Co-teaching is often used as a way to support students; whether it’s a special education teacher working in a general classroom, team teaching, parallel teaching or station teaching. It can be a way to give more time and individualized attention to students. At its best, though, co-teaching also offers support to both teachers. A pair of experienced, successful co-teachers is like a finely tuned machine – every piece works together smoothly and the teachers support each other in everything they do. Here are twelve ways teachers can support each other in a co-teaching classroom.
1. There are many models of co-teaching. Work with your co-teacher and your administrators to determine what will work best in your classroom. Finding an arrangement that works for everyone is a good first step in a successful co-teaching relationship.
2. Even if your co-teaching model is a “one teacher, one support teacher,” always emphasize to your students that you are both “The Teacher.” It’s not one teacher, one less-important teacher.
3. When co-teaching, we have to check our egos at the door and make decisions that are in the best interest of our students. Over the years, traditional practice has reinforced the myth that special education teachers should be with the students that need basic skills while the general education teacher teaches the whole class. That’s not necessarily true. Let the situation dictate the response.
4. Know your strengths and weaknesses. As a part of your planning together, communicate with each other about what you feel you do particularly well and in what areas you feel you are not as strong. You may find that you can fill each others’ gaps, so to speak. Together, two great teachers can make a spectacular co-teaching team.
5. You have to plan. It’s unavoidable – to be a good team you must spend time working together to create and refine your classroom plans. Administrations do not always allow prep periods where both teachers are free, or may only leave one or two periods a week free for planning. Make the most of the time you have and be creative in finding any extra time you may need.
6. Plan for your planning. As much as possible, get your lesson plans and weekly goals set before you meet with each other. Then you’ll be free to work strictly on the parts of the lesson plan for which you need each other. Efficient use of your time is essential, especially when it’s limited to begin with.
7. Do not isolate anyone. When you have a one teacher/one support model or a one teacher/one special education teacher model, it is too easy to slip into an arrangement where one teacher is always working with only a few students while the general classroom teacher always works with the rest of the class. This establishes a negative “otherness” for the small group, including the teacher. Small groups can be extremely effective, just be sure that they’re not isolating the same group of students all the time.
8. When you have a one teacher/one support teacher model, students can frequently get the picture that one teacher is the “real” teacher while the other teacher is someone secondary. Avoid this at all costs. A good way to avoid this is to have the support teacher teach the general classroom in a subject or topic that she or he is particularly proficient at, rather than having him or her constantly relegated to typical “support” tasks.
9. If you will be working in a parallel teaching or alternative teaching model, set aside a prep period for the two of you to arrange your classroom. You may need to move things around a few times to find a set-up that allows you both to be teaching at the same time without distracting students or each other. Careful planning of your shared space will pay off.
10. If you are an administrator selecting teachers to pair as co-teachers, think carefully about your choices. A supportive co-teaching pair takes work to create, but all the conflict resolution or professionalism in the word cannot compensate for two seriously mismatched personalities.
11. If you are part of a new co-teaching pair (and especially if co-teaching is new to your school) be patient with the process. It will take time for you both to adjust to each others’ personalities and teaching styles.
12. If you are using an alternative teaching model, consider using Fitzell Acceleration Centers, an advanced method of co-teaching that allows students to learn at a pace that fits them. You can learn about how to set up Fitzell Acceleration Centers in Susan Fitzell’s book Co-teaching & Collaboration in the Classroom: Practical Strategies for Success.
These tips are derived from Co-teaching & Collaboration in the Classroom: Practical Strategies for Success by Susan Gingras Fitzell M. Ed., available at CogentCatalyst.com.
For more information on co-teaching and co-teaching models, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Co-teaching and Collaboration in the Classroom. Available in both print and electronic versions!
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