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Response: The Best Co-Teaching Advice Is to 'Be Resilient'

(This is the first post in a three-part series)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is the best advice for co-teaching arrangements (Special Needs, ELLs, etc.)?


Co-teaching arrangements exist in many schools, particularly to support English-language learners and students who may learn differently.

This series will explore effective strategies for making thos arrangements work best for students and for teachers.

Today's column features the commentaries of Elizabeth Stein, Jenny Vo, Becky Corr, Andrea Honigsfeld, and Maria Dove. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Elizabeth, Jenny, and Becky on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

You might also find useful information at The Best Resources On Co-Teaching With ELLs - Please Suggest More.

Response From Elizabeth Stein

Elizabeth's career in special education spans beyond 25 years in grades K-12 along with undergraduate and graduate-level courses. She is a national-board certified teacher currently working as a special education/ Universal Design for Learning instructional coach in New York. Elizabeth is the author of books on special education practices as well as UDL (Universal Design For Learning). Elizabeth's most recent publications include: Elevating Co-Teaching Through UDL (CAST Professional Publishing, 2016), and Two Teachers In the Room: Strategies for Co-Teaching Success (Routledge, 2017). Elizabeth is a doctoral student at Molloy College's Educational Leadership for Diverse Learning Communities Program:

One approach to sharing co-teaching advice would be for me to share a fairly long list of tips that could guide co-teachers in any co-teaching arrangement. You know the list I'm talking about. It's the list that describes how to plan, how to communicate, and how to delineate roles and responsibilities. These lists are certainly helpful—and they can be found everywhere. Just type in an internet search, and you will receive some wonderful advice. Yet this can be an overwhelming way to go. Not to mention, lists alone can encourage fairly robotic interactions between co-teachers. There must be that human side of co-teaching. When I think about the ultimate co-teaching advice, I think of two words: Be resilient.

Teachers who are resilient acknowledge a situation and then ask themselves OK, what can I do about it? How can I solve this? What resources would help to support me? Who are my go-to colleagues or administrators I could brainstorm with to find solutions? Resilient co-teachers rechannel the urge to become frustrated with any given situation into productive, actionable solutions. With resilience, co-teachers are more likely to cultivate an atmosphere of acceptance and learning for a successful year. Resilience leads to the necessary solution-seeking mindset that co-teachers need to handle the expected and unexpected situations that will arise along the way. At the heart of remaining resilient is a commitment to developing meaningful relationships.  

In my book Two Teachers in the Room: Strategies for Co-Teaching Success (Routledge, 2017), I share three stages that Gately and Gately (2001) identify as necessary for co-creating effective co-teaching experiences. The beginning stage describes one or both co-teachers who are cautious and hesitant. They communicate at a surface level with resilience at a basic level. The focus is primarily to survive the school year. Although the year could still be successful, one of the teachers must be willing to commit to doing whatever it takes to make it work. The compromising stage elevates the co-teaching relationship with more open and consistent communication practices. Both teachers begin to play an active role with more consistency as trust begins to enter the scene.  One or both teachers are flexible and open to the ideas of the other teacher. The collaborative stage takes the trust to the next level as both teachers make consistent, intentional decisions to push through all challenges—together.   

With resilience, any co-teaching arrangement could work. Ideally, both teachers should be working as an equitable team, but it takes at least one teacher to lead the way (without giving up!). It takes one teacher to say, "How about we try it this way?" It takes one teacher to thoughtfully and strategically keep the practices of communication open. And in time, the other co-teacher just may join the journey in collaborative ways. Resilience can be contagious. Invite administrators and other colleagues in with the co-teaching conversations as everyone works together to co-create meaningful and equitable learning in inclusive settings.

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Response From Jenny Vo

Jenny Vo earned her B.A. in English from Rice University and her M.Ed. in educational leadership from Lamar University. She has been teaching for 22 years and is currently an ESL ISST in the Katy ndependent school district in Katy, Texas:

My district utilizes an in-class support model for our elementary ESL program. ESL instructional-support specialists provide services to our English-language learners in the classrooms instead of pulling the students out into another room to provide English services. Pullout is still used but primarily for our beginners and intermediates who need to learn foundational skills. This in-class support model lends itself nicely to the co-teaching arrangement. Though not always a perfect arrangement, co-teaching has been beneficial to the ELLs that I support.

What is co-teaching? Co-teaching involves the collaboration between the general education teacher and a second special-program provider, such as SPED, speech, or ESL. Despite the term, co-teaching just doesn't involve teaching or instructing the class together. It is a partnership in which the teachers plan together and share the responsibilities for students. There are several models of co-teaching. The "One Teach, One Assist" model is one that should be used the least because it doesn't utilize the talents of both professionals since one teacher is doing the teaching and the other teacher is just monitoring and quietly helping. 

The "One Teach, One Observe" model has one person teaching and the other observing to collect data. In "Alternative Teaching," one teacher is instructing the large group while the other is working with a small group on something different, such as preteaching, remediation, or assessment. "Station Teaching" has the teachers teaching different content to small groups of students, like a station during rotations. In "Parallel Teaching," the two teachers are teaching the same content to a divided class, but each may use different strategies and materials based on the needs of their group. The "Team Teaching" model has both educators working together to present the same lesson, each participating equally in the instruction. Why so many different models, and which one is the best one to use? 

Here is my first best advice for co-teaching arrangements.  Be open to using all of them.  Each model serves a different purpose in the instructional setting and should be used based on what you are teaching and the outcome you want to achieve. I wouldn't recommend using the "One Teach, One Assist" very often, but it will serve a purpose one day. And some teams may never be ready for the "Team Teaching" model because it does take a lot of planning and a close relationship between the two teachers. However, that should be the goal of a co-teaching partnership. 

Co-teaching between general education and ESL teachers has a lot of challenges. When do you find time to meet and plan with each other? How do you divide the responsibilities in terms of teaching, grading, creating assignments and assessments, etc.? What if you and the co-teacher you are assigned to don't get along? 

Here is my second best advice for co-teaching arrangements. Be open-minded and flexible. Collaboration is the key element in co-teaching so you need to be open-minded and flexible. Be open to each other's ideas. Be open to sharing the responsibilities. Be open to the extra time planning may take. Be flexible to changes that may pop up unexpectedly. Schedules may change due to school events, unexpected sickness, or even technology issues. Having this flexible mindset has saved me from a lot of frustration throughout the years. I always come to  my class prepared for the lesson of the day, but I just go with the flow if there are any changes.

Co-teaching takes a lot of work, but the benefits and rewards outweigh the challenges. When teachers collaborate, the students benefit!

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Response From Becky Corr

Becky Corr is the president of EdSpark Consulting, which is dedicated to igniting partnerships for diverse learners through professional development, technical writing, and systems analysis. In her role as an the English Language Development Team lead in the Douglas County school district in Colorado, she coaches, mentors, and supports teachers and facilitates family-engagement opportunities:

"Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability."

—Patrick Lencioni

Co-teaching can be a very rewarding teaching partnership; however, teachers must be intentional about setting up themselves, and their students, for success.  A little pre- planning goes a long way when it comes to co-teaching. 

Get the right fit.  Observe each other in action or collaborate to teach a mini-lesson. Does the fit feel right? Be honest. Can you see yourselves working together? It's not a judgment on either teacher. Co-teaching is a long-term marriage of professionals, so it's best to get it right from the start. Talk about your vision for a co-teaching partnership. Are you in the same ballpark or in different ZIP codes? 

Secure support.  Gaining the support of principals is very helpful in setting up a co-teaching partnership. Co-teachers should have common planning time. Talk to administrators to be sure that the school schedule accommodates regular and frequent common planning times. This is especially important at the start of a new partnership. Also, be mindful of the number of co-taught courses that any one teacher carries. Co-teaching requires the dedication of both teachers to the success of students. Ensuring high quality co-taught courses requires administrative support.

Discuss expectations early and openly. Take the time to share your hopes, fears, needs, and wants. Doing this upfront helps to set norms for the partnership. This allows the team to work more efficiently, avoid some early pitfalls, and support each other as a united front for students and parents. As the year progresses, teaching partners often revisit and renorm based on experiences and preferences. Visit my blog to access the tool, Critical Conversations for Co-Teachers.  

Be vulnerable.  This is probably the most critical advice for any co-teaching pair. In preparing to write my response to this question, I spoke with a colleague of mine, Danny Uyechi, a math teacher at Chaparral High School in Colorado. I asked Danny what he thought made our partnership successful. He reflected on our past year of co-teaching and said that the key to our success was our openness to being vulnerable. We used the Critical Conversations for Co-Teaching tool at the start of the school year, which helped us set norms and opened our communication. When I ventured outside my comfort zone and led a lesson on continuous and discrete functions and it flopped, we openly discussed how to improve. When I suggested that we teach a vocabulary lesson, Danny agreed, even though it was outside his comfort zone. In all honesty, the lesson wasn't perfect. However, it led us to deeper discussions about how we were going to teach students the language of math. Successful co-teaching partnerships begin with giving up the need for invulnerability. 

Be reflective and flexible. Talk openly about how things are going and ideas each of you has for improving. Schedule time each week to reflect together. Sometimes reflective conversations can happen at the end of a class, while some conversations are best had during planning sessions. Flexibility is the key. Each of you will have to step outside of your comfort zone along the way, and it really benefits students and the co-teaching partnership to be flexible.  

When teachers model successful co-teaching partnerships in the classroom, students benefit academically and socially as adults model strategies to maintain a positive relationship.  

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Response From Andrea Honigsfeld & Maria Dove

Andrea Honigsfeld, Ed.D., is a professor, and Maria Dove, Ed.D., is an associate professor, both in the Division of Education at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, New York. Employing their extensive experience as EL specialists and TESOL teacher educators, they have published widely on effective education for English-learners, including most recently Co-Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Collaborative Planning, Instruction, Assessment, and Reflection (Corwin, 2018):

Collaboration and co-teaching for the sake of English-learners (ELs) is expanding across the United States. While the needs of ELs are unique, and co-teaching in the special education context might be quite different (such as all-day vs. partial-day service delivery), we would like to emphasize one common feature for the success of any type of co-teaching initiative: leadership support!

The following are five essential actions for school leaders to support the teaching and learning of ELs:

  1. Build a community of practice, where continuous learning about ELs is the norm and professional conversations about infusing language and literacy instruction into every lesson (not just during the specially designated periods) are ongoing. Teachers are more effective and impactful as members of such communities and become more supportive of the success of ELs through collective learning.

  2. Create teams that consist of ELL/ELD teachers and grade-level teachers (at the elementary level) or content-area teachers (at the secondary level) and support teams to become high-functioning units that are committed to examining curricula, lesson delivery, co-assessment of student work, and refection of teaching practices for the sake of ELs.

  3. Ensure and protect common planning time for teachers so they can be best prepared to teach, to build trust between and among teaching partners, to share their knowledge base with one another, as well as to manage the day-to-day instruction of ELs by engaging in the entire collaborative instructional cycle consisting of co-planning, co-teaching, co-assessment, and reflection (Dove & Honigsfeld, 2018).
     
  4. Co-construct the meaning of what co-teaching for ELs is or will be, what it should sound like and look like in the classroom, what instructional expectations should be set, what the look-fors should be, and how all will know if the practice is successful.

  5. Invite teachers to seek out and co-develop the type of professional learning opportunities that will best support the implementation of a collaborative or co-taught ELL/ELD program. Tap into teachers who have had some training or experience with inclusive teaching practices for students, support ongoing collaborative efforts, and  create and sustain partnerships to support ELs' academic, linguistic, and social-emotional development.

 

Dove, M. G., & Honigsfeld, A. (2018). Co-Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Collaborative Planning, Instruction, Assessment, and Reflection. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. 

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Thanks to Elizabeth, Jenny, Becky, Andrea, and Maria for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected]. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it's selected or if you'd prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It's titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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Look for Part Two in a few days.

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