The Importance of Being a Mindful Co-Teacher
A MiddleWeb Blog
Summer vacation equates to some form of rejuvenation for most people. It’s a time to decompress, to unwind, to relax, and to make plans for some well-needed personal time without the pressure of countless daily responsibilities.
For some teachers it’s a time to forget about the ticking of the classroom clock or the bells ringing to indicate the end of one period and the beginning of the next. Or the rush of making our way through congested hallways as students and teachers hurry to their next class like rats in a maze—always on the move—just trying to make it to a desired destination without bruising.
Some teachers achieve this rejuvenation by taking a vacation to the Bahamas, or hiking out West, or visiting some other exquisite spot on Earth. All good and necessary. Many of us also find some time to re-energize through activities that strengthen us professionally.
Living out a professional dream
My rejuvenation this summer came in the form of weekend travel trips and some well-needed quality time with friends and family. In addition, I was revitalized by the opportunity to live out a dream and a vision that I shared with some colleagues and forward thinking administrators.
My district launched a summer program called the Smithtown Resiliency Program C.A.M.P. One focus was to provide students with additional practice with ELA and math Common Core curriculum.
I enjoyed my role as assistant program coordinator and special education teacher/consultant. I co-taught with a variety of teachers and worked with them behind the classroom scenes to integrate mindset within an academic Common Core learning environment. I was also able to share my passion for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and guide teachers to naturally embed the UDL planning and implementation process into daily lessons and activities.
The experience was just plain amazing! I’m pretty sure by now you’re starting to see why our “summer camp” refreshed and rejuvenated my teacher self— far better than any Caribbean cruise!
Why and how we decided to to this
For years administrators in my New York district discussed ways to support struggling middle school students who were failing core subject areas and being socially promoted year after year. Questions such as, “After years of failing, how can we expect these students to suddenly pass Regents level courses?” arose.
Ideas emerged to possibly end social promotion and retain students who did not attend a traditional summer school program. But thanks to the vision of our district’s Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Administration, Jen Bradshaw, the search for a more innovative solution arose.
As a result of collaborating with colleagues, Jen began to synthesize these ideas. Several people played key roles, including Dan McCabe, Assistant Principal at one of our middle schools. Dan provided Jen with the research to support that retention just doesn’t work. In addition, he’s the kind of visionary collaborator that every district needs in order to do what’s right for students. If you’re on Twitter, check him out: @danieldmccabe—follow him—and be prepared to be inspired!
Another visionary colleague and social worker, Josh Hendrickson, stressed the value of taking a closer look at the social emotional needs that are critical for a successful learning process. In addition, Jen integrated the work of Carol Dweck and the idea of fostering a growth mindset. Dweck has demonstrated that students’ positive attitudes about learning can strengthen intellectual function and overall learning experiences. Jen also took into consideration the research on nutrition as a valuable variable in successful learning.
With all these research-based perspectives in play, our four-week program turned out to be a mind-opening experience for teachers, for students, and for the parents who became involved. It’s a work in progress, but the seeds are firmly planted thanks to our summer session, and I’m looking forward to following through on our next action steps.
Our own mindfulness was an important focus
Part of our summer program was driven by the concept of mindfulness. Josh Hendrickson led the group in daily self and group “check-in” sessions.
We met before the students arrived and again after the students left. We sat in a circle and Josh led us in breathing exercises that guided our focus on our own attitudes, thoughts and actions. Tensions were released, attitudes adjusted and redirected, and minds were opened.
Our group shared personal connections and reflections on past experiences that opened the floodgates of emotions (yes, we had plenty of tissues on hand!) as well as opening the doors of communication for deeper professional collaborations. What resulted was a greater sense of self for each teacher, a closer professional relationship between and among teachers, and ultimately, more effective instruction for students. Seriously, this was magical stuff!
Applying mindfulness to co-teaching
Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to learn that as I reflected on the outcomes of our district’s summer program, I immediately made connections to the value of mindfulness for co-teachers.
1. Take time to relax and plan. We all know how finding the time to plan can become a daunting task, but don’t get bogged down by this reality—go with it—after all it is a natural part of the teaching process. Make the time to check in with yourself. Sit quietly and listen to your feelings. Allow your silent thoughts to become a proactive voice, so you can pave the way for effective, ongoing communication with your co-teacher(s). Find time to check-in with each other. Share personal experiences as well as allow your instructional planning time to flourish.
2. Take time to observe and to act upon your plan. Honor your set plans, but be flexible in the teaching moments and allow for authentic learning to happen. Each co-teacher should value the thinking of the other and take a stance to observe and allow the expertise of each teacher to find its way naturally in the process of instruction and assessment. If (and when) one co-teacher oversteps in a manner that threatens a power struggle, the other teacher should respond thoughtfully in a manner that stays consistent with your set plans.
In addition, both teachers should make sure to observe the learning behaviors of their students—and provide opportunities to value students’ thinking and encourage student voice. Both teachers should stay focused on what’s right for students. Co-teaching should never be about competing with one another. Co-teaching is always about strengthening the total experience so everyone has access to deeper levels of learning.
3. Take time to concentrate and to proactively reflect. A natural part of the mindfulness process is about concentration. Make sure you stay focused on your goals and students’ needs so that all learners can meet higher expectations and each student may achieve a personal best. Do not spin your wheels on glitches that will get in the way. Stay focused—stay proactive. Continue checking in with each other during the lesson. This ongoing check-in process helps assure that both teachers have maximum opportunities to nurture students’ growth mindset and positive attitude toward learning.
Not convinced of the power of mindfulness? Check out this New York Times article.
How might you incorporate mindful co-teaching this year?