I have been asking for advice from educators on how to build a strong co-teaching relationship. Last week’s blog entry focused on “big picture” co-teaching ideas that educators should consider as they launch such a partnership.
As promised, the second part of my “co-teaching for rookies” series will focus on the tips and tricks that teachers use to make the classroom run more smoothly on a day-to-day basis.
Before the first day of school, discuss how you will introduce yourselves, says Anne Beninghof, a consultant from Lafayette, Colo. “It is critical that students see both teachers as experts and having equal authority in the classroom. During the first week, be sure to share leading roles as much as possible to establish the paradigm of ‘our’ class. If, instead, the special education teacher spends the first few weeks as a ‘helper,” it can be hard to break out of this pattern. Our students need both of us to be fully utilized!”
Beth Lakretz, the president of Lakretz Creative Support Services in Baldwin, N.Y., offered several pieces of advice in bullet points:
- Both teachers’ names on the door, introductory letter, and any papers that go home. (For secondary teachers, who may co-teach one period and may teach the same class other periods on their own, list the co-teacher’s name with the period in parentheses so you don’t have to make multiple handouts.)
- Get some training on the Marilyn Friend and Lynne Cook co-teaching models.
- Use them on the first day of school.
- Pick one to use on open house with the parents.
- Create a joint email stamp so parents email both of you and you respond together.
- If you co-teach full time, conduct all parent-teacher conferences together. Both of you speak to the child’s strengths/weaknesses
- At the elementary level, if you co-teach part-time, conduct conferences together with the parents of special education students, and pick as many of the parents of the general education students to meet with at the first conference you conduct together. At the next conference, again meet together about special education students, and pick the students you didn’t do together in round one to meet with in round two
Sanna Roling, a retired special educator, says that both teachers must be listed on the student’s schedule and report cards. “Otherwise, students will cause major disruptions all year—"you’re not a teacher...,” which definitely takes time away from education and leaves the students in charge rather than the teachers.”
Other teacher-to-teacher advice from Roling: “On the first day, say ‘we are your teachers’ and ‘you are so lucky to have two teachers which means you have twice the individualized class time help.’ Never say, ‘this is my assistant’ or ‘I will be assisted by...’ or anything like that. Such comments relegate the special educator to a position of tutor.The special educator may spend more time with the special education students; however, it is essential that they are not singled out any more than necessary. Also, given that the teachers do their jobs well, by March of any year the special educator will be spending more time with general education failing students than with the special education students. Why? Because, the purpose of inclusion is to bring our special students up to grade level work.That is accomplished by first ‘holding their hand’ and giving individualized instruction to create understanding. Once understanding begins to happen, extra help is gradually withdrawn as the student’s own self-confidence and drive materialize.”
Almost every person who has offered advice has said that joint planning time is essential. But how do you do that? One email responder said “our district allows for one day a month or two half days for planning. While I don’t like for both of us to be out of the classroom at the same time, this was the only way for us to keep our head above water. Planbook.com is an excellent resource for co-teachers as well as those that do not co-teach. We had one login and password, so we essentially had one plan book. We had one grade book and our classroom had both our names. I think that is crucial to having both individuals feel like they have equality in the classroom.”
Another tech tip came from a teacher who uses Google Docs, which she said is a “very efficient and collaborative” planning tool with with co-teachers. The teacher emailed to say: “I created a table for specific classes and needs, so all involved could access the information. Each teacher “fills out their part” prior to actual planning meetings. The meetings then become a time to hone the ideas for specific students or learning tasks. The table includes rows labeled with the date, learning target, learning tasks, teacher A, teacher B, and support ideas.”
The teacher added: I also find out that “special treat” my co-teachers like and present [it to] them within the first them weeks of school.
Finally, some tips from Twitter:
It helps to work out some nonverbal signals with your co-teacher to communicate across the room! (We used basic ASL) #coteachnewbie
— Kathleen Keck (@MsKeckHCMS) August 12, 2015
For #coteachnewbie - use drive to share documents so you both have access to curriculum and student work!
— Kathleen Keck (@MsKeckHCMS) August 12, 2015
— Ashley Beier (@ksquirkyteacher) August 12, 2015
#coteachnewbie use cloud-based storage where you and your co-teacher put everything for your class!
— Rachel Kent (@rwysockikent) August 8, 2015
Thank you to all who emailed or tweeted me in response to my call for advice. This may be the end of this series, but I don’t want it to be the end of the conversation. Thanks to the power of the Web, new teachers may come across these blog posts weeks, months, or even years from now. If you are one of those later visitors and you have some advice that you would like to share, please feel free to leave it in the comments. Consider it a way to “pay it forward” for the help you were given earlier in your career.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not note the recent death of Lynne Cook, who was mentioned earlier in this post in a comment about co-teaching models. Cook died July 7 of lung cancer. She and Marilyn
Friend literally wrote the book on co-teaching: Collaboration Skills for School Professionals remains one of the most widely-used texts on co-teaching and collaborative classroom practices. Her last position in a long career in education was as dean of the College of Education at California State University-Dominguez Hills. She was married to Fred Weintraub, another special education leader and an author of what is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, who died in May 2014. I am sure many of the people who responded to my call for advice have been and will continue to be influenced by Cook’s work.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.