Be a Better Co-Teacher in the Year to Come

A MiddleWeb Blog

Just out of curiosity, over the past few months, I’ve informally asked 60 teachers (general and special education teachers who mostly reside in the Northeast region) how they viewed the teacher’s role in today’s classrooms. My main focus was to get the teachers’ initial outlook on 21st Century skills.

Twenty-five of the 60 teachers immediately made connections to technology. Twenty of the 60 spoke of the need to guide students’ critical thinking skills. And 15 teachers shared an honest (yet sheepish) response in the category: “It’s about getting kids ready for the future—but who really knows what that looks like?”

I probed a bit deeper with this last group of 15 and asked: What do you do in your classroom to get your students ready for the future?”

Most of their responses indicated that the giving of content knowledge was a main focus for students to be ready to be successful. I needed to know more. After acknowledging the value of content knowledge, I probed a bit deeper and asked: And what does the process of learning the content knowledge look like in your classroom?

Thoughtful responses supported traditional methods (teacher-centered approaches) with an emphasis on “We just don’t have time to get creative.” Other responses: “I just have to make sure the kids get the information. There just isn’t time for anything else.” And a few made heartfelt comments like: “That is something I really have to work on.”

Looking Ahead to 2018

As a new year approaches, it seems like the perfect time to consider our view of what 21st century teaching look like. After all…it’s about time!

Think about it for a minute. Now that we are in the 21st century for almost two decades, what is your vision of what 21st century skills look like? It seems like a great question for this time of year as we make time to relax, reflect, and recharge.

And it is also about time for everyone to get on board with a consistent vision and the necessary pedagogical practices to give our students the best chance of creating their successful future.

Take Charge of Time 

OK, folks! Let’s take a new perspective on what we have time for.

As teachers continue to think and feel that “there just isn’t time,” we are doing a great disservice to our students who have nothing but time and trust in our instructional decisions to meaningfully prepare for their future.

Let’s not waste it! Just think about how much time is wasted saying we don’t have time! In this final post of 2017, I want to share some actionable steps we can use to strengthen our 21st century teaching know-how and our vision of what is possible for the kids in our classrooms.

Ideas for 21st Century Co-Teachers

Here’s what co-teachers can do:

✻ Practice true collaboration

Meet in person to not only plan for WHAT you are teaching but HOW you are teaching. Delineate roles based on each teacher’s expertise and strengths. And don’t be afraid to step out of comfort zones. Actively listen to one another. See the classroom, the students, and yourselves from the perspective of your co-teacher. Embrace, respect, and empower one another as a part of the learning environment. 

✻ Stay curious and be flexible

Stay connected with your ideas and ways of doing things – but allow your co-teacher to stretch your thinking to a new way of doing something. Find at least one way each day to acknowledge your expanding view and perspective. Accept your co-teacher’s abilities and ask yourself: How can I support his or her strengths? How can I add my thinking to my co-teacher’s?

✻ Advocate for your role

Remember your role IS all about your students. Each co-teacher must speak out to design instruction to meet the needs of every learner. Each co-teacher must be acutely aware and serve an active role in co-creating from each individual perspective. As the two teachers’ roles blend and combine, you will witness what co-teaching is all about.

✻ Vow to a Process of Life-Long Learning

We are all learners. Embrace professional learning opportunities. Be that teacher who is humble, vulnerable, and open and curious about current research, effective pedagogies, and modeling what a meaningful learning process looks like. 

What Co-Teachers Can Do for Students

It’s really quite simple. Co-teachers, all you need to do is keep them engaged. Done. Enough said.

Or maybe not. I admit it’s easier said than done…how do you do that? My simplest response…just care about what your students think and feel. I mean really care about each of them as you design and deliver instruction. Accept ownership of your important, personal role in their future success.

When this caring connection is truly present, you will find that the two teachers in the room open the space to co-create a powerful learning environment with students. Here are a few essential questions to keep you on the right track:

  1. How are you encouraging students to be curious in your classroom?
  2. It’s more than having technology present – how are you using the technology is the question! How does your use of technology match with research on effective practice?
  3. What role does intrinsic motivation play in your learning cycles?
  4. What scaffolds are in place to guide your students to take initiative and to adapt within a meaningful, flexible cycle of learning?
  5. Do students feel comfortable to take risks? To make mistakes AND self-correct with the power of humility?
  6. What instructional methodologies do you embed to support students’ effective oral and written communications?
  7. Are you co-creating paths of critical thinking? Do students experience the thrills and the challenge of thinking that pushes them beyond their current personal thinking spaces?

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I would love to hear from you! Add your voice to the 60 teachers I mentioned earlier. Answer any one of the 7 questions above—or simply share your reflections as 2017 comes to a close…Are you a 21st Century teacher? And even more to the point…Are you a 21st Century co-teacher? 

Let’s make 2018 the year we can each say, YES! I am a 21st Century Teacher!

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

3 Responses

  1. Great article. This definitely jump started my Co teaching “practice”. Especially the idea of meeting to talk not only about what is being taught, but how.

    To answer your question number 4, Co teaching in the math class really helps us provide lots of scaffolded worksheets, activities, stations, etc. It’s a lot to ask a given teacher to do all these things, but the co teaching situation can really help differentiate the day to day.

    • Elizabeth Stein says:

      Hi, Beckett. It’s easy to feel the spark to your jump start–thanks for sharing! So true, math has endless possibilities for expanding options in the learning process–and with two teachers in the room–well, it’s double the power!

      Please consider joining our Twitter #CoTeachat this Tuesday, 1/9 at 8:00 ET when we will continue these conversations in real time using the hashtag.

      And of course, this comment section continues to be open for conversations–many thanks!


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