by Elizabeth Stein
Some of you have already returned to school (hey y’all down South!), and some of us still have a few weeks of vacation ahead. Either way, we all share the anticipation of great possibilities that goes along with the planning and creating for a successful school year.
Each year as school approaches, I feel like I’m getting ready to run through a snowy field and be the first to put my footsteps in the freshly fallen snow. Many decisions must be made. We have the basic choices such as: How will we set up our classrooms? How will we organize our lesson plans? What learning activities will we plan for the first week of school?
Co-teachers have additional decisions to make: How will we organize the information from the Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) to align students’ needs to make sure all students will have access to the curriculum? What will my co-teaching role look like?
Whatever our teaching role, the list of decisions to be made goes on and on. And if we’re smart, we will make sure that we prioritize our personal decision list, so we set the tone for a successful year. Here’s why that’s important.
We don’t want to get caught in the “could have been” web
Does this sound familiar? “Next year I’m going to implement this strategy or that strategy. Next year I am going to organize my classroom this way. Next year I will communicate better with my co-teacher.”
Inevitably, dedicated teachers reach a point in the school year (usually around November) where they look back and wish they had made certain decisions – but now the time to make those vital decisions has passed. Too many days have gone by and we’re no longer in the position to make different choices. As time passes, we are swept up in the fast pace of each school day, and we create a momentum that our students and colleagues grow accustomed to. When this happens, we may find ourselves caught in the nagging cycle of If only I had…then… thinking that easily creates frustration.
But this doesn’t have to happen! We have the gift of a new beginning – fresh snow – a clean slate! If we make them a top priority, our beginning-of-the-year decisions can set a productive, collaborative tone for the rest of the year.
I am making a vow to seize the day and address important time-sensitive decisions at the very front end of the 2013-14 school year. My priority decisions fall into two very distinct but connected groups: (1) Relationship building and co-teacher harmony; (2) Instructional and assessment practices. I want to address each of these separately. In this post, let’s think together about the relationship building piece.
Tips and strategies for improving the co-teaching relationship have been in print since the early 90’s. Yet here we are—over two decades later—and the same questions and problems persist. How do we make the co-teaching relationship work day in and day out? How do we achieve professional harmony?
Clearly we have moved forward in raising our awareness about the value of co-teaching, shifting more learners into the general education environment, and advocating for learners with diverse needs. Yet when it comes to the day-to-day co-teaching relationship, we appear to be on a treadmill. The success or demise of these relationships seems to be left up to the two people in the classroom—their personalities, their patience, their consideration, their decisions, and their willingness to be a part of a potentially powerful relationship.
Check out this link for insightful co-teaching resources by The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY). There is something for everyone here!
Some of my questions and decisions for building relationships
1. How will I make sure my voice is heard and the needs of my students are met?
It’s all about active listening. I value the views of my co-teachers in the content areas, and I must expect them to value my own views in return. I must speak up, speak out, listen up, and advocate for my students. Case closed.
I plan to meet individually with each teacher prior to the first day and throughout the year. Before school starts I will focus on getting answers to questions such as:
- What are your classroom management beliefs/routines?
- How would you describe your typical lesson/teaching style?
- How do you monitor/assess/evaluate students’ learning/progress?
- How do you provide for varied learners during your lessons?
- How can we build trust and maintain confidentiality in our co-teaching relationship?
- How do we view each other’s roles? What part will we each play in the instructional/learning process?
3. How will I create ongoing collaborative communication?
In addition to face-to-face conversations, there are so many online tools (such as Google Docs, Edmodo and Evernote) that can spark and strengthen communication. I’m on a mission to learn more about Evernote and Edmodo this year. I will listen to what my co-teachers have to say, and what they don’t say. I will keep lines of communication open. It’s the only way.
4. How will I create a realistic schedule to pace myself effectively?
You know how it is. It’s a juggling of class time, planning time, responding to emails and phone calls, providing extra help, and oh yeah, eating lunch (if I remember to). All of this action happens within the confines of a bell ringing every forty-one minutes to shuffle us off to another class, another subject, another task that focuses on meeting the needs of students and adults. It’s enough to make one hear imaginary bells in the middle of the night. The key to making good scheduling decisions loops back to the necessity for open communication and self-discipline, all the time remaining focused on what’s most important right now.
The way I see it
Relationship building is at the center of everything we do as co-teachers, whether we’re in the general or special educator role. If we are going to help all students be successful, we have to be intentional and positive. We must make the time to create positive co-teaching relationships. No exceptions.
Once we find ourselves in a positive co-teaching relationship, we are in a much better position to talk about how we will teach and assess for learning. I’ll talk more about this instructional alignment next time. For now (and especially if you’re already beginning the school year) sit down with your co-teacher and agree on how you will keep your lines of communication open. Make a promise to be a solution seeker.
One way to be a solution seeker is by collaborating with colleagues. Join our Twitter chat all about co-teaching. Our next chat is Tuesday, August 13 from 8:00-8:45 EDT. Use hastag #coteachat.
How do you see it? What are some of your questions and decisions for building positive co-teaching relationships?