Like many, I had challenges as a child. One of the biggest challenges I had to overcome came around the second grade when everyone discovered I really couldn’t read. I had gotten by on my boyish charm, knowing just a few words! The next few years of school would prove to be challenging, embarrassing and frustrating for me. Thanks to my mom and divine intervention, I had all the support and motivation I needed throughout the summers to catch me up.
Fast forward 16 years to my first teaching job. Due to life changes, I chose education as a second career after serving on active duty in the Air Force and spending a short time with the police department. I entered education as a paraprofessional my first year and worked in a self-contained severe profound classroom. I learned a lot that year, and was motivated to go back to school to take courses towards certification. I was then certified as a Special Education teacher and placed in a self-contained Severe Emotionally Behaviorally Disturbed classroom for six months before being moved into a collaborative setting. In either case, I had no idea as a first-year teacher what I was doing or how to truly support students. I was placed on a 7th-grade team and assigned 11 students that I supported throughout the day. Despite district and school professional development on how to write an IEP and how to create goals, accommodations, and modifications for students, I still felt like a teacher’s aide. I attended all planning meetings, but had little input into the development of the lesson or how it would be presented. My role was usually supporting a small group or one on one support during lessons. I would modify assignments and assessments prior to them being passed out and pull my students during electives to preview and review lessons. Even with that, I still felt my students were not getting all they could be getting from me. As I began to ask to do more instructing, I still lacked the content knowledge to be as effective as I needed to be for my students. My personal experiences and first years teaching are what have driven me to want to see all children attain their academic, personal and social goals.
When I work in schools and encounter situations like mine, I’m naturally drawn to them. As I work with teachers, coaches, or administrators, I always compare co-teaching to a dance. Both teachers have to be in tune and in step with each other so that everything runs smoothly, and teaching must be a coordinated effort so that students know they have two teachers in the room.
This helpful article lists common co-teaching models that I recommend schools adopt in their classrooms, allowing for better collaboration, higher teacher efficacy, and better support for students. Many articles have been written on the models used in team teaching sessions, yet few discuss how to support teachers in those setting when challenges arise. No matter the co-teaching model that your school is using, there are key “look fors” to know that it’s being implemented properly:
- Both teachers implement behavioral supports consistently and share responsibilities for classroom management, including giving classwide incentive points and/or individual consequences and having restorative conversations with students when needed.
- Both teachers respond respectfully to each other and students at all times, and equally share the relationship-building process in the classroom. All teacher-led conversations include “We/Our” language.
- Both teachers are actively engaged in the instructional process. Teacher instructional roles are planned for and identified prior to the start of class, and school leadership is notified and on board. This can also be a point for leadership to notice and provide feedback on during observations and walk-throughs.
- Paraprofessionals are included as responsible contributors. The role of the paraprofessionals are clearly defined, and their contributions to the class are planned for and documented in lesson plans.
- Students ask both teachers for assistance, both personally and academically.
- Names of both teachers displayed in the classroom/on the door. This is simple but can often be forgotten!
- Both teachers are involved in checking for learning and determining next steps. Both have an active role in collecting qualitative and quantitive data. This could be through the use of Think Pair Shares, formative assessments, observations etc. Both teachers are using data to determine groupings, and consistently adjusting groups based on student data and opportunities to support throughout every lesson. Small group responsibilities are planned prior to the lesson.
- Both teachers make accommodations and have evidence of accommodations for students with special needs. All accommodations and responsibilities are documented in the lesson plans and special education providers, coaches, and/or school leadership is notified.
- There is evidence that there is a sense of community. Students are supportive of each other, hold each other accountable and work towards common goals, as modeled by both teachers.
Schools can utilize Real Time Teacher Coaching® to effectively support teachers in co-teaching models, with just a few shifts in practice in order to better develop both teachers. During the baseline observation, data and notes need to be taken on both teachers in order to give effective and meaningful feedback. During the pre-coaching session, both teachers will need to be in attendance in order assess their knowledge and prepare them for coaching. Preselection of scenarios are important during this phase of the cycle in order to give both teachers an experience as close to what they will experience in the classroom. Both teachers will need to be set up on the walkie-talkie and coaching cues will need to be tailored to make it clear which teacher is being cued. Practicing the coaching session should model a lesson the teachers will be teaching for coaching and each teacher should practice their role exactly how it will play out (i.e., who gives precise directions, who is checking in with certain students, etc.). Once the coaching session is over, the teachers will need to debrief during a post-coaching session. Initially, both teachers will meet individually with their coach, then they will be brought together to review, discuss, and get feedback on common threads prior to deliverables being assigned.
Leaders must set clear expectations for teachers and ensure they are trained on protocols for co-planning to ensure both teachers play a role in preparing for instruction and ensure accommodations are in place for students with disabilities. They should also create a walk-through schedule to collect data and provide feedback on a regular basis to all co-teaching classrooms, and meet with co-teachers together to go over data and trends. Administrators who exhibit the 10 essential practices of a No-Nonsense Nurturer® leader support the development and sustainability of a successful classroom where both teachers equally share classroom responsibilities and are given clear expectations for teaching and learning. With this type of environment, students will have the benefit of two skilled teachers to support them in achieving their academic potential.
By Ronardo Reeves, CT3 Associate
Learn more about Ronardo’s background as an educator here.