Having two teachers in one classroom can be a dream come true in so many ways. So how can you make the most of an inclusive situation? Here are 10 co-teaching tips for you and your teaching partner – whether you’re the general education classroom teacher or the intervention specialist.
1. ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
I’ll repeat it. Attitude is everything. Your mindset will determine your fate before you even set foot in the classroom. It’s true of teaching (and life!!) in general. Whether a co-teacher, special ed teacher, or teacher’s aide, both teachers must keep a positive, “can-do” attitude. With a positive attitude, you’ll be open to fantastic opportunities to improve student learning and your teaching skills!
Keep in mind the saying, “Better together!” This mindset is especially true of a co-teaching relationship.
2. Fear: Will I be judged?
Let’s get one of the biggest concerns out there right away. A significant concern is that another teacher will be watching you. And I think we can all agree that everyone worries about being judged.
The word “judge” has negative connotations, so maybe we should reframe that term.
Your co-teacher will probably see you in some tricky situations as you both deal with upset parents, discipline, tantrums, and all of the other not-so-fun aspects of teaching.
BUT – as the two of you work together, become more comfortable, and grow into a true TEAM, you’ll feel more supported than judged.
As teachers, you’re both vulnerable, and you’re both human. You WILL make mistakes – but so will your co-teacher. It’s inevitable. Some days our thoughts don’t flow well, and sometimes we just can’t find the right words. We’ve all been there.
If you make a mistake, it’s okay – forgive yourself. Your co-teacher will!
Use a flub as a way to forge even more communication between you and your co-teacher. It’s okay to laugh about words that come out wrong. Talk about the mess-ups and stay relaxed. Act like a team, and you’ll feel like one!
Use mistakes and experiences to better yourself. They’re great opportunities to build your co-teaching relationship and receive feedback that you can use to become an even better teacher. We allow our students to make mistakes and learn from them. We should extend the same grace to ourselves. There is value in watching and learning from other teachers.
Meet together and talk. And talk. And talk. Make yourself available. Be honest.
Hopefully I’m stating the obvious, but offer feedback and suggestions gently and kindly. For example, “Freddy had a tough time today. What do you think about trying . . .” – and here you can offer a suggestion.
We often hear co-teaching compared with marriage. They’re similar in many ways (I know, different in many ways also – you probably didn’t choose your co-teacher like you did your life partner!). Building the relationship will take time, but you can create a positive relationship and feelings of collaboration.
Consider how you would like to hear suggestions offered by your co-teacher. As you’re observing your co-teacher, they’re also observing you. Be kind and helpful with comments and suggestions, and you’ll probably receive that back, paving the way for a beautiful relationship.
Know that there may be some days that you just don’t feel like you click, but typically the more you work together, the fewer those days are likely to be.
4. Be receptive to feedback and comments
As you’re planning lessons and offering ideas, your co-teacher will have ideas to offer as well. Be open to hearing ideas, strategies, and advice. Lessons and discipline can be handled effectively in many different ways. Sometimes you’ll be the one with the great idea, while other times, your partner may have something better to offer.
Keep an open mind! If you need time to think about ideas and comments, just say so. If you need clarification, just ask. Teachers are natural-born helpers.
Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to discuss and disagree about classroom procedures, lesson plans, or the handling of situations. Even if suggestions and feedback are given kindly, it might still sting. But don’t make and take disagreements personally. Instead, keep discussions professional – what’s best for the students. Be willing to compromise and work on solutions that help both of you feel comfortable.
Use these opportunities to better yourself. You already know your strengths and, if you’re like me, you’re well aware of your weaknesses. Your co-teacher can help with suggestions and ideas for your teaching “toolbox.” You’ll benefit and grow.
If you’re co-teaching with someone who doesn’t offer ideas or suggestions, feel free to ask. That’s part of keeping the communication and dialogue open.
Use the pronoun WE instead of me or you. Establish the idea that the two of you are a team, that you can overcome obstacles, and that you’re stronger together.
How is this done?
5. Hammer out the details
Super important. I’m talking about the little things that will make or break your teaching together. You and your co-teacher both need to be comfortable with the classroom rules, and you both must be consistent. Ideally, you’ll decide the rules together. What are the non-negotiable rules, and which ones can be flexible?
Are you using behavior charts, clips, stickers, etc.?
Can Bobby sharpen his pencil during class? What if the lead breaks in the middle of the lesson? Can he sharpen the pencil or should he have a second one already at his seat? Will he be in trouble if he gets up to sharpen it?
Can Susie use the restroom after returning from recess? Yep – she should have gone at recess time, but we all know that sometimes doesn’t happen.
Oh, no! Teddy is getting ready to explode from frustration! What’s your plan?
And by the way, what is the discipline plan? You better agree on one from the start. Talk about it, discuss it. Don’t just say, “We’ll figure it out.” You need to know each other’s expectations ahead of time.)
Darn! Chris doesn’t have her homework done. Again! What’s the plan? What’s your role?
Can you get into your co-teaching partner’s desk to find White-Out? Is she comfortable with you sitting in her teacher’s chair or using her pens?
What about when you wake up sick? Will you text your co-teacher?
You know the old adage, the devil is in the details.
6. Be On the Same Page
This is especially true when it comes to dealing with communication, behavior issues, and upset parents. If you receive and respond to an email from Teddy’s mom, send a copy to your co-teacher, print it out, or – at the very least – tell her about it. Keep each other in the loop.
You need to present a united front to students and parents – you’re a team. If possible, answer emails together, read each other’s parent-teacher communications, and try to arrange for phone calls to be conference calls so that both teachers can be involved. Keeping each other informed and up-to-date on issues is vital.
7. Don’t make your co-teacher look bad!
For heaven’s sake – JUST DON’T! Never, ever, ever! Again, this is like a marriage. Make your partner look good!
Don’t ever find yourself saying things like, “Well, you know Mrs. Jones is really strict. I wouldn’t do it that way.” Make only positive comments to parents and students about other teachers. Build each other up, don’t tear each other down!
8. Find comfort levels
Again, this takes COMMUNICATION.
Who will take the lead in each lesson? What will the other teacher be doing?
Communication about expectations is KEY here. You both have a vision of how the classroom will be run. TALK about it. Get those ideas and visions out there for discussion. Maybe you have the same vision, but your methods are totally different. It’s definitely best to get those expectations out in the open.
Decide on your roles. For example, who will handle the opening lesson, bellwork/ bellringers/morning work/whatever you call your “start of class” work? Someone can be the lead teacher during that time while the other teacher handles daily tasks (who is absent? Why is Tanesha crying? Why did Susie arrive late?).
If you already know that a certain task is a weak area for you, maybe your co-teacher can take the lead in that area. If your co-teacher isn’t feeling well or had an argument with her daughter before school, offer to take a bigger role in the lesson that day. You know the saying, “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” It definitely holds true with co-teaching.
9. An Extra Set of Eyes and Ears
In the sports world, coaches LOVE having an extra set of eyes and ears to observe. Again, this works to your benefit if you COMMUNICATE and talk about your observations. Did you notice that Duane seems to have a rash? Or that Mica keeps poking Dustin with his pencil during silent seat work? Use these observations to help you both.
10. Keep your sense of humor
It’s so easy to get caught up in the stress and day-to-day gripes. Don’t spend your valuable time whining and complaining. Unless you have some solutions, leave the complaining out. It’s a downer, it doesn’t help, and it’s contagious. Don’t be that person. Be able to laugh at yourself and find the funny side of situations.
So you totally messed up the lesson. You dropped the test tube on the floor. Latoya catches you slipping a handful of M&Ms into your mouth. A student announces LOUDLY that your breath stinks. Um, yeah… these things happen. Laugh! Don’t take yourself so seriously! It happens to ALL of us!
Be the positive person who brings out the best in others – students and teachers!
*Personal note: I’ve been a co-teacher for many, many years of teaching. I’ve been truly blessed to have wonderful co-teachers. Everyone is different and brings their own unique blend to the classroom. These different blends have brought me tons of inspiration and ideas, but best of all – they’ve made me a much better teacher.