What Does Co-Teacher Teamwork Look Like?

A MiddleWeb Blog

I’m a special education teacher who co-teaches with several colleagues on my middle school grade level team. I thought it might be useful and interesting to readers in similar situations if I shared some of what we do together as a team.

Behavior goals: Each month, our team focuses on a specific behavior or set of expectations we want students to work on, and we arrange a special reward for the students who exhibit these behaviors all the time for the month.

In October it might be coming to class prepared with their agenda book, pencils, books, binders, and homework. The next month it might be coming to class on time or not talking out.

Of course, these are all expected school behaviors for every student, but we’ve found that focusing on specific expectations each month makes change and improvement more manageable for the kids and for us. We hang up a sign in each room listing the month’s expected reward behaviors.

So, what is the special reward? Last month I had about one-third of the students on our team in my room playing board games, listening to the radio, and not having to go to their double block academic class. The kids loved it, felt special, and it didn’t cost anything! This month it might be going to the gym with our ELA teacher to play basketball. I’ll take over his class while the eligible kids are with him in the gym.

The goal, of course, is to make a big deal about the achievement of those kids who “did the right thing” and to encourage everyone else to improve and join the fun.

Team calendar: Each month I update our team’s calendar in the hall display case where student projects are also displayed. I write upcoming project and test dates, field trips, early release days, report card/progress report dates, etc. It’s a way for all of us to know who is giving a test and when, so we can adjust our schedules and make sure kids aren’t “over-assessed” on any given day. It’s also an opportunity for the kids to look at their month or week at a glance when we line up for lunch!

Team Fun Day before holidays: All teachers know what the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas break is like. It’s hard to have a ‘regular day.” So we take the opportunity to build spirit and team cohesion. We designate the day before a school vacation as Team Fun Day. Typically we do the following:

• Homeroom Breakfast: Kids sign up to bring in something packaged (to avoid food allergy concerns) such as muffins, bagels, granola bars, fruit, juice, chips, cups, plates, napkins, and so on. We have (when money permitted) purchased bagels and cream cheese or donuts, but lately we’ve come to depend on the kids to purchase the food. If kids don’t have the resources to participate, I’ll bring in an extra package of granola bars, etc. It’s about doing something special before the break that the kids really enjoy. Many times we give the kids who have large families or may have financial difficulties, the extras to take home, and somehow there’s always plenty left over. One year in particular we had so much leftover food I was able to donate it to one of our city’s food pantries. They were elated as they often don’t have baked goods, cookies, etc.

After breakfast, the kids are divided into 3 groups of approximately 30-35 students for the following team activities:

Finals of the Ancient History Trivia Contest: About 28-35 kids (approximately 7-12 from each section) who have earned top scores in our history colleague’s weekly trivia question activity compete with students from other sections. Prizes are awarded in June during our team award ceremony on the last day of school (more on that later in the year). The kids enjoy competing with their fellow history buffs, and for several kids who aren’t good with paper and pencil activities, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate their strength in oral/auditory skills.

• Facts in Five: We base this on a board game from the ’60s-’70s. The kids are divided up into teams, usually groups of  6 or 7. They line up outside the room and are handed a card with the corresponding team #. Each team then picks a spokesperson to share their team’s answers to each question. The questions are created by the academic teachers, and we also have some random mixed-bag questions. The board looks like this:

Each subject teacher creates a variety of questions related to what the students have been studying for the past term. The harder the question, the higher the point value. Mixed Bag could be anything: name a famous person from our city, for example. One of my favorites is to list all the neighboring towns and cities that touch our city. It drives the kids crazy because there are 6 and they can’t be sure of all of them.

The questions are erased as they answered correctly; but if they aren’t teams can answer the question when it’s their turn. We try to come up with prizes that don’t cost us any money, such as a pass to sit in the teacher’s chair for a class period (a big hit), giving one homework assignment of their choice for a teacher to complete (always funny when one subject teacher has to complete another teacher’s homework!) and an extra day to pass in a project. Some kids will hold onto those prizes all year, waiting for just the right moment, and end up never even using them.

When we have had kids from self-contained classrooms where students have cognitive weaknesses, or social/emotional/behavioral disabilities, I always consult with their teachers to incorporate questions they feel their students are capable of answering.

• Curriculum-related film: The third group of kids (who switch with the Facts in Five group) watch a film tied into ELA or Social Studies: e.g., Prince of Egypt when we study Egypt, or a “Coming of Age” video to tie into our reading of Crash. Or it may be simply an important movie for kids to see — like Radio  with Cuba Gooding, Jr. as a mentally challenged young man who helps the school’s football team (based on a true story).

Finally, I wanted to share this picture of Paul, my ELA co-teacher, demonstrating a physical challenge for the kids during a novel review game. They have a chance to win bonus points if they are successful, and the students love it because it’s so goofy. It gets them moving, and the whole class encourages them.

Note the headset Paul is wearing; we have two students who have hearing losses and it projects his voice for them. Accommodations are just a natural element of the teamwork we do together. It’s a dream team, really.

In a future post, I’ll share some other ways we work as a coordinated teacher team, including how we help kids who are struggling academically and socially.

Laurie Wasserman

Laurie Wasserman is a National Board Certified 6th-grade special needs teacher in Medford, Massachusetts. She has been teaching for 32 years, has written articles for Education Week, Teacher Magazine and Education World, all about her love of working with kids who “learn differently.” She is also a co-author of the 2011 book Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Public Schools Now and in the Future. Laurie is a member of the Boston Writing Project, and Teacher Leaders Network, as well as a new teacher mentor.

5 Responses

  1. We’d love it if other teachers could share what they/their team does around the holidays or before an upcoming break. Do you have special activities, lessons or units that you and the kids enjoy?

  2. Mark Brincks says:

    Thanks for sharing! I am always looking for any new ideas to work smarter not harder. Sounds like you have a wonderful team:)

  3. Thanks for wirting, Mark. So glad our team’s ideas were helpful. I am very fortunate to work with such a wonderful team this year; it makes all the difference for the kids. Happy Holidays to you.

  4. Harriet Bessette says:

    Hi Laurie:

    I love reading about how you incorporate activities into the co-teaching process. I am a former Massachusetts special education teacher who is now teaching in higher education (near Atlanta, GA!). May I share your ideas from “Co-Teacher Teamwork” with other teachers?

    Thanks so much!


    • Harriet,
      How wonderful to hear from a former Bostonian. Hope you are enjoying life in Georgia.
      Thank-you for your lovely comments; please share my ideas with other teachers in higher education. It is an honor when fellow educators want to incorporate my acitivities into their teaching practice.
      all the best,

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