– By Robin Fogarty
Why did I love co-teaching? It’s simple and it’s complicated. It’s simple, because when I look back, I know in my heart, it was the best teaching I ever did. It was complicated because we learned constantly, coached each other continually and reflected every single day. We also celebrated successes with the students who were always at the center of our decision-making.
Our circumstances were unusual as we had a multiage classroom of 8-12 year olds, in a double room with a flexible, folding wall and two teachers of different backgrounds and teaching experiences, in different grade levels. We taught all subject areas, encouraged families and siblings to enroll, and invited parents to volunteer in whatever ways they could. So, yes, it is simple to say I loved co-teaching. But, I’m definitely not saying it was easy to pull off. It was not easy for either of us, or for the students, who at times, looked like deer in the headlights.
Even though we had planned and planned and planned…we revisited, reorganized and rearranged, reviewed and retreated any number of times, yet, what we realized was, no, it was not easy, but it was surely worth every ounce of knowledge and knowhow we were learning. At the end of the day, we knew our students had experienced valuable lessons of learning and of life in an environment rich with content, relevant with the varied groupings we used, and rigorous with the mindfulness required.
What Exactly Did I Love About Co-teaching?
More specifically, here are some of the reasons I love co-teaching as a viable and proven model to support our students in their inherently personal learning journeys. These were the attributes of that dynamic model of teachers teaming to provide the best of the best for our students.
I loved the collegial partnership, the reflective culture, instructional flexibility, the necessity for creativity, the natural collaborative environment, the range of academic content and the life lessons of tolerance, leadership and kindness for all.
Two heads ARE better than one. Four hands are better than two. It’s called synergy. One leads, one facilitates; both lead, both facilitate parallel groups; one facilitates small groups, one coaches one on one; both conduct individual reading conferences or math check-ins; one works in the room, one in computer lab or library. The partnership affords creative uses of both professional with equal footing for both.
Culture of Reflection:
The reflective moments at the beginning and end of the day are invaluable as professional growth experiences. So much is voiced and considered explicitly that seldom happens when working as the sole teacher in the room. Just the ongoing comments, questions and concerns throughout the day are teachable moments for both.
Instructional Flexibility/ Spiraling Curriculum
Reading and math seem to work best with individualized, data-driven materials, specifically designed resources, varied methods, and student/teacher conferences, to monitor progress and stay intently connected to the student and his well-being.
- Small Group
Of course this model is punctuated by small group interactions for typical skill development in vocabulary, higher order thinking skills for comprehension strategies and deeper understanding. These groups are flexible and constantly changing as the talents and needs are determined.
- Whole Group
Flexibility means using the whole class model, particularly in social studies, health and science that have spiraling curricula and also often may warrant class field trips, presentations and performances. Writing exercises, art projects, science experiments provide opportunity to move through all three constructs- individual, team and whole class with both teachers intently involved in the planned lessons.
Creative innovation is a given when the structures change in fundamental ways. With co-teaching both students and teachers are acutely aware that this is different than one teacher, one class. They are a little anxious, but the students are also eager to see how the day changes. The human brain loves novelty, it’s how teachers get focused attention from the kids. This co-teaching strategy offers the perfect setting and resources for inventive collaborations as the various advantages emerge with each new development. Learn to enjoy the freedoms it offers for good solid teaching and learning and don’t fret too much about the restrictions you might feel.
Habits of Mind:
Perhaps the most powerful outcome of the co-teaching process, and it is ultimately a rewarding process, are the life lessons that evolve as the teacher/student interactions become more complicated, versatile and changing. From these novel circumstances, student attitudes, dispositions and habits of mind seem to percolate. They learn tolerance for others as teachers model collaboration and student groupings constantly change; they learn leadership skills, as teachers model shifting roles and students start stepping up or stepping in as needed to help out, and most of all, the entire experience somehow speaks to kindness and caring for all involved. Why? I’m not sure, but that’s what I always saw happen in my team-teaching experiences.
What I know is this. You too will learn to love co-teaching as you have time together to talk candidly about your greatest fears, and your highest expectations. Your team develops as you begin to look at models of co-teaching and configurations that work for your class and as you get down to the nitty-gritty of what you each will actually be doing. And the trust evolves, as you both learn more about your strengths and weaknesses as earnest partners designing the teaching and learning for YOUR class. Enjoy the learning adventure!