Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

New Year, New… Co-Teacher?

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

For the past 3 years, I co-taught all core subjects to 5th  grade students with the same person: Joe Beasley. Joe and I were both drama kids in high school, and I think that probably best defines what we had in common – we could put on a show at any time. And while we had many attributes that complimented each other, our ability to make each other laugh is why we remain friends even as our careers have shifted.

This year, I have a new co-teacher: Nicole Carter. Nicole has always been teaching 5th grade across the hall, diligently planning all details of her lessons. I’ve always admired that about her: My impulsivity respects her thoughtfulness. Where I am easily distracted, she is focused. And I’m excited for the ways in which I will grow in this new environment. Just as I believe our students are placed with us for cosmic reasons beyond our understanding, so too do I believe that co-teachers are placed in this way.

Last week, Nicole calmed a student whom I, the “behavior specialist”, could not – simply by walking and talking with him, and letting his voice be heard. Yesterday, I came in fearful that I had let Nicole down – that I hadn’t communicated with her enough over the weekend. She calmly smiled at me and said, “This is new. We’re learning how to work together, and that’s going to take time.” I am so grateful for her wisdom; I have to constantly remind myself that Rome was not built in a day.

Have patience in the process, friends; It’s always worth it!

Stay tuned for more updates from our journey together. Are you in a new co-teaching relationship this year? We’d love to hear from you!

Teachers: Hero Vs. Villain

Hero Vs. Villain

It’s so easy to be compared to the villain as a teacher. At times, we deserve the title as the villain because of our pop quizzes, giving zeros for no homework, and telling students when it’s ok to use the restroom. Being the villain isn’t easy, especially when comes to working with parents. In some parents’ eyes, we will always be the villain no matter what we do.

But I didn’t become a teacher to be the villain, I became a teacher to be the hero. I wanted to be the hero who swooped down out of nowhere and used my superhuman strength to lift test scores. I wanted to jump and clear any math or reading obstacle that got in my students way. I would be that symbol of hope and inspiration to my students.  I was going to be that hero on the front page of the news that actually changed my students’ lives.

Today, I feel that I am slowly moving out of that shimmering beam of hero light and into my top secret villainous lair. The feeling of self-doubt and the overwhelming weight of my students’ needs is too much. The constant interruptions, calling out, fighting, arguing, crying, not raising your hand, disorganization, can’t stand in a line, bathroom “field-trips”, food fights, bullying, lying, no homework, talking in the hallway and the absolute worst crime of all — the messy desk — are taking a toll on my superhuman abilities. The activities that were once amazing 4 years ago are now losing their luster. I can feel myself changing into something I vowed never to be: the villain.

Being a teacher is one of the most selfless jobs in the world next to parenting. It’s so selfless that we even give up our own bathroom time in exchange for higher stakes test scores. People who come into this field are eager to be the hero. However, many of us leave the field frustrated or unfulfilled within the first five years of our career. It often feels like you can either quit your job as the hero or work long enough to retire as the villain in most cases.

How do we keep ourselves from becoming the villain?

Educators Unite! Assemble your own superhero league of educators. 

·       Find a group of educators or a mentor who you can trust will always have your back in these dark times.

·       Hunker down with your fellow educators and rely on each other for extra support.

·       Be open to collaborating with your fellow teacher heroes on lessons.

·       Build on each other’s strengths and surprise your students with a new project or lesson.

Who is this for you? For me, it is having my amazing co-teacher, Amanda Steeley, by my side. If it wasn’t for her amazing superhero SPED abilities, I wouldn’t know what to do.

A recent study by The Institute of Education Sciences found that teachers who had mentors were more like to remain in the school they were hired in after 5 years of teaching than those who did not have a mentor. Building successful relationships with your fellow teachers is key in order to keep yourself motivated. There is no shame becoming the sidekick!


Grab that Utility-Tech Belt!

Technology has taken over the classroom. One of the best ways to get adapted to new tech in the classroom is to start small. First, find out what your students are really into (gaming, social media, etc). Then, bring it into your classroom. For instance, my students play Minecraft at home constantly. We were able to use Minecraft as a learning tool in the classroom. My students were so engaged and so excited about building famous landmarks from around the world in Minecraft that they didn’t even want to go to recess! (what!?!?) The day that I introduced Minecraft to my students, joy filled the classroom. It was contagious. I felt like Batman when he had just saved Gotham from another attack or locked up the Joker! It’s those moments that make us want to come back every day to teach.

Never, Never, Never, Ever Give Up

We all face challenges every day. It’s how we handle those challenges that determine the next step of being a hero or villain. Teach fearlessly! Leap from one amazing lesson to another. Keep pushing for justice! Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your strengths as a teacher and build from there. It may mean taking risks or trying something completely new, but even if we fail, we have another year to make it much better. Teaching is one of the few jobs that lets us take a failed lesson and make it better the next year. Now that’s growth mindset! No matter what we do, we must never, never, never, ever give up. We might not realize it but in some of our students’ eyes, we are the only constant and positive thing they have.

Dark times will hit your classroom, just like they do in Gotham City. Your students might turn against you, and at times, problems might arise. The most important thing we do as heroes is to fight for what is right in our classrooms. Instead of thinking, What will help me get through this year? we should really be asking, What is best for my students and how can I make this year the best yet? Focus on your students who need you and stay positive. Don’t let stress and frustration wear you down. Put on that superhero teaching suit and look toward the sky. We may never leap from a tall building or risk our lives to stop an out-of-control, speeding train, but we can take a leap with our fellow educators and try something new in our classrooms. In order to stop ourselves from becoming the villain, we have to be a true hero who takes risks because it’s what’s best for our students.

What is a “Great Kid”?

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

I have a loving family. Today, my parents who have been married for more than 40 years live down the road and help my husband and me immensely with our two young daughters. I can not imagine my life today any other way. But years ago, when I was a twelve-year-old girl in the seventh grade, the unfortunate reality that we all end up eventually becoming exposed to became apparent: my mom and dad were not just my super heroes – they were humans, too. In seventh grade, my parents separated and my mom moved from Virginia to New York for a brief time. Needless to say, it rocked my world.

Everyone shudders at middle school memories. I was so intimidated by my peers that I barely ever spoke up in class. To this day, I remember raising my hand to participate in math class and the ‘cool girl’ saying, Oh my gosh…She can talk? I remember my heart beating uncomfortably fast as I wished I could disappear in the cloud of laughter that followed.

Today, I was not thinking about that girl, though. Today, I was thinking about how overwhelming teaching can be: how there are never enough hours in the day, how it is so hard to find work/life balance, how it is so much easier to tally the list of things I have not completed than the list of things that I have… And then I thought of the teacher in that seventh grade math classroom: Mr. Hayes.

Mr. Hayes’ smile as he asserted his famous line – There’s more than one way to solve a problem – still fills me with warmth. Mr. Hayes never took me out in the hall and told me that I was not living up to my potential, even though I remember other teachers who, with the best of intentions, had this conversation with me often. But it was not just his quirky lines or patient attitude that made a difference. Mr. Hayes did something else, too: He gave me an “F” on my interim report card and wrote “great kid” in the comments section.

I have no idea if Mr. Hayes knew what was going on in my life at the time. All I know is that by writing “great kid” on that report, he made me feel value at a time when I felt that I had very little. His impact was so profound that it still benefits me today, reminding me that it is not the completed to do list that defines me as a teacher, but the relationships I build with students, that truly make a difference. So rather than spend this Sunday drenched in pre-week teaching anxieties, I vow to spend the day sharpening my saw with the knowledge that the only way we can truly make others feel great is by first feeling great ourselves.

Inclusion Might Mean Starting Over: Do You Dare?

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

First year teachers are incredible, aren’t they? They walk into the classroom with little more than practicum experience and are faced with innumerable challenges. They have moments of joy when student engagement is present and relationships grow, but they also have moments of darkness when their directions are dismissed and connections fizzle. But they come back, most of them, every day, to do their job, and they get better. By year three, despite the exhausting learning curve they have climbed, they feel fresh. They feel confident. They feel capable.

As hard as the first year of teaching is, what teacher would want to go through it again? If what you’re doing in your classroom is working, why would you want to risk failing the majority of your students by including one individual who doesn’t respond to the system you’ve created? Many teachers wouldn’t, but a few teachers dare. A few teachers dare to take risks, enlist supports, and drive the bus toward global change. It isn’t easy, but I promise you if you’re willing to go all in, if you’re willing to feel as uncomfortable as you did during your first year of teaching, your classroom family will flourish in unimaginable ways.

What Does it Mean to Dare?

Nothing great can happen without trust, and trust doesn’t solidify overnight. Joe Beasley, (the general education teacher whom I co-teach with,) and I are in our second year of co-teaching. There were times last year when we cocked our heads to the side at the other person’s response to a classroom situation. There were times when Joe thought my supports were equivalent to “giving in” and there were times when I thought his expectations were “too demanding.” But then guess what happened? One of us would be absent, and it would be blatantly evident to the remaining teacher that it was not our individual strengths, but our combined qualities, that made our classroom strong.

If the unknown makes you uncomfortable, if reverting back to those first year teacher feelings makes you cringe, you are normal! Whenever Joe and I are faced with a new behavioral challenge, we both hold our breaths and brace ourselves even as we’re putting plans in place. Will we let our students down? Will we let each other down? Will parents be unhappy? All of these are possibilities, because every student is different and we are always learning. But what if we succeed? How sweet will that be? And what will we learn along the way to support others in their journey toward increasing inclusion?

If you think you might be brave enough to feel vulnerable again, talk to your principal. Talk to colleagues. Talk to parents and students. Talk to your community. If you think you’re brave enough to increase inclusion, you have to talk to others, because if you think it’s all on you, you’re wrong. One person alone cannot make this change. We are only as good as the supports around us, and I strongly believe that a world where all people support one another, despite our differences, is a better place for my children to live.

How do you work to increase inclusion in your school? What advice would you offer to those who are still unsure? Please share your thoughts below!

How to Get Your Mom to Let You Jump in Puddles

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

We got home from school today and the girls asked if they could jump in puddles on the way in. No. Please just go inside, I told them. I was stressed. I’d known the entire ride home that a run was what I needed. And it had nearly stopped raining.

We went inside, I changed into shorts, a t-shirt and running shoes, and I opened the front door. It was pouring. I asked my husband if he thought I should stay home. No. You should go, he said supportively.

I raced down the road and the rain continued to pick up. We rarely see cars and I was thankful I didn’t have to explain to a hunter driving by that running in the rain was actually my intention. We also rarely see bears, and I was thankful I didn’t see one of them either…

Running in the rain made my stress disappear. It reminded me that whether I am a teacher or a student, a mother or a child, I am a small part of the world.

I am no better than the stones beneath my feet, and no worse than the life-giving air that I breath. I am no more permanent than the falling drops of water on my face, and no less grounded than the trees around me. I am important, by my importance does not override my humanness.

And for me, in that moment, I felt better. I will always be teaching and learning, mothering and growing, so long as I continue to be.

As I splashed down our driveway back up to our house, I realized I couldn’t withhold this joy of being out in the rain. And so I leaned in the front door and beckoned the girls to get their rain boots on and come out to jump in puddles.

In or out, Mama, my eldest told me, referring to the wide-open front door.

Out! Come out with me!

And with that, we all went out to play in the rain, jump in the mud, and just be. Isn’t this the best night ever? My youngest asked me when we went inside. Yes. Of course it is! Rather than be overcome with the challenges of life, we were given a special opportunity to enjoy life’s gifts, and we did!


How does all this relate to collaborative teaching or co-teaching? I’m not sure that it does any more than it relates to any profession: We have to come to work ready every day, and we need to find ways to destress in order to share our gifts. In order to take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves, and only with practice will we truly know what that means.

« Older posts