Adding Curiosity to Your Co-Teaching Mix

A MiddleWeb Blog

2-teachers-nobordr-210Welcome back to a new school year, co-teachers! In recent weeks we have found out not only if we are co-teaching, but also who our co-teaching partner(s) will be for the year. And readers, if you stayed very quiet, you could almost hear the shrieks of joy, the cries of despair, and the whispers of hope and anticipation as educators near and far learned about their teaching assignments for the year.

Some teachers enter this co-teaching realm with open minds and hearts, while others make the choice to use their energies to build walls—making co-teaching a challenging situation for all involved. This post is dedicated to ALL co-teachers—in fact it’s a must read! Because, you see, I am about to share ONE powerful key to co-teaching success!

But first, let’s create the context and build the background…

arm wrestle icon 300My Eureka moment for creating positive co-teaching partnerships (no matter what!) comes down to one seemingly simple (yet possibly confusing) statement that I learned as I worked with colleague, Joshua Hendrickson, LMSW.

First, let’s be curious

Joshua is a social emotional learning consultant and mind-body specialist who has been bringing some very meaningful professional development to teachers and administrators in my district.

During one of our recent sessions, Josh and I were collaborating with and guiding teachers to foster a deeper sense of growth mindset and social emotional competencies while keeping academic expectations high. As we were discussing ways to support teachers, I instantly began to connect specific strategies that could be put in place—but Josh stopped me and said, “Let’s just bring curiosity to it—let’s not do anything yet.”

I have to be honest – my initial response was an edgy laugh out loud as I thought, “This is crazy—these teachers are asking for support NOW—I cannot just do nothing!” Yet, there was a part of me that knew it made sense…I just didn’t know why at the time. I trusted Josh’s instincts, and as the urgency of the moment passed, I reflected again on Josh’s words, and I thought—this is brilliant! The simple statement, “Just bring curiosity to this…” has boundless potential. And not surprisingly, I connected it to co-teaching.

Let’s think this through….

Just the statement alone brings about a natural kid-like relaxation. Typically when a person is curious he is feeling a sense of wonder, motivation, and excitement. In fact it can make one feel just giddy with that slap-happy kind of energy—like a little kid who doesn’t have a care in the world! This state of relaxation and exploration can really put a person at ease in creating the most of any situation. So let’s take a deeper look….

If you enter your co-teaching year with curiosity, that attitude:

key between hands vert 'photo 2501. Puts you and your co-teacher(s) at ease

Bringing curiosity to any challenging situation allows for non-judgmental attitudes and relaxed communications. You will be willing to listen to each other’s ideas because you will bring a sense of wonder to your effort to understand what makes each other tick.

2. Keeps you questioning and seeking solutions

Bringing curiosity to any situation keeps one’s mind active—which will very often lead to positive actions. When a teacher is curious, she or he will be compelled to act upon his ideas rather than become passive if a situation is seemingly unpleasant. Teachers can become proactive solution seekers just by remaining mindful of their questions and ideas for possible solutions. Teachers become observant and willing to perceive new ideas.

3. Adds a new level of exhilaration

Curiosity simply opens up possibilities. We’ve heard that two heads are better than one, and co-teaching is a prime example. When both teachers’ expertise is actively applied within the instructional process, the possibilities for learning can unfold with a force of nature! 

Tips to develop this sense of co-teaching curiosity:

pastel handshake 2501. Keep an open mind

This curiosity thing is easier said than done in some cases. Just remember to enter your co-teaching moments in a non-evaluative manner. Provide opportunities for the both of you to share your feelings and ideas.

2. Adopt a Strengths-Based view

Don’t expect to love every little thing about your co-teacher—but don’t try to change him either. Accept your co-teacher as she is—identify one or more strengths and go from there. Combine your talents and expertise—and let the learning process begin!

3. Stay Grateful

We’ve heard about the positive effects that the “attitude of gratitude” may have on a person’s outlook and performance. When applied in a co-teaching situation, all that positivity can be invested in giving the students all we’ve got. Do not take the little things that your co-teacher does for granted. And when you find yourself feeling irked by something…anything…just redirect your thoughts to something your co-teacher did that you are thankful for. This may sound sappy—but hey, it works!

Are you in need of ideas for how to bring curiosity to your co-teaching year? If so, let us know—let’s brainstorm the potential of curiosity to secure your co-teaching success!

Here’s to a smooth launch to the school year!

Elizabeth Stein

Elizabeth Stein has more than 20 years teaching 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 books include Comprehension Lessons for RTI (Grades 3-5) (Scholastic, 2013), Elevating Co-Teaching Through UDL (CAST, 2016) and Two Teachers in the Room: Strategies for Co-Teaching Success (Routledge, 2017). Follow her on Twitter @elizabethlstein and #coteachat

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