Collaboration is vital for special education and general education teachers working in the co-teaching model. In the co-teaching model a general education and special education teacher work together to provide all instruction, both the http://specialed.about.com/od/glossary/g/generaleducation.htm general education curriculum and the special education services needed by children with disabilities.
It means that the two teachers need to negotiate the use of the space, sharing evaluation, grading, lesson planning, discipline and pet projects as well as pet peeves. Collaboration in a full inclusion co-teaching classroom is hard work, and really requires the right kind of people. The worst thing a principal can do is to force people into co-teaching situations. Even teachers who have a history of sharing information and collaborating with teaching peers may find their comfort with another person in “their” space is very low, that sharing responsibility for a classroom with another adult is incredibly uncomfortable.
There are several key components to success in a co-teaching model.
- Flexibility: A teacher may feel they are flexible, until they have to yield decision making in the classroom to another adult. Co-teaching partners need to use the same techniques as a married couple to making compromises such as turn taking and finding a middle ground.
- Good Communication: Good communication involves not only speaking clearly but also listening carefully. Learning to listen for the emotional sub-text of communication is especially important. It is really important that co-teaching partners stick to I statements: “I am really uncomfortable when you . . . “ rather than “Why in the world would you . . .? “ Sharing the things that make you feel really uncomfortable is also really difficult.
- Trust: If you find that you feel threatened by your working peer, you need to think through why you are feeling that way. It may having nothing to do with the actual presenting challenge: The issue at hand may be consequences for misbehavior, but the strength of your partner’s feeling about it may bring to mind a particularly punitive teacher you had in fifth grade, not your teacher partner. Your partner may need your reflection to realize that she is overreacting to a student because of an experience she had in fifth grade! If either of you start running to the principal, you need to quickly reconsider if your teaching placement is right for you. If it’s a bad fit, be sure to document everything to cover your backside.
- Sufficient Time: You need to have extra time built into your schedule. Perhaps your principal needs to specifically schedule collaboration time into inservice days. Your district needs to consider providing substitute time at least once a month so you and your collaboration partner can plan.
- Shared planning strategies: Be sure you negotiate this early on in your partnership. What day will you plan for the next week? Be sure you are both committed to that time and to the process of planning together. If one or the other of you feels pushed out of the process, you will also abdicate leadership.
- Clarity about the use of space: When I was substitute teaching and awaiting my first classroom I used to literally dream (at night, in my sleep) about my first classroom. That classroom space has certain emotional content for you. If you come into a space as the special educator that had been the other teacher's classroom already, she or he may look at you as an interloper.
There are a number of areas that need to be negotiated before you start the school year.
- Classroom Routines: Routines are essential for successful classroom management. Be sure you are both on the same page with routines.
- Classroom Discipline: Write out what the consequences will be for specific infractions. Be sure you are honest with yourself. If your partner seems overly punitive, it’s going to bug you later, so speak up early.
- Noise: How loud is too loud for you? Do you permit talking at any time? Color Wheel Behavior Management may be a plan that will work well for your full inclusion classroom.
Pet Peeves and Pet Projects: Be upfront early on about things that really bug you. Too often partners start deferring right away and end up giving away something that is going to make them really uncomfortable later, and may lead to a blow up. Mine is adults who speak disrespectfully to kids. I would want to warn a partner if I hear something I believe is disrespectful, I will be looking for a way to let them know that is not equally disrespectful—in private and calmly. Pet projects are those things that you as a teacher really need to have in your classroom. Maybe it’s a special gift project at Christmas. Maybe it’s a reading center with overstuffed chairs. Whatever it is, put it out front.
- Teaching model: Some successful co-teachers alternate leading the class. Some split the class into more than one group. Some alternate approaches. This should be negotiated before you start.
The legal requirements of Least Restrictive Environment will be pushing more and more districts to create full inclusion classrooms with co-teaching professionals. It is hard work and requires support from the administration to make it happen.