The winter break is over and the rhythms of school life have resumed. It’s the perfect moment to do a mid-year check in.
With half of this school year behind us (so hard to believe!), and another half of the school year ahead (so exciting!), it is a good time to reevaluate the procedures and structures that are in place in our inclusion classrooms. It’s important to reevaluate our procedures, so that we can make any necessary changes that are in our control.
Classroom Management: Reality Check
When it comes to effective co-teaching, flexibility is the key. Yet a certain amount of structure must be in place to keep the organization solid. So there you have it. It’s simple: a balance of flexibility with structure.
But it’s not just a balance with each side pulling against the weight of the other. Each component must weave naturally within the process of the other to create an effectively managed classroom. Maybe the right metaphor is “a balance of matched threads throughout the weave.”
So how is this naturally woven balance created? The short answers are “over time” and “with determined focus and incredible patience.” In any co-teaching classroom, here are some things to check:
The Physical Set-Up: Are students desks arranged in ways that are conducive to effective instruction? Also, we must make sure that the students with IEPs are included, not integrated. If they are “integrated” (this should be avoided) the students with IEPs are all seated next to each other—together, but still separate. When they are “included” (the way it should be) the students with IEPs are seated strategically amongst their general education peers.
Thinking about the way to set up the desks: personally, I’m not a fan of linear rows 100 percent of the time. This setup seems to scream, “sit-up, face forward, look at me, for I am the most important person in the room, or else!” I consider myself a facilitator of learning — not the sage on stage all of the time. I want students to know that their thoughts are valued.
There are other options that encourage students to share their thinking out loud and learn so much from one another. As we reach this half-way mark into the school year, think about how you and your co-teachers are setting up your classrooms. One of my co-teachers decided to change from traditional linear rows to stadium seating where the rows are in an arc shape. The students can now see each other as we engage in class discussions.
We make time to allow students to push their desks together when we want them to think-pair-share. And other times, the desks are arranged in groups of four to five, allowing students in each group to have time to problem solve and work together. Of course, there are also times when linear rows are fine.
Classroom Procedures: Is your class routine one that your co-teacher, all of the students, and you are comfortable with? Is it working? Are any updates needed? Are your routines predictable enough to help students to be independent, yet crazy enough to spark students to wonder and be excited about what the class will do next?
Also, is your behavior management plan working? This is the time of year to evaluate what is in place and then tweak as necessary. No need to wait for next year’s students to make some positive changes that you think of now.
Student Engagement: Do you and your co-teacher hand out the fish? Or do you make your students go fishing? Typically when students are actively involved in the learning process, they are engaged. If you are offering meaningful questions that make students think, and you are requiring students to generate their own questions and seek answers, then you are helping your students to develop valuable life-long learning habits.
Your co-teacher and you should allow yourselves to find the balance between the pressures of a fast paced curriculum and the need to guide students toward higher level thinking. Encourage kids to question, to interact, and to enjoy the moments of learning when they are in your classroom.
Student engagement in the co-taught classroom is a topic that I will delve more deeply into in a future post. For now I’ll leave you with a blog post that expresses my own thinking about student engagement in general. Check it out; hopefully, it will spark some honest reflecting for you and your co-teacher(s): The Problem with Student Engagement is written by Canadian teacher and teaching coach Shelley Wright.
Our responsibility to engage our students — all students — lies heavily upon us, considering what we are asking them to do. Just think about it.
Co-Teacher Role Check
Are you and your co-teacher sharing the responsibility of teaching? More specifically, does each of you have a significant role during the planning, instructional, and assessment phases of teaching? If so, great! Please consider sharing your experience here. If not, do not worry, you are far from alone. This is also a good place to share your frustration. Just add your voice to the comments below, so that we can get some solution-seeking minds together for a productive discussion.
Also, to further spark your voice, please check out these wise words from Anne Benninghof.
She sensibly states:
“Co-teaching isn’t taking turns — it’s teaching together.”
I feel like standing up tall, high on the top of a soapbox, and shouting that out for all to hear. My own situation is probably not too far off from so many of you. I truly appreciate and enjoy working with all of my co-teachers.
Yet the “easy way out” seems like a universal problem that so many co-teachers live with every day. Far too many of our colleagues still see the process of co-teaching as a “taking turns” kind of experience.
I am finding (once again) that changing mindsets about our shared roles takes lots of time and patience. And along my journey, in the midst of this change, I am making sure that I notice and enjoy the small positive baby steps I take with my colleagues each day.
We’re half way home. Please share how things are going with you at this milepost in the school year. What’s going well? What changes would you like to make? Let’s search for some solutions together…