Updated: Feb 24
At the first meeting with new co-teaching pairs in a northern New Jersey PreK-12th grade school district, it became apparent there was a mindset of the special education students belonging to the special education teacher and the general education students belonging to the general education teacher. In the classroom, the general education teacher delivered the instruction while the special education teacher “watched”. He would sometimes circulate the room and remind students to pay attention, or to take out the correct supplies. The two teachers saw this as the co-teaching model of Teach and Assist. The special education teacher would then meet with all the classified students at a small table and reteach the lesson.
Working as a coach with these two teachers, it was my goal to change this mindset and to maximize the use of both adults in the classroom at all times.
The initial training introduced teachers to the 5 co-teaching models and the advantages/disadvantages of each. I tapped into the research of Sean Cassel (Edutopia, 1999) as a source of information How to Choose a CoTeaching Model. I focused on how to build parity in the classroom and how to utilize the expertise of both teachers.
After observing the above mentioned lesson, I sought to find the reason the teachers relied on what could loosely be called Teach and Assist. Was it a lack of knowledge of the curriculum on the part of the special education teacher? Was it a lack of common planning time to move beyond this model? Was it a lack of self efficacy on part of the special education teacher? Was it a lack of trust from the general education teacher? Finding the reason meant building a relationship with both teachers and building a non-evaluative trustful agreement.
Building this relationship would take time, but I did not have the luxury of time. I was with the teachers once a month for an observation in the classroom and debriefing time after. During this debriefing time, we needed to move to an environment that would optimize student learning. I worked with these teachers, mustering all my interpersonal skills, knowledge of special education, knowledge of student learning, and the ability to push teachers to be better.
I discovered the reason was a little of each aforementioned reason, as well as trepidation of parental reaction if the special education teacher met with general education students, or if he did not meet with the classified students in a small group each day. We worked through the necessity of both teachers working with all students. Over the next few months, we worked through finding planning time, understanding the curriculum, building trust, and developing lessons that utilized the expertise of both teachers. We went from saying “your students” to “our students”. We changed “I” or “my classroom” to “we” and “our classroom”.
This mindshift allowed a shift in the structure of the lesson. The teachers agreed to team teach a mini lesson, with both teachers actively involved in the teaching. Students would then work in four groups based on student learning needs. A rotation was established in which each teacher would work with two of the groups each day. The groups assigned to each teacher would rotate weekly. This gave the opportunity for both teachers to establish relationships with all students, as well as give each student the opportunity for differentiated small group instruction.
As a coach, I was able to assist teachers in feeling comfortable taking risks. We were able to identify obstacles together and tackle each one. The end result was an environment that met students’ needs by increasing engagement. Although the teachers admittedly spent more time planning, the time with the students was more productive. The teachers found time in the classroom was spent actually teaching, instead of redirecting inattentive students or addressing discipline issues from unengaged students.
Our work will continue as I encourage the teachers to expand their comfort level with other co-teaching models, such as Parallel Teaching. For now, the collaborative structure has served as a role model of team work and the two teachers have been successful in creating an inclusive environment for all students.
Written by, Dr. Karen Wetherell- Elevate Educators Evangelist