Inclusive Schooling values diversity within the human community. When inclusive education is fully embraced, we abandon the idea that children have to become “normal” in order to contribute to the world. One of the ways we can begin to implement more inclusive schooling methods is to re-think the way classrooms are led. A single teacher is replaced by a TEAM of educators. By co-teaching, we can strengthen the collaborative relationships among special and regular educators, parents and educators, and educators and the community. In co-taught classrooms, teachers get to collaborate in lesson design and capitalize on the experiences and expertise of two professionals with different areas of expertise. In addition, co-teaching will allows for learning in smaller groups which allows for greater, meaningful comprehension.
Before we address common concerns with co-teaching, let’s talk briefly about the benefits of this structure.
Co-Teaching allows us to take new professional risks and have a partner by our side to share the ups and downs of teaching. It gives us someone to share responsibilities with and brainstorm more creative and fun ways to deliver engaging and memorable lessons. And, it helps us to create more cohesive and effective teams when it comes to supporting our diverse learners. Co-teaching ultimately requires that we rely on each other to create classrooms in which all of our students feel an authentic sense of belonging, have appropriate access to general education curriculum, and are meaningfully included.
When considering this method, we often hear many concerns. Here are the common concerns we address often, and some thoughts to accompany them:
Who gives grades, and how do we grade?
Perhaps the issue that warrants the most discussion prior to co-teaching is grading. Special education teachers are accustomed to grading based on the effort, motivation, and abilities of the students. General education teachers are accustomed to grading based on a uniform set of expectations that is only slightly adjusted to reflect issues of effort, motivation, and student abilities. Making joint decisions about how grades will be handled for in-class assignments, tests, and homework will reduce the frictions frequently associated with grading special education students in general education classrooms. Working together, teachers can develop guidelines for grading to use with both students and parents.
Who sets classroom management rules?
Most general and special education teachers know the types of academic and social behaviors they find acceptable and unacceptable. Over the years, they have established consequences for inappropriate behaviors. Rarely is there disagreement between teachers about the more extreme behaviors. The subtle classroom management difficulties that are part of the ongoing routines of running a classroom, however, can cause concerns for teachers. Often, the special education teacher is unsure about when he or she should step in and assist with classroom management. Teachers should discuss their classroom management styles and roles they expect of each other in maintaining a smoothly running classroom.
What physical space will each teacher be given?
When special education teachers spend part of their day instructing in general education classrooms, it is extremely useful to have a designated area for them to keep their materials. A desk and chair that are used only by special education teachers provide them with a “base” from which to work and contribute to their position of authority.
How will we have adequate time to plan together?
The most pervasive concern of both general and special education teachers in co-teaching situations is obtaining sufficient time during the school day to plan and discuss instruction and student progress. This is of particular concern for special education teachers who are working with more than one general education teacher. Teachers report that planning often comes on their own time. Even when a designated period is established for co-planning, teachers report that this time gets taken away to be used for meetings and other school management activities. Teachers need a minimum of 45 minutes of uninterrupted planning time each week if they are likely to have a successful co-teaching experience. One suggestion made by several of the teacher teams with whom we have worked is to designate a day or a half-day every 6-8 weeks when teachers can meet extensively to plan and discuss the progress of students, as well as changes in their instructional practices.
And finally, here are some tips for successful co-teaching:
THANK SOMEONE DAILY
This simple strategy takes only a few seconds to complete, but it may be one of the easiest ways to strengthen teams, build relationships and identify aspects of your teaming that are going well and deserve attention.
As you think of people to be grateful for, remember that anyone can be the focus of your gratitude – a school secretary who made the morning coffee, a co-worker who held the door open for you or your co-teaching partner for remembering to bring Styrofoam balls for your 3-D models of the human eye. The point, Carlson reminds us, is to gear your attention toward gratitude (preferably first thing in the morning). This practice can set the stage for a positive and productive day in the classroom.
PICK YOUR BATTLES
Picking battles is advice can apply to our collaborative relationships as well as with our interactions with our students. Try to remember that winning is not the point in the work that we do. You may need to defend a student if another teacher is sharing disparaging comments in the faculty lounge, but if your co-teaching partner forgets to download game show tunes to compliment the Family Feud style review activity you have co-planned, you might want to relax, count to ten and enjoy the game sans the peppy tune.
REALIZE THAT STUFF HAPPENS
Life, as they say, is “one thing after another.” As soon as you cross one speed bump you approach another. Stuff can happen. So why get upset when it does? These bumps are a part of life and, of course, of working in a busy co-taught classroom. Accept them. Absorb them. Move on.
In our fast-paced modern world, flexibility is one of the greatest skills you can cultivate. Effective teachers know that things often do not go according to best laid plans. They further realize that stubbornly sticking to inflexible plans can create significant stress in the day and even through the year.
LET OTHERS BE RIGHT
In some situations, being right doesn’t really matter. Depending on the situation, it might be more helpful to be kind, supportive, and agreeable. And consider that if you model this habit often enough, others around you may follow suit and let you “be right” too.
AVOID SNOWBALL THINKING
Snowballing is when one negative thought leads to another and then another and then another until a giant snowball of stress, tension, and anxiety is formed and starts to overtakes your thinking. The key to tackling snowball thinking is to be aware of this type of snowballing and immediately stomp the storm. Catch yourself in the act of snowballing and realize, “I’m doing it again!” Label and “talk back” to this negative habit as a way of staying positive and productive in interactions with learners, parents, and any collaborative partners.
Co-Teaching is a powerful tool for the Inclusive Classroom. For more information on how to utilize this tool, get your copy of the Co-Taught Classroom, HERE.