Are you navigating this school year with a co-teacher? As you tackle your teaching adventure together, here are 10 practical tips for making the most of your partnership and ensuring that students with and without disabilities reach their learning goals.
These tips are excerpted from How to Co-Teach by Elizabeth Potts and Lori Howard—an excellent guidebook for new co-teachers or educators who want to learn more about the nuts and bolts of co-teaching.
Determine classroom logistics early on
“In [their] first meetings, co-teachers need to decide on the logistics of their shared classroom. What will the flow of the class period look like? What models of co-teaching are co-teachers presently comfortable with, and will they need to work on expanding to use more models? How will they decide on and establish routines and rules in the classroom? How will the co-teachers present themselves to the students as a co-teaching pair?”
Brush up on standards.
“The special education teacher may be assigned to co-teach more than one grade level or content area, making it difficult to manage all of the standards that will need to be addressed. It may be helpful to review the standards at the start of the school year, prior to planning meetings with the general education teacher. This will help to familiarize the special education teacher with the general outline of the standards and provide background knowledge prior to the joint planning meeting.”
Follow through with the plan
“After having [their] initial conversations, both parties need to follow through with the plan. That may mean that the special education teacher puts together a ‘cheat sheet’ of information on the students with disabilities—highlighting goals, accommodations, and needs—to share with the general education teacher. It could be that the general education teacher gathers curriculum materials to share with the special education teacher, to help him or her gain a firmer grasp of the content.”
Find pockets of time for co-planning
“Co-teachers may need to be creative in finding co-planning time: They may need to ask for this time, meet after school at a coaching practice, meet online via instant messaging systems, or speak on the telephone after school. Some co-teachers have been known to carpool to school together—a great way to find co-planning time!”
Practice your listening skills
“To become an effective listener, try practicing. Often people have a tendency to interrupt the speaker or plan what they are going to say in response, or sometimes the mind wanders to tasks that must be accomplished. To practice listening, try to remain focused on the speaker and do not interrupt. You may also want to use phrases that will help to keep the conversation going, such as ‘help me understand’ or ‘can you give me an example?’”
Be subtle when making accommodations
“Co-teachers need to develop subtle ways of ensuring that they provide appropriate accommodations. If some students are getting an adapted assessment with more white space and additional prompts, for example, take care to hand out the assessments at the same time and in the same manner as if they were all the same. Do not have one teacher hand out the standard assessment and the other hand out the accommodated assessment, as this will draw attention to the differences.”
Have a signal for defusing tension
“Even in the ideal co-teaching relationship, there will be occasions when there is tension or anger between the co-teachers (or with a student)…When discussing the classroom environment, co-teachers may want to briefly discuss strategies for managing themselves when this situation happens. Co-teachers may want to have a prearranged signal so that the other teacher can adapt instruction, redirect a student, or provide a breather for the stressed teacher. The prearranged signal might be a simple hand gesture for time out or a specific code word or phrase such as ‘I saw Dan.’ Although these incidents may vary, it is important to preplan how the co-teachers will manage the situation.”
Consider new communication technology
“Some co-teaching teams have begun to experiment with a new technology that aids communication between them in the classroom. Both teachers are fitted with lapel microphones and earbuds so that they can softly talk to each other while moving around the classroom. Although this approach is still in the experimental phase, some co-teachers report that they like being able to enhance their instruction and communication while assisting individual students. Teachers have been able to quickly redirect students, change their location in the classroom, and even make suggestions to each other in a seamless manner.”
Prepare for substitute co-teachers
“Create a Substitute folder or accordion file that has important hints or tips on how the classroom functions. It could also have worksheets or activities that students can do. Give the folder (or file) to the substitute when you meet.
Create a generic lesson agenda so that the substitute has some idea of how the lesson is going to flow. Place this agenda in the folder or hand it to them. Make sure to provide any specific information related to students with special needs (behavior plans, medical needs).”
Involve students in assessment of your co-teaching
“In elementary school: provide students with statements such as, ‘I feel happy asking both Mrs. Jones and Mr. Smith questions.’ Have them circle a smiley face or a sad face to indicate agreement or disagreement. Ask students to write about a day in their classroom.
In middle and high school, provide students with statements such as, ‘I get more attention in my co-taught classes than my non–co-taught classes.’ Have them respond on a Likert scale of agree, neutral or don’t know, or disagree. Ask students to reflect on how their co-taught class is different from their other classes.”
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