Monday, February 10, 2014

guest blogger: managing co-teaching

 Guest Blogger: Randy Johnson, PAR Consulting Teacher for St. Paul Public Schools
Who’s This Person in My Room? aka The Perils of Co-Teaching

For many districts, including mine, co-teaching is becoming a more and more common strategy to address both the need for less restrictive environments for students with special needs, and as a strategy to reduce the achievement gap for our students of color, particularly African American males. (The unfortunate data is, students of color are significantly over-represented in Special Education).

As a new teacher you may welcome the idea of having a colleague to bounce ideas, to provide “back up” when behaviors escalate, or to share the work of planning, presenting and grading student work.

On the other hand, you may also feel hesitant to have someone in your room, watching, and sometimes questioning, your methods. Your co-teacher may want to do things in a way that goes against your beliefs or style.

How can you develop a truly collaborative partnership where students benefit from both teachers’ perspectives, styles and areas of expertise? Early in the relationship, one beneficial activity to consider is a sit-down meeting to discuss what is important to you and to your partner.

Things to consider in this meeting could be:

  • What is a comfortable noise level for the classroom when students are working in groups?
  • What role do you want to play in the instruction of lessons?
  • When and where would you like to meet to plan our lessons?
  • How comfortable are you with changing the plan based on informal assessments in the classroom?
  • What are important expectations, rituals and routines you would like established in our class?
  • Who will address behavior concerns with our special education and general education students?
  • How will we share time delivering instruction, grading, connecting with parents?

The list could go on, but the idea should be clear:  just like any relationship, you need to know what each person brings to the partnership, where each of their strengths lie, and what each can do to enhance the classroom experience for students.  The General Education teacher is usually the content expert, knowing the standards and benchmarks inside and out. The Special Education teacher has a toolbox filled with approaches to make the curriculum accessible to more students through various differentiation strategies and behavior management systems.

Just playing it by ear can lead to a good deal of discomfort, as well as a less than optimal experience for you, your co-teacher, and especially the students.  As with most things in education, going slow at the beginning allows you to go faster throughout the year.


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