Professional Development Opinion

Who’s in Charge? Make Co-Teaching Relationships Seamless

By Starr Sackstein — December 23, 2016 3 min read
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Being in a relationship is challenging in the best situations, so being assigned one as important as co-teaching comes with the potential for many possibilities.

If you’re anything like me and have lived in a system for a while, you’ve likely worked with several co-teachers (whether as the special education teacher or the general content teacher), some more functional partnerships than others.

We can all agree, if we like our co-teachers, it can make things a little easier, but more important than friendship is respect for the role and expertise that each professional brings to the partnership.

Where potentially great partnerships go bad, is when one of the two feels that the class is “theirs” and that the other person is only there as a helper.

This year I’ve been fortunate enough to have the most functional and seamless co-teacher partnership I’ve ever had in the 15 years of my career.

It was evident right away that I could learn so much from my co-teacher: about the culture of the school, about the demographic of student we are working with and about differentiation for our particular dual language class.

To be honest, when asked by our coverage person one day “Who’s the lead teacher in the room?” I wasn’t sure what the right answer was because she and I both feel like the main teachers. The students, I’m certain wouldn’t know which was which and that is the way we like it.

What makes our partnership so exceptional, aside from the respect we both have for the work, is a shared philsophy on how to help students learn and find success as well as a comfort with not being in control.

We do everything together.

Planning, adjusting, working with kids, assessing work, providing feedback and interventions.

And amazingly, it never feels like a burden. Since we are both flexible and keep the students’ needs at the forefront of our discussions, it is never about ego or who’s idea we’re going to go with. It’s a process. We brainstorm, then consider pacing. Then we note the actuality of the space and how much we’ve accomplished. Since we’re lucky to have a small class, we can adjust in an instant after walking around the room to take the status of the class.

One time for example, we were practicing annotation skills with our 9th graders and I noticed note taking was looking a lot like copying. So I went up to my partner and I said we need to slow down because the kids are just copying the text. They aren’t really “making notes”. My partner jumped onto the ELMO and started modeling how to make notes and then we gave the students an opportunity to annotate the notes they had already taken to make them more meaningful.

Situations like this occur every day. We have a plan, but we trust each other and if she makes a choice and goes with it, I’m able to see the corrolation and I’m able to support by following up as she’s modeling. We tag-team without pause. Plus we can anticipate what the other will do because we are dialed in to what’s happening now.

Sometimes during class, we have a powwow and decide that we need to shift gears or plan ahead and after talking to the students, we are able to really go back together and make it happen.

This co-teaching partnership is truly that. Both of us are capable of teaching the class alone, but the students benefit so much from both of us together. She keeps me grounded sometimes when I have a big idea and she helps that idea become a reality with the students.

After working with my co-teacher for the first semester, my students in my other classes as well as teachers I work with have benefited from the experiences I have had this year.

In years past, I may have even been that controlling teacher unwilling to share the floor with my colleague, extroardinarily possessive of “my” class. Unfortunately only utililzing him/her to do ancilary tasks I didn’t want to do. It never worked out well.

This will be a hard relationship to top. After all, we have all the things great partnerships need:

  • Strong respect for each other’s expertise
  • Great communication skills that help us share ideas and adjust
  • Teaching styles that work well together
  • A growth mindset where we both are constantly learning from each other
  • A focus on what’s best for the kids in our class
  • A friendship that extends beyond the classroom, so a deeper knowledge of each other exists
  • A shared mission and philosophy about education
  • The ability to laugh at ourselves and our situation
  • An ability to focus on the positive and not let the negative get us down.

Great partnerships can really benefit students. What is the best part of your co-teaching partnership? What do you struggle most with? Please share

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