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Don’t Just Co-Teach, Experience It

By Elizabeth Stein — March 30, 2016 5 min read
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Co-teaching typically elicits some form of emotional response. So why not make it a positive one? Let’s embrace co-teaching—not as an assignment or chore—but as an experience.

There’s a difference between experiencing something and just going through the motions to get through it. For too many educators, co-teaching is a cursory act rather than a meaningful experience. Yet it doesn’t have to be. Make a commitment to experience co-teaching, so students and teachers can reap the benefits.

Three Perks to Co-Teaching:

1. Get sparked by curiosity

When is the last time you allowed yourself to relax and wonder about something? I am talking about those carefree, inquisitive moments that leave you feeling inspired and energized. Typically, curiosity elicits positive emotions because we become seekers of knowledge and solutions. So make it a point to be curious about co-teaching! Check out this Education Week article by Erik Shonstrom, “How Can Teachers Foster Curiosity,” to dig deeper into applying the power of curiosity. Now get ready to extend this curiosity with your co-teacher. Check out my blog post “Adding Curiosity to your Co-Teaching Mix” at MiddleWeb, LLC.

2. Accelerate Personal Growth

Educational theories exist to demonstrate the importance of co-creating knowledge. We know the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky and his impact on our instructional decisions. We also know that cooperative learning research demonstrates how teaming up with peers can result in higher achievement, increased self-esteem, stronger relationships, successful task completion, and deeper learning experiences. We make it a point to apply these practices into our classrooms. So why not remember to apply the power of co-creating learning experiences with our co-teachers? Learning is always an option when given the opportunity to team up with a colleague. Embrace a candid view of yourself—let your guard down—and realize that you and your co-teacher can strengthen one another’s skills through co-creating learning experiences.

3. Engage in a Powerful Learning Process

Co-teachers must embrace a willingness to accept what comes our way. Commit to a proactive lesson-planning process. For example, try applying Universal Design for Learning to create a powerful learning process. Check out UDL Exchange for ongoing support and resources to support each learner in your classroom. Remain flexible in the moments to include students’ voices and personalities as part of the process. When co-teachers open up to try something new, we ignite the options for learning for everyone—including the teachers. For example, consider including digital methods such as Padlet, to engage students. Teachers can maintain that community of learning by participating as well. The opportunities for collaborating are endless.

Still need convincing? Try these 5 tips for creating co-teaching experiences.

1. Deepen your knowledge and willingness to implement a variety of co-teaching models.

2. Differentiate instruction through a Universal Design for Learning lens. Focus on co-creating meaningful learning by “fixing” the curriculum—not the student.

3. Expand possibilities for learning through building relationships with students, with each other, and with yourself!

4. Go beyond the co-teaching models. Once you select the best co-teaching model for specific lessons, don’t stop there! Plan to differentiate and apply the UDL principles to keep it learner-centered. And why not make your students part of the co-teaching team? Think about adding variations to the co-teaching models through the application of the workshop model. Here’s one teacher’s experience applying a workshop approach, along with this 7th grade teacher’s experience shared by the Teaching Channel. Doesn’t that just get you thinking about how you and your co-teacher can ramp up learning in your classroom—together?

Reach Out and Expand Connections

Since co-teaching is about creating relationships, why not collaborate? Seek colleagues who are co-teaching and share ideas. Also, reach out and make your principal part of your co-teaching team. Principals are there to support and learn along with you—so make the connection—it will be worth it. Sometimes teachers can get lost in the minute-to-minute of co-teaching responsibilities. A principal’s view can provide objective, clear input to guide decisions. I reached out to two principals and asked: “What do you hope to see when you visit with co-teachers and students?” Paul McNeil, a middle school principal replied, “I see an opportunity to foster a synergistic relationship among the teachers and the students. There is an opportunity to differentiate with fidelity. I hope to see students engaged in learning by doing, using real world tools to solve real world problems.” How does Mr. McNeil’s vision align with creating co-teaching as an experience for you and your co-teacher?

From an elementary principal’s viewpoint, Mary Grace Lynch shared five questions that drive her view of co-teaching success as she visits inclusive classrooms.

1. How different would this learning experience be with only one teacher in this classroom?

2. Are we grouping students based with a preconceived mindset (preference for heterogeneous or homogenous groupings) or by informed and collaborative professional decision making?

3. Is this the best instructional model to meet the learning goal at hand?

4. Are we doing all we can to meet the goals of student IEP’s?

5. Did learning take place?

Ms. Lynch feels the workshop model is the “ultimate teaching model” and co-teachers can come together to double the potential effectiveness of this learner-centered classroom.

There’s a big difference between just fulfilling your co-teaching position because it is your assignment for the year and experiencing it to expand the learning opportunities with your co-teacher and your students. It takes that spirited commitment and sparked curiosity that must be nurtured, embraced, and accepted as a natural part of the learning process in your classroom. What choice will you make?

Do you experience co-teaching—or just go through the motions? What steps can you take to experience those co-teaching perks? Let’s keep the conversation going.

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