Challenge your students and create a more inclusive classroom with collaborative teaching.
Blog written by Alexandra Hunter – formally trained art teacher currently working with students aged 12-13 in a homeroom setting.
Collaborative teaching can be challenging for teachers – it goes against how a lot of us were trained. I went from a very traditional school, where the units and lesson plans made were like gold and not shared with anyone; to working at a school where your fellow teachers would give you everything you needed to find success.
For myself, the idea of helping others and not feeling precious about my own work was a big challenge I needed to get over. By doing so, I’m now able to access multiple viewpoints from those around me – allowing me to use other people’s thinking to enhance my own teaching, while building my pedagogy of education and what I believe learning looks like!
This year I’m team-teaching with two others, and I’ve found there are huge benefits to working together. Overall, it frees me up to develop better connections with my learners, and they’re much more likely to engage with topics that’ve had multiple viewpoints worked into them.
In a day there’s a lot to think about, from challenging students to thinking about how I can be more inclusive of any disabilities in the classroom. So let’s start at the beginning.
What is co-teaching?
Co-teaching is when multiple teachers work together in a learning community. This is often seen in inclusive classrooms, where all teachers (including support staff) work together for the benefit of many children. This looks like working together on lesson plans, tag-teaming behavior management, and monitoring the progress of groups of learners and individuals.
What does effective collaboration look like?
When done right, working as a team becomes super simple. From lesson planning and small group work to behavior management; it provides students with the ability to connect to different teachers and gives teachers more time to connect with students since the workload is shared.
Since you’re dealing with multiple personalities and opinions, co-teaching doesn’t always work out perfectly. To ensure success, there needs to be clear and effective communication between everyone. Hard discussions and disagreements are inevitable, so setting yourselves up with an agreed-upon meeting structure can help with this.
Decision-making can be challenging and making sure eveyrone’s needs are catered to can often feel like a mental puzzle. Good problem-solving skills are key to making sure that everyone feels the outcomes are fair and that their ideas are included.
Teaching Styles in a Collaborative Space
This is when teachers take a group of students to cover a topic or lesson. This allows teachers to pinpoint students learning needs and have higher student engagement.
Here, one teacher directs all the learners involved to a task – this is most effective when one teacher writes down instructions on the board for the students who have a hard time focusing and they can refer back to what was said.
Mirror or Parallel Teaching
This is when all teachers are teaching the same lesson to different groups. This works best when the lesson is clear and every party understands the outcomes but can address each group’s learning needs.
One teacher is able to work with a more focused small group while the other teaches the rest of the learners. This allows for more specific help and can produce high-quality work from everyone.
Planning as Co-Teachers
Lesson planning is an essential part of teaching – doing so makes sure that you’re on the mark with your assessments, outcomes, and other time-specific needs. In a co-teaching space, it’s easy to divide the workload and brainstorm together! For myself, it was super important that my fellow co-teachers didn’t feel that they’d become stuck in the box of math, reading, art, etc. So, we regularly rotate planning and who’s doing what; this ensures that everyone’s voice is being heard and teachers are able to develop in their weaker teaching areas.
I find it vitally important that there are agreed-on deadlines for planning to be done. This gives the other teachers time to look over what’s been done and think through another person’s planning. These deadlines need to be realistic for everyone, need to include planning time, and the ability to work through which ideas are going to work best.
Classroom Management and Co-Teaching
As mentioned, having discussions about who everyone is as a teacher is essential – this includes how teachers like to discipline and what their reactions might be to certain situations. It’s also a good idea to have a clear understanding of what behavior gets what consequence.
I have found that during my co-teaching journey, some of the hardest conversations I have had with my fellow teachers have been around behavior and how I felt about their reactions. It’s also been the conversation that I have avoided with people the longest – which obviously doesn’t help. I really encourage anyone in a teaching partnership to make sure that they’re finding a way to share their voice while encouraging others to share theirs as well!
All up, co-teaching does have its challenges, but so does everything in education! I have honestly loved being able to work with other teachers and have more time to connect with more students – which, at the end of the day, is the greatest outcome. It’s also given me the opportunity to make bigger and better projects because others are there to help you and support you. So don’t be shy, chat with your fellow teachers and you might just be surprised with what you can achieve!