Students deserve an effectual and impactful teacher, one who can help them reach their full potential, or zone of proximal development; ie, zone = the difference between what students know, do not know, and what they need to learn.
Moreover, an effective teacher is not simply “born” to create well-educated students that have academic knowledge. Powerful teachers develop students who not only have a breadth of academic knowledge, but efficacious teachers understand how to instill values so that students attain both social and emotional skills and are prepared for community engagement.
Effective teachers develop skills and strategies over time to improve instructional practice, thus, in order for two teachers, to become impressive co-teachers, they must forge their skills and areas of expertise into a classroom environment with high leverage instructional practice ensuring all students have the opportunity to succeed. Advantageous teachers are developed throughout their career, so how exactly do two teachers with different teaching specialties come together in an inclusive classroom environment to teach diverse learners?
In most cases, new teaching teams usually do not perform well when they first come together. A special education teacher, and general education teacher have different backgrounds, training and teaching experience, so a bit of crafting is necessary. Unfortunately, there is limited mentoring and coaching available for school principals to develop a novice co-teaching team.
Teaching relationships should not be micro-managed, because this method simply will not help to strengthen two teachers. A principal should try to stay neutral in the sensitive formation of a new team. Consequently, two teachers have individual strengths and weaknesses, and to create a situation that might favor one teacher over another, or for an administrator to get in the middle of a metamorphosis in process, then that administrator’s interference will not bear good fruit.
Additionally, it is not recommended that an administrator facilitate, mediate, or coordinate lesson planning, again a recipe for disaster! Very often, there are cases where an inexperienced teacher may find it “shocking or stinging” when faced with new ideas and challenges, such as implementation of suggested methods in differentiating of instruction, that may be presented by an experienced teacher. Even teachers with tenure, may not be familiar with the expectations of a co-taught classroom. Additionally, teachers right our of college have a limited teaching background, especially if they have not been a substitute teacher, which would afford them a clearer picture of schools within a district. Sometimes, teachers are mentored by old practices, and there are new theories, methods and approaches to teaching students in this 21st century day in age. Nonetheless, weeding out the mindset of control, and competition is necessary for teachers to overcome, as they face the challenges teaching together in one classroom.
Situations evolve between co-teachers, in learning how to create a unified voice in the classroom, whereby, in providing honest feedback one teacher may not be ready or willing to listen, to hear it, to do it, because it is very easy to stay with what’s familiar rather than risk the unknown to make a change.
Most teachers are given their role with very little or no professional learning in how to effectively co-teach.
Nonetheless, a school principal should support the teachers development and growth, as a program leader or as a coach to help improve their instruction. This does not translate into a micro-managed approach in addressing early apprehension or “feelings” of the two teachers in developing a systemic and operative structured inclusive classroom environment.
So, feedback should be minimized from administrators, especially during the first few months. Observance of a new team should offer constructive guidance to assist in structuring the learning curve required for two teachers to improve and develop their methods of instructional practice.
Administrators might suggest a novice co-teaching team use a model, such as Bruce Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing model describes these stages, upon which training videos can be viewed online. The model has been used since 1965, and describes the path that teams follow on their way to high performance. Dr. Tuckman added a fifth stage, Adjourning, in the 1970’s. The Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning theory is an elegant and helpful explanation of team development and predicted human behavior.
A sound administrator might offer some words of wisdom in the construct of the new team of co-teachers, such as: “What I want you to do is I want us to take a pause and think that continuation and continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection. So, if we wait and think we are never going to start anything until it’s perfect, we are not really going to get anywhere.”
In contrast, guidance can also be offered through instructional coaching and scheduled observations of co-teachers in other classrooms in the school who have been co-teaching for several years. Another ideal opportunity is to assign a coach or specialist, like an Autism specialist, or professional from other related field of expertise, to provide operative advice. While instructional leaders in the building are helpful, these carefully selected coaches should maintain neutrality with the co-teaching team, and also limit their advice to instructional strategies and reflective practice that might have a greater impact on the overall co-teachers instructional practice. Working alongside a new co-teaching team, with a deliberate focus is valuable if the coach:
- Knows what it is like to be in their shoes, having taught in a co-teaching team
- Have subject matter expertise in both general and special education
- Provide specific feedback that can be applied immediately to the classroom
- Are well trained at providing feedback (but is not the same person who completes their evaluation)
Erin Stark & Karolyn Maurer
Successful Co-Teaching: Keys to Team Development, Videos www.youtube.com (Part 1 of 3), (Part 2 of 3), (Part 3 of 3)
In three (3) videos, Successful Co-Teaching: Keys to Team Development, Ms. Stark and Ms. Maurer, two co-teachers who have combined their teaching experience as general and special education teachers at Brooklyn Preparatory High School, explain valuable techniques in how they created an inclusive classroom environment.
“…In many teaching teams the classrooms the special education teacher generally adopts the classroom protocols set by the general education teacher, but with a group of diverse learners, we realized that our system needed to be organized, structured, and transparent, more so than in a class with just general education teachers.
We recognized that both teachers need to be familiar and comfortable with all of the classroom routines in order to have a consistent voice...”
Moreover, these co-teachers included testimony from the point-of-view of their students as to how they felt about the classroom structures, routines, and teaching techniques
“…When one teacher is busy, the other teacher is available to help. In other classrooms, the lead teacher is the only one who says something, in this class both teachers know what they are talking about, both know the answer … In the other co-taught classrooms there is only one lead teacher, and the other teacher just stands in the background … We like that both equally teach the class and put forth the same amount of effort. Teachers get along, play around, and it makes it more comfortable for us…”
Continuous Improvement Is Better Than Delayed Perfection – – Mark Twain