Learning To Open Up My Classroom:
My Journey With Co-Teaching

Clapping Game

When I graduated in 2000, I walked into the classroom and closed the door behind me. For the rest of the day, this was my domain. It would have been impossible for me to imagine then that one day I would be co-teaching and share the planning, instruction, and classroom space with a colleague; or that the people I shared this experience with would become like family to me. In my opinion, one of the greatest advances we have made in education in the past 20 years is the opening up of classrooms and the embracing of co-teaching models.

 

I have experienced co-teaching where a special education teacher pushes in to work with the general education teacher for specific classes, where two general education teachers work collaboratively with a class for the entire day, and also where four general education teachers share two classes, focusing on individual subjects. All come with great benefits and of course changes to teacher behaviours. Breaking down the walls of the classroom isn’t easy, but once you get systems in place the rewards are immense.

 

There are six models of co-teaching that teachers may choose to use. In all models it is important to remembered that both teachers have equal status. Different models work for different lessons, so you can be flexible.

Co-teaching models:

 

  • One teach, one observe. This model is useful for gathering data and reflecting on student learning. While one teacher provides instruction, the second teacher can observe individual students, groups of students, or indeed the class in general . From this observation new strategies can be implemented to best meet the needs of students. I found this incredibly helpful, but it was never the primary model we used.

  • One teach, one assist. One teacher leads the instruction while the other moves to provide support to those who need it. Some students might need only a quick fix-up, where as others need more time and attention. It wasn’t always academic support that was needed, there were times when the lead teacher continued the lesson, while the second teacher provided social and emotional support. The benefits of this approach was that the instruction could be differentiated to be as supportive as required.

  • Parallel teaching: The class is split into two equal groups and the same material is covered with both.

  • Alternative teaching: One teacher takes a smaller group and provides them with more intensive or specialised support that is different to the instruction provided to the main group. This was the model we used the most, splitting the class into a large group of 30 and then a smaller group of 6. The students in the smaller group changed from lesson to lesson depending on who we felt would need extra support to be successful. It is important to note that we always covered the same material as the larger group. However, the second teacher provided more scaffolding and differentiation. The smaller group size meant that all students felt supported.

  • Station teaching: Both teachers lead instruction as children rotate in groups from one station to the next. There may be stations where students are working independently, or without teacher support.

 

  • Team teaching: Both teachers teach the class at the same time, tagging in and out with each other. This works incredibly well when teachers are comfortable with each other and have discussed their roles in detail before the start.

 

 

Going from solo teaching in my own domain, to full-time sharing of space, responsibilities and learning was not a straightforward process. Nothing prepared me for the realisation that I would have to collaborate on everything from how we arranged the desks, to expectations and norms, to things as basic as what do you do if the child doesn’t have a pencil. Teachers sharing a class have to be ar aon fhocal, and when they are not, then they have to know how to resolve issues.

 

These are the lessons I learned:

  • Communication – so much of co-teaching is talking. It starts with planning – what model do you want to use? How will you split the planning? Who will lead what lesson? But it is also about communication when things are challenging. If you don’t like the way the desks are arranged, then how will you communicate that. In. my experience, it’s best to stop and think first. Sometimes my first reaction is just emotion (or hunger) and when I step away from the situation, I realise that it actually wasn’t that big a deal at all, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. On the other hand, don’t let it fester. If it matters, then say something before it becomes a bigger issue. Set aside time to talk. For me it was early morning, we set ourselves up for them day, then had a quick review at then end. Not everything needs to be a conversation though – when I was job-sharing we had a diary where we recorded everything. Now we used a shared drive to make things easier.

  • Compromise – the more teachers involved, the more ideas there are, which is a wonderful thing, until you disagree with one of them. And you will. When first getting to know each other as co-teachers, set out what is really important to you. One of my co-teachers loves décor and symmetry, they don’t really matter to me, so I leave all aesthetic decisions to her. I also know not to hang things in the classroom as my crooked eye will only cause her pain. On the other hand, she let me pick all the read alouds. You have to give up somethings to gain others, but most of the time I have found that I ended up liking the compromise better. Sometimes it was just that I have never tried it any other way.

  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T: I can not say this loudly enough, you must show respect to those you are working with, even if you don’t actually know them well enough to know why you are respecting them. It is an equal relationship, and this needs to be evident. This is especially important when one teacher may be more experienced than the other…. It’s still an equal relationship. Listen to ideas, make changes for those ideas, reflect afterwards on how they might need to be changed. Everyone needs to feel respected.

  • Plan: This is the part I love the most, strange as it may sound. I love the collaborative element and the fact that sharing planning also means less paper work. We share the lesson planning, but then share the lessons before implementation so that we can incorporate other viewpoints. It also means that you can give more to the lesson you are planning. At those planning meetings we also discuss who needs more support and what that support can look like. These meetings also review student learning to plan for reteaching. In the beginning I was extremely worried that I would be held accountable for any difficulties students experienced, and that it would be like admitting a personal failing. The best lesson I learned is that it is not in fact about me at all, it is about the students. It is the most rewarding experience to share concerns, and to come up with a team approach. When you solo teach, you carry all the worries and responsibilities on your own shoulders. Collaborative planning means you share this with your team.

  • Have clear roles and responsibilities: When you are planning decide who will do what in the classroom. What model will you use? If there is a lead teacher for that lesson, who will it be? Make sure that the same teacher is not always the lead teacher. I lead the literacy lessons, but I was the with the small group for the math lessons when the other teacher was leading. Be clear about who gets the resources, makes the copies etc. When you have these discussions at the beginning it can avoid confusion later on.

  • Leave your ego at the door: This is not a competition, it’s a collaboration. So many teachers (myself included) worry that they will be judged by the other adults in the room. Nothing could be further from the truth. Firstly, everyone is working so hard that they don’t have time to focus on the other teacher. Secondly, I have learned so much from all the teachers I have collaborated with. In each and every one of them I have identified strengths that I wish to work on myself. I am sure they have done the same with me (I hope). There will be times when you think “I would have planned that differently,” but if you are having planning meetings then you will understand the thought process behind the lesson. Give it a chance to play out, I promise you that you will learn a lot from it.

  • Be flexible: This applies to all teaching, but never more than co-teaching. There are some non-negotiables – be on time & be prepared, but after that even the best made plans may change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those who know me know that sharing does not come easily to me. I can barely share a dessert. Co-teaching has forced me to learn new skills, engage in sometimes uncomfortable conversations, and make room for other people in what used to be my domain. However, what it has given me is so much more – people to celebrate the highs and lows of student achievement with, partners in the planning process, more support for the students who need it most, sounding boards for new ideas, the source of new ideas, and even simply a smile across the classroom when it is needed the most. It isn’t possible to always have a co-teacher in the classroom with you, but when it is embrace it.

Coworkers plan work
Ring of Light Bulbs
Screen%20Shot%202021-06-09%20at%2020.00_

Dr. Treasa Bowe, is an Irish Primary School Teacher with over 20 years teaching experience. Treasa is currently teaching in Los Angeles, USA. As part of her PhD research, Treasa explored the role of on-site continuing professional developing in promoting a whole school approach to Comprehension Strategy Instruction. A popular presence on the teaching Instagram community, Treasa is well known and highly regarded for her literacy expertise and sheer generosity in sharing knowledge, resources and practical support with the Irish primary teaching community.

Connect with Treasa via her popular Instagram page: @betweenthecoversofagoodbook

(Be warned, your picturebook collection will grow!!)

Lenses into Learning is the guest post feature of this website. Here, educators spanning a variety of educational sectors share opinion pieces, recommendations and thematic articles to inspire conversation, development and learning.

Read more posts now!