A MiddleWeb Blog
Over a decade ago, I interviewed for the special education teaching position that I currently hold. One of the questions asked was a direct, “How do you feel about co-teaching? “ I passionately, thoughtfully, and candidly responded by expressing my eagerness to work within a co-teaching setting.
I was an idealistic newbie who couldn’t imagine anything better than working as one of two teachers who strive for the same goal of guiding students’ achievements! I also added my excitement about the learning opportunities for all students in such a setting.
One of the interviewers on the panel shared his surprise through his wide-eyed expression and his verbal, “Really? So far in my experiences, co-teaching is a struggle for all involved.”
The interviewer went on to share some of the challenges he had seen between co-teachers. He listed some of the difficulties, such as the clash of attempting to blend personalities, the difficulties in balancing instructional styles, and the unwillingness of some to share knowledge, expertise, and the classroom space.
My final response was simple—it probably called unicorns and rainbows to mind for some of the interviewers. It went something like this: Teachers must make co-teaching work—the challenging factors must be translated into positive, professional, and proactive actions, so that the instructional moments flow—and all students have heightened opportunities to achieve.
I remember thinking, What is this guy talking about? My co-teaching experiences will be ideal—I will never see those challenges personally—I will make sure of that!
Welcome to the Real World
So almost 15 years and many co-teaching experiences later, I am reminded of that interviewer (who has since moved away from my district). The evolving lesson I’ve learned from him beginning that day is huge. I’ve lived through some of his words now. And yet, I am holding on tightly to that idealistic newbie teacher who still resides within the layers of my teacher self.
Here’s the lesson:
- Co-teaching is hard—so we must be flexible and patient while building a rapport and learning to trust one another’s instincts and actions.
- Co-teachers (general and special) must focus on creating access for all students—so we must keep communication open, consistent, and strong.
- Co-teachers must share best practices and be open to learning through one another’s expertise—so we keep a wall-free zone where the whole territory of teaching belongs to the two teachers in the room.
- And a final insight: Co-teachers must maintain a professional development regimen—and if what you need does not exist—CREATE IT!
Co-Teaching PD through Social Media
I’m lucky to be in a district where the opportunities for professional development are plentiful. In addition, we have a co-teaching model called PACT, which reminds co-teachers that the ideal co-teaching relationship involves educators who practice Parity, Alternate Assessments, Cooperative Learning, and Team Work. Check out this slide show for all the details.
My colleagues Ed Daniels and Kathy Cassidy are the brains behind this teacher-friendly model. They have retired, but they still provide meaningful PD to teachers throughout the year. Even with great PD there for the taking, I am reminded of the lesson learned, and I am still holding strongly to it: Co-teachers must maintain a professional development regimen—and when possible create it! In the midst of the PD opportunities provided, I find myself reaching for more. Enter social media….
Social Media Saves the Day!
Earlier this year I had an amazing opportunity to participate in a virtual roundtable discussion at the Teaching Ahead blog at Education Week Teacher. I discussed my thoughts on why teachers are migrating to social media for additional and meaningful PD. In addition I was also privileged to participate in a roundtable discussion with Melinda Gates and others as we discussed how educators are using social media to elevate their teacher voice.
A few months later, I found myself with the opportunity to share more specifics about how social media guides me as I create my PD to elevate co-teaching. Check it out here, at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog.
These social media experiences served to strengthen my level of reflection and PD beyond the walls of my school district. But still…in order for PD to really make a difference, it must be put into consistent action—it must be ongoing—and it must be collaborative. And Twitter is the place where I put my vision into action.
Last summer, (July 2013) I launched a new hashtag chat: #coteachat. My purpose is clear—Let’s all rally toward elevating co-teaching in all schools! The hashtag was recognized fairly quickly. And it began to take flight through bi-weekly chats that I facilitate every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month.
Through these #coteachat chats, we learn more about how to discuss those difficult truths that can propel co-teaching into success stories. I’ve connected with so many co-teachers that I often find myself thinking about my virtual colleagues when I am met with the face-to-face challenges that are just part of co-teaching realities.
Although my network of co-teachers “out there” is virtual, I never feel isolated—I always feel the support and continuing PD that creates the ongoing learning experiences I am looking for. I am one of those insatiable learners who can finally – thanks to the advent of powerful digital tools – feel the satisfaction of learning all I want through my virtual connections.
I have connected with so many co-teachers around the nation. They continually serve up the dialogue and ideas that I crave. Two of my virtual colleagues now co-moderate with me—and I am thankful for our collaborations. We connect in pure co-teaching style! We collaborate on a weekly basis through a shared Google Docs where we brainstorm topics, questions, and ideas from our real-life teaching experiences. It’s completely inspirational!
I want to encourage everyone reading this to follow Johhny Cataffo (@JMCataffo and Christine Flayhart (@FlayhartC and me (@ElizabethLStein), as we all join forces to create further PD experiences and elevate co-teaching.
Some topics that we’re brave enough to discuss include:
-Whose classroom is it, anyway?
-How to create a student-centered learning environment
-Strategies for Conflict Resolutions
The power of social media is truly awe-inspiring! And the best part is the translation of virtual learning into the face-to-face classroom experiences (a future blog post topic).
As for right now, I’d love to get in contact with my interviewer from all those years ago and ask him: “What do you think about the possibilities of co-teaching NOW?” I would also like to thank him for sharing the realities of co-teaching and for planting that still-burning spark in me to turn those challenges into opportunities…. I am more determined than ever to create consistent, positive co-teaching experiences!
Next #coteachat 5/27 8:00-8:45 ET
So what do you think?
What professional development experience(s) do you participate in to elevate your teaching (and/or co-teaching) voice?
What PD experiences could you create in order to meet your needs at deeper levels of learning and application?
Please share your thoughts on creating meaningful PD in the comments section below.
And remember to join us on our mission to elevate co-teaching! Join #coteachat every 2nd and 4th Tuesday from 8:00-8:45 ET—Let’s do this! If you are not sure how to join a hashtag chat, it’s simple. Using any device devoted to following Twitter streams, enter #coteachat and follow the tweets. When you tweet or reply, be sure #coteachat is in your message. That magically creates the stream of dialogue.
I’m looking forward to our collaborations!