. It truly fosters a sense of collaboration and unity, as I mentioned before. A simple way do this is to make sure that both teacher’s names are on the syllabus or to have both names listed on Google Classroom.
As far as I can tell, there are many parallels between nurturing a relationship with a co-teacher and a spouse. I absolutely adore my husband and feel thankful for the strong bond that we have built over many years. Our bond, much like that between my co-teachers and myself, have been built on a solid foundation of friendship, respect, and continued communication. The same applies to building a lasting and successful co-teaching situation. I look forward to further reflecting on my co-teaching experience as the year goes on. Please feel free to share your tips and stories on successful co-teaching situations you have been in!