Join Our Summer Co-Teacher Support Group!

A MiddleWeb Blog

Are you ready for something a little new? Great! Welcome to this summer-long interactive Two Teachers in the Room post!

This post is a call to action for all co-teachers! It’s an invitation to stay connected and continue learning through the summer months. It is an opportunity for us to actively participate in a Two Teachers in the Room learning experience throughout the summer. Are you ready?!

As more educators around the nation enter into summer vacation mode, let’s consider how summertime can be the perfect time to lead us into a successful year ahead.

I, personally, have two weeks left of this school year—which will bring me right into the amazing opportunity to train teachers for a summer resiliency program I coordinate in my district. My summer will be the perfect balance of continued collaborations with teachers, students, (and of course family, friends, and time for myself) and YOU!

Here’s the plan:

This post will share 4 frequently asked questions I receive from educators around the states. I will share a few of my insights—with the hope that you, too, will share yours. All you have to do is select one (or more) of the questions below—and share your insights, resources, links, or experiences to form our summer collaborative co-teaching experience! Exciting, right?!

OK, let’s do this!

Question #1: How can co-teachers create time to plan together in the midst of crazy busy schedules?

A1: First we must reframe our concept of time. Let’s face it—there will never be enough time—so why focus on it? Let’s use the time we DO have. Consider how technology can empower our co-planning abilities.

Here are some ideas:

  • Embrace Asynchronous Planning: Go Google! Create a shared Google Doc or use an online planbook. Planning collaboratively online can really accelerate any limited face-to-face planning time—not to mention what it could do for in-the-moments instructional time!
  • Share Lesson Plan Ideas with Colleagues: Check out Dr. Wendy Murawski’s support at 2 Teach, LLC for embracing the necessity of co-planning. She offers a great co-planning template along with the opportunity to share lesson plans in all subject areas, at both elementary and secondary levels, with teachers all over—a great leisure summer resource! Of course, as lessons are shared, co-teachers must adapt to the individual students in their class, but this sharing of ideas can ignite that process.
Question #2: How can co-teachers cultivate productive relationships?

A2: When teachers embrace the mantra All learning happens within relationships, they allow for more meaningful and enduring learning. Relationships create emotional connections and a sense of belonging that is necessary for long-lasting learning opportunities. Emotions play a vital role in all aspects of learning. Check out some research here.

Make time for a summer beach read with David Rose and this Education Week interview. As the summer weeks roll on, also check out this quick read about co-creating a positive co-teaching relationship to launch your year ahead. Here are some more ideas:

  • Tag some time to check in with your co-teacher each day. This check-in time may be embedded within the instructional moments of the day—or it may be a few minutes outside of class time for a quick conversation to answer the question: how are WE doing?
  • Develop a relationship with your students, too! Remember you are teaching individuals—not content area subjects. Make time to know your students—be compassionate and connected in ways that maximize the human relationship—not just the intellectual side of learning.
  • Co-create a sense of community with your students, co-teacher, and parents.
  • Invite your administrator in—just because!
  • Embrace an all are welcome and a part of the process concept in this learning journey!
Question #3: What are some tips for delineating co-teaching roles?

A3: For starters, embrace the distinct difference between equal and equitable. Do not get caught in the trap of striving for equality by “sharing the responsibilities.” I know so many well-intentioned special education teachers who share in the teaching and grading practices—but this typically results in having two general education teachers in the room. And that is NOT good enough.

If both teachers are equal—and share the general education role—then where is the space for the required and critical addition of specially designed instruction (SDI)? SDI is a mandate that ensures that every student receives accessible and meaningful learning experiences.

It is every co-teacher’s responsibility to make sure SDI is a part of instructional time. The responsibility falls heavier on special education teachers to advocate for their role.

So create a checklist. What is the process for planning and implementing the lesson? What do specific students need? And what is the role of each teacher for specific lessons? Make sure that your equitable roles shine through!

Question #4: What is the process for selecting the best co-teaching models?

A4: Summer is a great time to review the co-teaching models and consider how you can incorporate Universal Design for Learning to design instruction to meet the needs of all learners

The process can be simple:

  1. Know your students
  2. Consider lesson goals
  3. Consider teacher strengths
  4. Step out of your comfort zone and implement a new way of teaching—with your co-teacher’s expertise to guide you.
And now…let our summer collaborations begin! Please select one or more of the questions above and share your insights and questions in the comment section below.

I’ll check in frequently to keep the conversation energized. My hope is that each co-teacher enters the new school year with an open-minded willingness to learn alongside co-teachers, students, administrators, and parents. We are all learners on a journey—and it is so much more powerful when we embrace the journey together!

Be sure to bookmark this page. I am looking forward to our collaborations…right here…throughout the summer!

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

8 Responses

  1. What a wonderful project! I’m delighted to share some thoughts…

    Question1: Time for coplanning
    First of all, thank you to Elizabeth for sharing my website and the database of lesson plan examples. The two things I emphasize when working with teams is to: (1) divide and conquer and (2) don’t get bogged down in the details! We simply have too much to do and too little time to plan everything together. I would instead recommend that you identify areas of strength, roles & responsibilities, and preferred ways to communicate. Once you’ve done that, text/email/dropbox/googledoc your part of the lesson and let your partner add/tweak/comment….rather than trying to sit down together to do it all. I would also like to shamelessly plug my article in Teaching Exceptional Children (2012) entitled “10 tips for using co-planning time more efficiently” (vol.44,no.4). In it, I share the What/How/Who approach to co-planning which I’ve used effectively with thousands of co-teachers nationally. I hope it helps you!

    Question #2-Productive Relationships
    Great question!! This is a must for effective co-teachers! No matter how many books you read on co-teaching, it ultimately comes down to personalities, trust and respect! Consider getting Lisa Dieker’s Co-Teaching Lesson Plan book. In it, she has reflective questions throughout to help guide co-teachers as they navigate the year together.
    I also recommend identifying a “marriage counselor” – someone you both trust who you can go to when you have a situation and can’t seem to agree or even compromise. Agree to trust that person’s opinion and go with whatever he/she says. Remember, ultimately you won’t always agree – but you need a STRATEGY for when you don’t….other than divorce!

    Question 3 – Delineating roles
    I can’t concur enough with Elizabeth’s reminder that roles do not have to be the same!! We are different. That’s WHY we are co-teaching. You want to feel like the work has been divided equitably not identically. But also feel free to work to strengths, not labels. I’ve had special educators who were stronger with content and general educators who preferred coming up with strategies and working with parents. It’s more about your own team and your own identity. Be honest and COMMUNICATE!

    Question 4 – Selecting co-teaching models
    My main tip for this question is to become comfortable with ALL of the models. I hate it when folks email me to say “I teach Biology. What is the best co-instructional approach for that?” Or “I teach students with Autism. What co-teaching approach should we use?” Every day is different! One day the content (and your familiarity with it) might make the most sense delivered through stations, while the next day you might start with a role-play using Team Teaching and then spend the majority of the day in Parallel Teaching, switching groups halfway through. If you and your partner are really familiar with ALL of the approaches, your teaching toolbox will be better equipped to meet the various needs of all learners.

    I do also agree with Elizabeth that now is a great time to be more familiar with UDL and its interface with co-teaching! This past week, Katie Novak (from CAST) and I modeled co-teaching at a Co-Teaching/UDL institute with two of my 2 TEACH Associates (Tamarah Ashton & Amy Kramer). We had such a blast modeling UDL through a co-taught framework! These two fit so nicely together – though we cannot forget to also embed Specially Designed Instruction and Differentiation for those individuals who need something different.

    Thank you again, Elizabeth, for setting up this summer collaborative activity. Good luck to all of you who are co-teaching!

    • Elizabeth Stein says:

      Thank you, Wendy, for getting our conversation off to a powerful start–and for responding to each question! Your insights, resources, and experiences add to that sizzling with excitement effect I was hoping for as I wrote this post!

      OK, readers! Take some time to let it all sink in…and follow your instincts to jump in with your questions, insights, and ideas to share…we are just getting started here!

      Enjoy!

  2. Hi everyone! My summer will include time for reflection, developing some new ideas for next school year, creating some new webinars, working with teachers around the country in professional learning activities, and co-teaching a four-day co-teaching institute! Just thinking about it energizes me! Here are my responses to Elizabeth’s four questions. If you’d like to discuss any of them further, feel free to email me at anne@ideasforeducators.com.

    Question 1 – Planning Time
    Some type of online, shared document is essential for saving time. I am often up at 4 am, while my co-teachers are not! If I have access to a shared document, I might jump online and add some ideas to our lesson plans.

    We also save time by the “divide and conquer” method. As a specialist, I love to take on the activator and closure for every lesson, as these times are crucial for students who struggle. My co-teachers trust that I will plan these parts, just as I trust that they will plan the mini-lesson. By dividing some of the planning, we conquer much more efficiently.

    Small group work can also add to planning efficiency. If both co-teachers are clear on the learning target and which grouping model they will use, then they might be able to plan their group activities separately.

    Finally, I have become a fan of anchor charts for teachers! Why not show students that we need reminder resources, too? I recommend posting an anchor chart for favorite grouping models, and for favorite “things to do while one is lecturing.” A quick glance will remind us of things we can do, even if we didn’t write them down in the lesson plan.

    Question 2 – Relationships
    It is all about building trust! Paul Zak’s work on the role of oxytocin is fascinating and a must read. He has several books, including The Moral Molecule, and The Trust Factor. One piece of research he discusses is the importance of being vulnerable. When we are vulnerable with each other, oxytocin is released, which increases trust. While it can be scary to be vulnerable (“Is he judging me?” “Does she think I’m crazy?” etc.) the outcome is worth it.

    Question 3 – Delineating Roles
    Here’s an article I wrote for Educational Leadership that captures my thoughts and ideas about roles and responsibilities. The article, titled “To Clone or Not to Clone” emphasizes the need to tap into each other’s differing expertise.
    http://bit.ly/1TDmSjc

    My Roles and Responsibility Checklist , mentioned in the article, can be found here http://bit.ly/2tgx7T5 .
    This version is a generic list of tasks to discuss, but I encourage teams to create their own list of tasks that are unique to their classroom. For example, Who is responsible for making copies? decorating the bulletin board? taking attendance? If we don’t discuss these day-to-day chores, resentments might build.

    Question 4 – Selecting the Best Models
    In my work I talk about 9 models of co-teaching. (see Co-Teaching that Works http://bit.ly/2rqxUzC
    In reality, I think there are probably an unlimited number of ways that two educators can work together. Think of it as a big pot of food you are serving up to your students. All kinds of nutritious, delicious ingredients will go into the pot. Everyday will include different ingredients, based on the students’ needs. We don’t want to serve up just one ingredient, day after day, as it won’t be healthy over the long run.

  3. Dan says:

    #1 Carving out your planning time and avoiding distractions. At middle and high schools kids and adults are often coming in and out of classrooms during teachers’ planning time. It is very important to put your planning periods on the calendar and make sure you find a place to plan uninterrupted if possible. Conference rooms can work well because people are less likely to interrupt you there. If you plan in the classroom, close the door and post a sign on the door when you will be available so that you are less likely to be disturbed. Decide in the beginning of the year exactly what that limited face-to-face time will be used for. Use a shared document to do the planning of the individual components so that you can see one another’s work on your own time when it is most convenient. E-mail tends to be an inefficient method of collaboration.

  4. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Thanks, Anne, for adding your expertise and additional resource links–I’m hoping if anyone would like to discuss your ideas further–they will also come right here to keep our summer conversation going–so please continue to check in right here throughout the summer!

    Dan, I agree…your insights and experiences are spot on! Thank you for adding your tips! I have seen email work for some–but, so true, GDocs takes the sharing to a whole new organized and creative level!

    Your post carries me to the fact that some co-teachers DO have sufficient co-planning time…but HOW do they use the time is the next question? I think it comes down to being open, flexible, knowledgeable–and willing to learn more–and teach in new ways. Yet, sometimes this is a challenge…
    Anyone connect?

  5. Elizabeth Stein says:

    As we continue with our summer co-teaching conversation…I’d like to add the perspective of the students to the mix…check out what kids have to say about co-teaching in one of my favorite blog posts: https://www.middleweb.com/5729/what-kids-say-about-inclusion/

    And share your thoughts…what do you hope your students will say about learning in an inclusive, co-taught classroom this coming year? Share your hopes here!

  6. Beth Lakretz says:

    I love all the answers already provided! What a rich resource and conversation. Thanks Elizabeth.
    1. There are so many great ways to plan digitally now, but here’s my perspective on when you do have time together. Use the time you do have. Many teachers we coach have some time in their schedule but it ends up being used for phone calls, clerical work and social time (which all are also so important and can interfere with planning). I work with teachers to commit to a “sacred planning time”, even if it’s 15 minutes that will be used for nothing but planning. Put a sign on your door that says ” Do Not Disturb”, hide in a corner, or find a nook or cranny in your building. Make sure you both know where you’re meeting so you don’t spend 10 minutes finding each other! In our work with districts, we ask teachers to select a sacred time, and administrators to keep a list of their teams’ sacred times so they aren’t pulled for other meetings. We also suggest scheduling a back-up.

    It’s helpful when both teachers have previewed what you will be planning so you come to the table with ideas. I want to piggy back on Anne and Wendy with divide and conquer. Perhaps one of you provides the overall lesson and the other differentiates. Remember that some models take little co-planning. If the lesson lends itself to station teaching, decide who’s teaching which station and who will prepare the independent station. Then plan on your own time.It can be a 5 minute conversation. The same with parallel teaching. Once you agree on the objectives for the lesson, the starting and end point, and the timing, you each can plan for your own group.

    Q2. Communicate, communicate, communicate, and tell the truth! I’ve seen so many people agree with their partner’s perspective to not seem difficult or to try and accommodate. Then by February, that person is often unhappy coming to work. Write down what’s really important to you as a teacher, in your classroom, instructionally, with students and to you as a person. Ask your partner to do the same. Share. Talk about how you differ, honestly, and create a plan to address those differences.
    Have fun together! Find a time to connect as human beings.
    Make sure to check in about your relationship regularly… not just the talking about the kids, the curriculum, the parents, etc.

    Q3. I find it important for teachers to be able to articulate their strengths and weaknesses. Often, this is a hard undertaking for people. In delineating roles, it’s crucial that each partner can speak to what they have to offer and where they need support. This conversation helps you decide who is who.
    Always ask, how is this lesson different and better for all the students in our class because we are both here? If the instruction in your class looks like how a class with look with just one of you, then you’re not using both of your strengths, gifts and talents. Remember your class is supposed to be different than a gen ed class! Delineate based on who you each are!

    Q4. The first step is to become comfortable with all of them! Then, I encourage teachers to remember that the content and the students drive the selection of a model. We don’t just use a model because we like it, it’s comfortable, or we’ve heard somewhere that this model works well in this content area! There are two of you, so always ask yourselves if parallel or station teaching can replace whole class instruction so students learn new material in small groups. Is there something that needs to be pre-taught, re-taught, enriched or a skill that needs explicit instruction? Then some alternative teaching time is needed. Let your content and the needs of the students guide you!

  7. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Thank you, Beth, for adding your voice here! You bring up so many good points to support the rich conversation so far. For example, co-teachers should stay firm with keeping “sacred” planning time. It’s a must to keep communication open and honest–and keep the context of the learning as the driving force for selecting a model of co-teaching that will work best for those moments.

    Your post also connects me with the necessity to stay flexible. I have been a part of planning and implementing lessons where we started with one model in mind…and then realized..in the moments that “Hey! this isn’t working as we thought it would–let’s switch it up!” Students are engaged because teachers are making them a part of the process! And that kind of flexibility and application can only happen when the kind of communication you describe is in place–as the students remain at the center of it all!
    Go, co-teachers, go!

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