Our New Co-Teaching Blog

A MiddleWeb Blog

In the United States, several hundred thousand classroom educators “co-teach.” Most are special education teachers who work in tandem with general educators, most often in the same room. In some settings and situations, these paired teachers are supportive partners and collaborators. Other times there’s considerable friction, as methods, goals and personalities collide.

In a new MiddleWeb blog, Two Teachers in the Room, two outstanding middle grades special educators — Elizabeth Stein (Long Island) and Laurie Wasserman (Boston) — will explore this co-teaching terrain. Both are NBCTs, published authors, and current classroom teachers in co-teaching roles.

In our first post, Elizabeth Stein introduces herself and shares several goals she and Laurie have for Two Teachers in the Room. We’re excited about this opportunity to recognize co-teachers and promote a deeper understanding of their work. You can follow our Two Teachers blog by checking in here, and also subscribing to MiddleWeb SmartBrief where we’ll feature their weekly posts. Most of all, we hope you’ll engage them in conversation by leaving your own thoughts and comments at their posts. — John Norton, MiddleWeb co-editor.

by Elizabeth Stein, NBCT

My first experience co-teaching was twelve years ago. I walked into my co-teacher’s classroom the day before the students were to arrive. My smile was met with the serious grin of someone who seemed to be remembering something painfully unpleasant.

My genuine, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you,” was met with, “Don’t be so enthusiastic—I don’t think this is going to work—it hasn’t worked for me yet—and I’ve been doing this a long time.” My extended hand was met with a person rushing by me carrying a stack of textbooks across the room.

Although taken aback, I remained positive and replied, “Tell me about it.” She related some of her experiences that resulted in her unfavorable view of co-teaching. And she had no problem sharing her qualms that I was new to the co-teaching scene. I decided to interpret the frankness of her negative greeting and outlook as a positive sign. We had already begun what co-teachers need most of all (and what some co-teachers can only dream about) — we took that first step toward honest, open communication.

My simple mantra

Elizabeth Stein

My philosophy on co-teaching begins with this simple mantra—just make it work.

For me, there is no other choice. The two teachers must do whatever it takes to provide instruction that meets the academic, social, and emotional learning needs of each child, and of the class as a whole.

The learning environment must be created by two teachers who focus on effective instruction and positive student engagement. The decisions the two teachers are able to reach are so critically important that they will make or break the classroom learning connections.

 

The idealistic view of co-teaching creates the vision where two teachers have:

  •  a shared philosophy
  •  shared planning time
  •  shared responsibilities
  •  mutual respect

Okay. Now cue that loud buzzer sound that blinks you back to reality. We all know school is not a perfect world. And so, the realistic view of co-teaching does not always include a perfect “sharing” or sense of parity. There are so many variables that come into play while working toward creating an effective co-teaching experience, some of which are out of the co-teachers’ control.

Still, the bottom line remains…the two teachers must find a way to communicate, plan, share, and respect the roles, responsibilities, and personalities of one another. If teachers become submissive against the tide, and too quiet to change the current, then the reality of co-teaching can be daunting.

So here we are: Two co-teachers, ready to explore

Laurie Wasserman

Laurie Wasserman and I first came into contact through the Teacher Leaders Network and the collegial friendship we both developed with MiddleWeb’s founder John Norton, who also co-founded TLN. Laurie teaches in Boston; I teach on Long Island. We’ve both been through the National Board certification experience, where deep reflection about one’s teaching practice is valued highly. We are both passionate about meeting the needs of our students and making co-teaching work on their behalf.

It is through that determined lens that our blog will explore the broad view and many variables that are involved in making co-teaching work. We will share the specifics of how to feel empowered as teachers, so that students may feel empowered as learners. We will make the time to bring all of the elephants into the room (perhaps one or two at a time) and consider how we as co-teachers will no longer ignore, fear, or run from those elephants when they arise. We hope to have conversations with our readers in this blog space and help them build their own repertoire of strategies to guide that positive co-teaching mindset of doing whatever it takes to just make it work.

My own co-teaching experience

My personal experience with co-teaching runs the gamut from blissfully perfect to painstakingly tolerable. Over the years, I’ve learned that the key for me does not depend on who my co-teacher is—the secret to success lies in what I will do to create the kind of learning environment all of our students need. I stay focused on doing my part for our students—with the hopes of blending seamlessly with my co-teacher.

And what of my first co-teaching experience, mentioned at the opening of this post? It turned out to be one of my most successful co-teaching experiences to date. We were two teachers who kept the lines of communication open, which allowed us to co-plan, co-teach, and ultimately respect one another’s views and responsibilities. My experiences with co-teaching over the years, with all its ups and downs, has brought me to a satisfying point in time, and I am excited to share and learn with readers of our blog.

My current co-teaching situation places me in three different 7th grade co-teaching classes each day. I teach English, math and social studies. In addition, I teach one daily period of study skills. This study skills class is for the students with disabilities who are in the inclusion classes. It’s a powerful time to pre-teach and re-teach content area materials, teach organization, strategic thinking, and study skills that may guide my students toward independent, successful learning within the general education setting. It’s all about guiding the students to easily access the general education curriculum.

Co-teachers are connected, wherever they teach

Just as open communication is the key to successful co-teaching, collaborating with other colleagues who co-teach is instrumental in the personal and professional growth of teachers.

Personally, it keeps me sane. In addition to collaborating with my face to face colleagues, it is such a privilege to connect with Laurie as we share our experiences.

In order for co-teaching to work, teachers must reach in and reach out. They must share, and they must listen. It always amazes me how co-teachers near and far share a common language—a natural bond. We face the same obstacles, and often find similar solutions.

Sometimes, sadly, one or both of the teachers in the room give in to the potential struggles of co-teaching. In those cases—this blog’s for you! It is also for those teachers who co-teach and thrive and are ready to share your secrets.

Our blog is a place we can celebrate the success stories, and problem solve. The trials and tribulations of co-teaching are not unique to any one classroom. Co-teachers are connected—no matter where we live or where we teach. We understand the issues, and we know that the only way to effectively educate all students in classrooms—together—is to focus on solutions.

In our next post, you’ll hear from Laurie and learn something about her background and her current teaching life. We are both looking forward to your comments as we begin to push the co-teaching conversation forward!

Elizabeth Stein

Elizabeth Stein is a teaching veteran, with more than 20 years experience spanning grades K-8, specializing in universal design for learning and special education. She’s currently a special education/UDL instructional coach and new-teacher mentor in Long Island NY’s Smithtown Central School District. Elizabeth is National Board Certified in Literacy and a contributor to Education Week and other publications. Her first book Comprehension Lessons for RTI (Grades 3-5), is published by Scholastic (June 2013). Follow her on Twitter @elizabethlstein and #coteachat

33 Responses

  1. Nancy says:

    I’m really excited about your blog. I am new to a co-teaching position this year and am just finding my way. I actually work with three different teachers. It’s been a challenge to find out where I fit when I’m not in the room all day. I’m looking forward to your insights and tips.

  2. edaniels16 says:

    Elizabeth,

    This is a welcome blog. I hope you will find some time to discuss the PACT Co-teaching Model as it presents a powerful framework for co-teaching.

  3. ElizabethStein says:

    Nancy, you are not alone (doesn’t that thought just feel so empowering?!) You are right on! It is often a challenge to find our place within the co-teaching structure. I think the only way to find out your comfort zone is by knowing what you hope to accomplish and by making sure you continue to speak with your co-teachers. I find my “place” is a bit different depending on the teacher and the class that I am working with–but I strive to keep the overall core of my teacher -self strong throughout each class. It is certainly a potentially challenging work in progress when working with a new team of co-teachers. But stay strong! Once the foundation is set, you will feel your fit.

    I’d suggest following these 3 steps:
    1. Know yourself and your students. (What’s your style? What are your students’
    strengths, areas of need? What do you need to do to help them to be successful in
    each class?)
    2. Know your co-teacher. (What’s his or her style? How can the two of you compliment
    one another in order to strengthen instruction, assessment, the learning environment,
    etc?)
    3. Reflect on how things are going and communicate with your co-teachers along the
    way. (What’s working? What needs to be changed?)
    Stay organized, notice what is working well, and tweak what needs tweaking as you think of them. This should help to set a solid foundation for the year.

    Also, check out this link from the k8 acess center–it’s a great resource.
    http://www.k8accesscenter.org/documents/AllHandouts_000.pdf
    Please check in and keep us posted!
    Thanks for sharing, and we’re looking forward to your future comments!

    Best,
    Elizabeth

  4. Laurie Wasserman says:

    Nancy,
    Nancy, so glad you like our blog idea. It can be a challenge working with several teachers and finding how we fit in. Our next blog will talk about our different roles. What subjects are you co-teaching?
    Laurie

  5. John Norton says:

    Just to let visitors know – comments on the MiddleWeb site are moderated so they won’t instantly appear here. We hope to implement a high-end spam filter soon and automate the process. On the upside, we see and read every comment and make sure our bloggers know you’ve left a message! (John Norton, MiddleWeb co-editor)

  6. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Thank you, edaniels16. Yes, PACT can be an effective framework if both co-teachers are open to the power of “Two Teachers in the Room.”
    For all you folks out there…the acronym stands for:

    P-Parity between co-teachers–where both are equally valued.
    A-Alternative and Authentic Assessment: to balance traditional evaluations with a variety
    of assessment options to allow students to reveal their strengths and needs
    C-Cooperative Learning: balancing whole class direct instruction with small cooperative
    groups to allow for positive interdependence, while co-teachers walk around and
    target students’ needs.
    T-Teamwork: Co-teachers are in the room for all students. Co-teachers plan,
    implement, and evaluate teaching practices and student learning together.

    Cooperative learning provides such rich instructional time in the inclusion classroom (or any classroom!).

    For more information on cooperative learning, check out this link:
    http://www.co-operation.org/?page_id=6
    For a valuable resource on bringing cooperative learning into your classroom, see Cooperation in the Classroom by David W. Johnson, Roger T. Johnson, and Edyth Johnson Holubec–here’s a link to check out the book:
    http://www.amazon.com/Cooperation-Classroom-Revised-David-Johnson/dp/0939603047

    edaniels16, we hope you’ll continue to post and add to our conversations!
    Here’s a few questions for our readers…

    What inclusion framework(s) does your school implement?
    What practices do you apply in your classrooms?
    Does anyone have any stories about implementing cooperative learning?

  7. Annette Gilliam says:

    Hi Nancy, I have been co-teaching for 8 years and in those years a few times had to co-teach with three different teachers in one semester. What I found that worked best for me was to take a breather before each class. I made sure I knew what was planned for each class that day and tried to remind each teacher that I was stretched thin and to remember to add me into the planning. Sometimes they would forget as well, but not to take it personal this is a hard career and everyone is doing their best.

  8. Nick Dobberstein says:

    This is a welcome blog. Many core area teachers like myself are being asked to co-teach as a new model for inegrating special education students. Co-teaching has provided an opportunity for me to expand skills and successful teaching strategies for all students.

  9. Sue Adelman says:

    I’m so glad that there is a blog for teachers about co-teaching. I’m a parent and have had great and not so great experiences with teachers using the model. I will be passing the blog on to our school district as I feel co-teaching (when done well) is the best way for all kids to get the instruction they need in an included environment.

  10. Brenda Jordan says:

    As a special education teacher in the general education classroom for the last 9 years of 19 years of teaching I can offer that it can be a challenging but extreamely rewarding experience. The more your co-teacher sees that you:
    (1) know special education; how it works legally and at your school,
    (2) know your students thoroughly by reading their cummulative folders, reading their PLAAFP pages to learn their strengths and weaknesses and knowing their IEP’s well enough so you and can offer solutions and suggestions to help with the learning process, and
    (3) are ready and willing to share the responsibilities of the classroom with them and truely become proficient in teaching what the curriculum calls for…
    they will be more open to sharing their classroom with you…You see, it is about mutual respect….you know special education and they know their content. Thus, collaboration and compromise become the key. I love it, the children, and the teachers I work with. I co-teach 3 classes of Science and 3 classes of Social Studies with 3 different teachers in 6th grade. I will be thinking of retirement in a couple of years and am extremely anxious about missing the day to day interaction with the students and teachers…..Brenda J

  11. Patricia Stall says:

    At our university, we are using the co-teaching model to prepare new teachers in clinical practice. For the primary reason that Elizabeth mentions — improved teaching and learning for K-12 students — we believe that co-teaching is a better model. I co-plan with my colleagues all of the time. Undoubtedly, the teaching is richer.

  12. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Annette, thanks for sharing such great advice! Taking a breather for me translates to sitting (and literally taking in a few mindful breaths) for a couple of seconds before racing out of one class and scurrying into the busy hallways to my next co-teaching experience. It’s about allowing ourselves to change gears before entering into a different class, a different subject, and a different co-teacher. It’s amazing what a few seconds can do! And when time or situations do not allow for those seconds…then we just go with the flow! And, as always, the walk through the hallways–greeting students along the way–is always rejuvenating.
    Your comment on co-planning is another interesting discussion–and one that we will visit and re-visit as our discussions unfold. Please continue to add to our discussions….

  13. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Thanks, Nick. You bring up such a great point–when co-teachers keep an open mind, we learn so much from one another. We expand our skills and learn from one another’s expertise. We hope you’ll share some specific skills and/or strategies that you have picked up along your co-teaching journey. We’re looking forward to keeping this great discussion going….

  14. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Ah, Sue! Thanks for sharing the perspective of a parent. We all know the importance of effective home-school communication. It is another one of our “must-dos” in order to guide students in inclusion settings to reach personal and academic achievements. What was one of your great experiences? How about one of your not-so-great? From your perspective, how can co-teaching be implemented successfully? What do parents look for?
    Thanks for sharing our blog with others in your district, and we are looking forward to some enriching discussions!

  15. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Brenda J, your post connects well with Nick’s point that co-teachers can learn so much from one another. You bring up an additional key to success–and that is the focus of a teacher’s passion to collaborate, communicate, and educate. You sound like a life-long learner who will continue to find a way to make a positive difference for students even after you retire. Best of luck! We hope you will continue to join our discussions.

  16. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Patricia, thanks for mentioning the necessity of preparing new teachers for the realities of co-teaching. I also teach a course for undergraduate and graduate pre-service teachers. I make sure to weave the co-teaching model throughout the course. All teachers need to heighten their awareneness and comfort levels, and our newbie population is a natural audience to reach in order to pave a positive path for educating students in inclusive settings. Thanks for adding another very important perspective to our discussion!
    It’s so true, teaching can be so much richer. We’d love to hear more about your experiences and thoughts about why you think co-teaching is a better model. Aside from co-planning, is there anything else that needs to happen in order to make the teaching richer?

  17. A colleague and I teach organically created a co-teaching situation. We each have 22 students and at least four preps per day. One day we asked: What if one of us teaches the writing mini-lesson to all 44 and one teaches the reading mini-lesson to all 44? It worked beautifully.

    Later, we started combining small groups of our students for re-teaching and extension.

    Result: to be continued (not enough room in this box)…

  18. 1. After each lesson, we have at least one person with whom we can ask, “What did you notice students learned well? Struggling with? What should we do for follow-up? Are there a couple students who need some re-teaching? Lesson extensions? Who wants to take which group?”
    2. Sometimes, a lesson starts falling apart. It’s not unusual for the person doing the mini-lesson to throw the other a questioning glance – then the other teacher takes the proverbial reins for awhile. Together, we work it out.
    3. We learn from each other. I forward teaching websites. He’s taught me technology integration. We share books.
    4. The learning specialists love it. It makes their schedule easier.
    5. Students benefit from having at least two teachers watch them during each lesson.

  19. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Janet, thanks for sharing your very interesting perspective. You bring up such an important message that is vital for all teachers–everywhere! Collaboration is truly a necessity as we all align the common core and the high standards needed to prepare our students for their future.
    I’d love to hear more about the role of the learning specialists in your model.

  20. Nancy says:

    Thanks so much for your reply and suggestions. I’ve actually been doing most of them, and it has been helpful. I am looking forward to more posts. In particular, I would love to know more about making the most of your planning time. I have a common planning time period of 40 minutes with two of my teachers, but not the third. It makes it very difficult to get much done! I have a teaching blog of my own which has been neglected this past month as I find myself swamped with work because I end up using my prep for planning and am not able to get much done. I would love more ideas on effective collaborative planning. Also, thanks to all those that commented below with more ideas and thoughts. I know Laurie asked what subjects I am teaching. I am working with basic skills students in the areas of literacy (shared and guided reading) and math.

    I hope this doesn’t sound as though I’m complaining. I love teaching children and am simply looking to improve on what I do! I’m always open to suggestions!

  21. becky hyink says:

    I am excited to follow along with your blog. I have been co-teaching math classes at my high school for the last 6 years, as well as teaching 2 modified Algebra 1 classes for lower level functioning students (thus the reason for my joining some middle school resource groups for appropriate math activities for this group of students.) I have usually had great relationships, but hope to see how I can improve our effectiveness through following your journey!

  22. Kathleen Clark says:

    I learned more about differentiated instruction and delivery strategies from my co-teacher in the years that we taught together than I ever learned in college and professional development classes.

  23. Becky, thanks for joining our discussion! We would love to hear more about how you have developed great relationships with your co-teachers. Please share!

  24. Kathleen,
    It sounds like you speak from the general education teacher’s perspective, right? Thanks for sharing your positive experience. What specific strategy or strategies did you find most effective?

  25. Annette, I too have worked with many different teachers in a short time. It can so daunting for us as colleagues, adjusting to different teaching styles, classroom procedures, and educational philosophies when we are first teaching together, to begin with, and then the teacher leaves and a new one comes in. Imagine how our students feel?! Your suggestion about knowing ahead of time what the agenda/routine/lesson/activity will be, is crucial. If we can familiarize ourselves with even a rough idea, it makes all the difference. I think sharing how we feel too, with our colleagues/teammates is very important. It’s sometimes hard to express this, but can make things so much easier. I had a teammate just yesterday ask if I was doing okay, noticing I was running around into various rooms (our permanent substitute for a teacher who is on maternity leave, had a substitute, and she needed help setting up the room, etc. Our para was at a meeting and I felt challenged trying to get to everyone’s room and help the kids with their writing assignments. Just knowing my teaching partner noticed made all the difference.

  26. Nick, what a great comment about expanding your own teaching skills and strategies. I think this is one of my favorite parts of being a co-teacher: what I’ve learned from my teaching partners. Last year I had a young man who had Asperger’s Syndrome (on the Autism Spectrum). He would often become stressed and have difficulty in class if he misplaced his notebooks, etc. My science partner, suggested we leave a space for him on her counter for his science notebook so he always knew where it was. It made an enormous difference in decreasing his anxiety. I took her idea and implemented it in his other subjects; a wonderful way to learn from my colleagues about how to help our student.

  27. Welcome Sue, how wonderful to hear from a parent.thank-you so much for sharing our blog with your school district.

  28. Brenda, your ideas are phenomenal about ourroles and responsibilities as special education teachers and how we can “make it work” as Elizabeth writes. I imagine you are an expert on the moon phases in science and a master of all the great ancient civilizations working in so many Science and Social Studies classes. My favorite statement you wrote about “collaboration and compromise becoming the key” is crucial.

  29. Janet, I love the reflective piece of your comments. It can make all the difference in helping kids, reteaching lessons, skills, and finding ways of helping all students be successful. You are right about how we learn from one another, and sharing of websites and books can create opportunities for our own version of Professional Development. Your last comment about students benefitting from having two teachers watch them reminds me of
    the importance of a second pair of eyes. A few days ago in our math class, I was noticing a young man who thought he knew an answer and had made a mistake. It was a minor one, but to him it was devestating. I talked with him quietly about not beating himself up for a mistake. I wasn’t sure he felt better, and shared with my math partner what had happened, and whispered to my math partner, “Could you give Rick a pep talk at the end of class? Hearing from each of us gave him the shot in the arm he needed to not be so harsh on himself.

  30. Welcome Becky, one of my favorite subjects to co-teach is math. I can share tons of activities that will help your students. Feel free to ask questions about specific lessons/standards that may be challenging for your students. I find most kids on IEPs have a difficult time on math tests and quizzes due to the complexity of all the skills and multi step tasks required of them, so if we can provide projects and activities to reinforce these skills, it can give them an opportunity to demosntrate their knowledge in a variety of ways.

  31. Nancy,
    Common planning time is crucial for co-teaching for sure. We’ll be addressing this in more detail in an upcoming blog post, but in the meantime, but can you do a working lunch with your third colleague? I often meet with my math partner and we talk and chew together, because math is so skill based even with our weekly planning, it’s often not enough. Also, what about e-mailing one another rough plans for the week? Again, not ideal, but at least you won’t walk in without a map of what you two hope to accomplish.
    I think when we do plan, especially with subjects like reading and math which are so challenging for kids who learn differently, it’s important to plan our “big ideas” first and work off that. For example, my math partner and I are teaching the standards of converting from fractions to decimals to percents. So, we’ll map out the week day by day, then delve deeper into “how” and “who.” We also discuss accommodations/modifications for kids who require it.
    Do you work with other reading teachers? I find our reading teachers are the unsung middle school heroes who have wonderful ideas. I often ask them for advice, lesson ideas, projects, etc.

  1. 10/21/2012

    [...] In Two Teachers in the Room, middle grades special educators Elizabeth Stein & Laurie Wasserman explore the joys & challenges of co-teaching. Both are NBCTs.  [...]

  2. 12/07/2012

    [...] In Two Teachers in the Room, middle grades special educators Elizabeth Stein & Laurie Wasserman explore the joys & challenges of co-teaching. Both are NBCTs.  [...]

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