Today was a rare opportunity. The Special Education office for my district brought together all core academic department chairs for secondary education. The leaders of Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Language Arts- and Special Education -- spent the day talking about the challenges of team teaching. Since I am new to my school this year, I was really happy to have a structured setting in which to develop a colleagial relationship with my fellow DC's.
They have worked together for some time, and the four of them are very friendly and supportive with each other. I felt like the odd man out - I felt as though I was trying to push my way into their friendship. But through the course of the day we had some genuine conversations about the patterns of instruction in our school, and ways to improve it.
They acknowledged that not all general educators like to work with special educators in the co-taught setting. I acknowledged that not all special eductors are totally committed to the model either. We discussed classrooms with the general educator doesn't want to give up control, and those where the special educator seeks opportunity to leave the room (Need some copies? Should I take this student to the office?). We discussed teams where both teachers are novices, and teams where both teachers have many years of experience. I asked questions about the school culture, and they asked questions about current methodology of team teaching.
It was a really valuable exchange of information. At the end of the day, I had gained new colleagues, and become part of an academic team that could make a genuine difference by supporting team teaching partnerships. My co-teacher was there, and I believe our group discussions opened the door for us to develop as a better teaching team.
The five of us made one major commitment: to honor the planning times of co-teaching teams by not scheduling other meetings during these times. We want to hold planning sessions as the most "sacred" of appointments. We will work with our administration to schedule teacher duties around the planning times. We'll support team teachers with materials of organization, professional development, and recognition for their effort. We will publicly celebrate good examples of differentiation and excellent models of team teaching.
I believe team teaching is the most effective method of instruction for students with disabilities and students needing additional support. I also believe that our school system is just starting to figure out how to implement effective team teaching. The commitment of academic leaders beyond special education will smooth the way. The commitment of special education offices to include core subject leaders in developing this model of instruction further is vital, and commendable. Raising academic achievement can't be done in just one department by one teacher. We have to form a leadership team to support our instructional teams.
Now I am part of that team.