Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

Category: Steeley (page 2 of 3)

While You Were Out: A Letter to My Co-Teacher

@AmandaSteeley, Special Education Teacher

Dear Joe,

While you were out, the kids were great. They shook my hand and said good morning, they offered creative ideas, and they helped one another when faced with challenges.

But I wasn’t great.

I know you always tell me to believe in myself, and I do! That’s why I thought I would be great…

I thought that without you there, I would take everything you’ve taught me about relationships, engaging instruction, technology, and that I would ‘wow’ the students with my Teacher Power. (I may have even told them I was going to teach like Lady Gaga…to the response of a few concerned head tilts.)

But the truth is, I wasn’t great because I couldn’t be both of us.

When you’re here, the pacing is like that of competitive runner – deliberate, strong, confident. My pacing feels more like being caught in a snow storm, trudging desperately through deep snow to return home safely.

Also, when you’re not here, I don’t get to play ‘good cop’. Selfishly, I missed that! Our discipline styles complement each other so well. Together, we use positive reinforcement paired with high expectations. While I believe in high expectations, I am quite frankly better at providing positive reinforcement.

While you were out, one student cried because she failed her math exam. At the same time, 3 students argued about the way their group work was progressing, and another student stopped talking to his friends to their concern. I couldn’t help them all and keep the pacing. As a result, they didn’t get the attention I would have liked to have given them.

Oh yeah, and I had an IEP meeting.

I leave you this note to say thank you. Every day that we teach together, I learn from you. But it’s more than that. Every day that we teach together, you respect and let me shine in my own role and talents. Working with you is synergy at its finest.

Can you tell the other general education teachers how much I appreciate them, too? The vast majority of teachers don’t have what we have: two teachers in one room. The vast majority of teachers come in every day, hoping to do their best, but even with the best class in the world, having little confirmation that they have succeeded. We have the privilege of supporting each other every day.

I hope you are feeling better, and please never feel guilty about being out, but please also know how I blessed I feel to be a part of this team.




Top 10 Teaching Moments of 2016

@AmandaSteeley, Special Education Teacher

Over the past semester, we have experienced so much learning. While on the one hand, I want this school year to slow down because I can not imagine a better group of students, parents, or colleagues, I am also already excited for next fall. The framework for collaboratively teaching with Joe has been created: We know what we want to do better when we revisit this past semester’s lessons in the future, and we also recognize the exponential potential for differentiation when a general education teacher and special education teacher truly collaborate. It is beyond your average ‘win-win’.

So as a joyful celebration of 2016, these are my top 10 collaborative teaching moments of 2016:

1. “I like reading now.” Joe and I shared a special moment with a student who had done particularly well on a reading assessment. We wanted him to know how proud we were of the efforts he was making, because it truly reflected in his understanding. He had made unbelievable growth in reading and were so proud of him. He told us with tears in his eyes that he didn’t like to read before this year. He has had wonderful teachers, so I know they all contributed to him getting to this point, but I will forever be inspired by that moment

2. Mural! This past year we met with an incredible artist, Shaylen Brougton, and asked her what it would take to have a mural painted on our classroom wall. She contacted Altria and found a way for the mural to be donated at zero cost to the school. We cannot wait for March when she will breathe new life into our classroom!

3. Into the Woods Thanks to a grant from the Goochland Education Foundation, we were able to take our students on two trips to Powhatan State Park this past fall. Students with diverse needs all paddled down the James River in canoes. We experienced geocaching and reading in the wild. I will always treasure the organic beauty of these experiences and hope our students will, as well.

4. Debates Everyone knows that politics were fierce in 2016. The election was possibly one of the most controversial,to date, with strong opinions on both sides. Our students raised questions, stood to speak to one another, and debated on both sides of the political spectrum to gain a better understanding of different opinions. The dignity with which they treated one another  was beyond that which we saw in the media.

5. If you can’t, we can! On a whim, we decided to enter the Michael & Sons Jingle Contest. The students created a video and the winner was chosen based on the greatest number of votes. Although our students represented the county with the smallest population, their dedication to getting people to vote allowed us to finish in the number one spot, earning $5000 for Goochland Elementary School.

6. MUSIC I grew up in a home where my dad was a musician; I made it to high school on time because I wanted to be there for show choir practice; In college, I sang in the shows at Kings Dominion for work. And yet, I did not truly understand the value of music in education until spending a semester teaching with Joe Beasley. Kids need movement, visuals, passion… all the things that I need to get me motivated! This deserves a post in and of itself, but in the mean time, click here to go to Joe’s TeachersPayTeachers site and download/use all of his songs in your classroom.

7. Morning Handshakes Every classroom should do this. A handshake, paired with eye contact and “Good morning, Mrs. Steeley” really sets the tone for the day. It’s a great way to show mutual respect between student and teacher, and it is an invaluable life skill. I feel fortunate to have been exposed to this practice. (As a special education teacher, I know that this might ‘look’ different for different students, and that’s ok, too; it’s starting the day with a greeting that I think is of great value.)

8. Football at Recess Yes, I now know what the ‘no fly zone’ is and how to catch a football. Boy have I missed these games over winter break!

9. Language Arts Block Joe and I have worked on our language arts block like sculptors chiseling rock. It was only with the support of outside resources, including our reading specialists Mrs. Case and Mrs. Dickerson, and consistently revisiting the ‘drawing board’ that we came up with a language arts block that we believe to be best for our students. I’m sure it will all change again, but in the mean time, it’s exciting to have found our rhythm in this subject area.

10. Building Relationships with Families Joe and I are teachers because we love building relationships. We both recognize the correlation between relationships and student growth, and we are both enhanced as educators by these relationships. We have been committed to communication with families this year and we look forward to doing more in 2017.

What were your best teaching moments of 2016? We would love for you to share them here!

Pre-MAP Jitters: Are We Setting Students Up For Success?

@AmandaSteeley, Special Education Teacher

I have the privilege of teaching in a collaborative classroom where Mr. Beasley (the general education teacher) and I seek to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners. Mr. Beasley and I often look to each other and ask, Are we setting these kids up for success? This is my first year spending all day in a general education classroom; as such, it is my first year that the question of student success is sprinkled with SOL dust. While we know it’s “just a test”, we want them to pass! We want our students to be proud of themselves, and we want them to feel successful, by whatever measure presented.

But I know we should consider other forms of data. Not all data is a plus or minus sign: right or wrong. Data can also take the form of anecdotal notes, like the ones we’re receiving from parents that say their kids are reading more this year than they’ve ever seen them read before. That’s right, at home, they are picking up books and reading like they never have before. Talk about the greatest gift a teacher can receive. Some might say that a test will prove whether or not this is true, and I could see their side of the argument: Is the child comprehending? Is the reading level increasing? But at the end of the day, what does a “successful” adult reader look like…?

Do confidence and manners count toward measuring success? As a parent, my gut instinct is that they count even more than test scores. If we’re looking at success as living the life of your choosing, you first need confidence to pursue your dreams, and you need manners to prove – in an interview and while networking – that you are the best person for the job. I do have anecdotal data to prove that a few students in our class who were not independently contributing to classroom debates are doing so today. It’s a little harder to measure the increase in the number of times we hear ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, simply because I have not recorded it with a pencil, but with daily reminders that we should all be asking, How can I help you?  we must be on the right track…right?

Last night, we watched our 5th graders in the winter performance. Maybe I’m biased, but the majority of the speaking roles seemed to have been distributed amongst members of our class. I could be wrong about this – it may have just been the proud mother in me that saw my students shine above the rest on stage – but either way, in my eyes, it was success.

Group work, independent thought, problem solving, self-respect, respect for others, initiative… All of these are at the crux of what we value and expect in our classroom. But I guess at the end of the day, while we take pride in the developing character of our students, our fear is whether or not we are delivering the content-rich curriculum that will create the academic skillset for success…

Please don’t get me wrong in this post. All of our lessons are developed to align with the pacing and curricular framework that state and local educators have worked diligently to establish. But as we prepare for our first measurement of growth (winter MAP testing), as responsible practitioners we must reflectively ask ourselves, Are we setting our students up for success? I sure hope so, but I also know that just as they are growing, so too are we.  And if those scores don’t show us what we want to see, we will make it better. We will learn what we need to. And I hope and pray that we will set them up for success.

What is Collaboration?

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

Words Don’t Define People, People Define Words

Collaboration. Inclusion. Diversity. Student-centered learning. The list goes on… There are so many key collaborative-wordswords that stakeholders equate with improved student outcomes. However, like any good learning objective (more key words!), we must define outcomes and procedures in order to truly evaluate the effectiveness of these words. Today I would like to define collaboration.

You will never hear an employer or employee say, “We’d really rather not collaborate here.” Most people agree that diverse groups, working together, offer more than either would alone. But anyone can put diverse groups in a room together with little return. It is how the groups work together that improves outcomes.

Collaboration is…balancing courage with consideration.


So how do Joe and I work together? What makes this collaborative team click? If you meet either one of us, you will encounter energy and enthusiasm. These are character traits that we share beyond our love for education. But we don’t always agree.

Like any good relationship, we both must constantly be present in recognizing the goals, intentions, and motivations of the other person while communicating our own goals, intentions and motivations. As Dr. Stephen Covey said, we must balance “courage with consideration.”

Collaboration is…building each other up.

Yesterday was a special day. Joe was asked to introduce the superintendent of Goochland County Public Schools, Dr. Jeremy Raley, at a Goochland Education Foundation (GEF) event welcoming Dr. Raley to the school system. As the Teacher of the Year for GCPS, and a recipient of a GEF grant that funded our field trips to Powhatan State Park, it made sense that Joe was invited to this event.

The money that we received from the GEF to visit Powhatan State Park was the result of a grant Joe took the time to apply for before we even worked together. But, because we teach collaboratively, and because I was a part of the trip, he requested that I be there, too. When he got up to speak, he invited me up, too. He always seeks to highlight my strengths to others. This not only empowers me, but it increases my trust in him. As a result, collaboration in the classroom is enhanced.

Collaboration is…how you handle disagreements.

Before we went to the GEF event, we spent the day teaching. When our students were outside with the P.E. teacher, Joe and I found ourselves in a conversation with another teacher. I didn’t agree with what Joe was collaborativesaying. I had to share my perspective. I felt strongly about my viewpoint as a special educator.

“I love the way you advocate for students,” was Joe’s genuine response. This exchange again increased my trust. We don’t always have to see eye to eye, but for collaboration to work, we do have to recognize the goals, intentions, and motivations of the other person, and yesterday, Joe did that for me.

I responded with gratitude and shared that I would rather not express disagreement unless it is something I feel strongly about. Joe said that he knew that about me, and told the other teacher that that was also why he was wiling to stop and consider my perspective – if I was speaking up, there was probably a good reason. And so personifies the value of picking your battles…

How To Create a Culture of Collaboration

Good employers hire not just because of a convincing resume, but also because of a connection that’s made with a potential employee.

If you want to know what collaboration is, I believe you must start with this same attitude: Look for a connection first. Joe and I sought to work together because we recognized each other’s strengths and we received administrative support to work together. I believe that our collaborative collaboration-teacherrelationship is a win-win-win: We both benefit, and so do our students.

If you want to increase collaboration, if you want to make it more than just a word, you must carve out time for general education and special education teachers to meet, share goals, interview one another, and have a voice in who they ultimately choose to work with.

I have heard some school systems will pull apart strong collaborative teams to “share the love” and grow the practice among teachers who wouldn’t be open to collaborative teaching otherwise. This doesn’t work. It’s like calling a fish a bird and asking it to sing. This is an example of using the word – collaboration – without defining it’s meaning.

In order to get people excited about collaboration, you must show them a team that’s excited about working together, you must allow them to experience the personal journey to wanting the benefits of collaboration in their own classroom, and you must let them choose who they work with based upon personally conducted, and administratively supported, research. To create a culture of collaboration, you must allow individuals to become vested in the collaborative teaching experience.

Collaboration, simply put, is relationship building at its finest.


Differentiating in a Co-Taught Classroom: Assessments

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

I already know I am the luckiest special education teacher in the world. I have support from administration, parents, and students. I have a collaborative teacher who writes music for students to learn and is always willing to discuss teaching strategies. So it should come as no surprise that my co-teacher ‘gets it.’

But today was special. Today my collaborative teacher heard me administer a math quiz to a group of students in our class with IEP accommodations for small group testing.

In class, we had been working on adding and subtracting decimals. The quiz assigned to the whole class was a multiple choice quiz. Some of the problems on the quiz were straight forward (543.23 – 211.06), but others were more complicated, multi-step word problems. They involved extracting and synthesizing information before solving. My students were stumped.

This is often the fork in the road for many teachers. “It’s an assessment, so to be fair, you can’t help them,” some might say. But what is the purpose of an assessment? “The purpose of an assessment is to show whether or not a student understands a concept,” some might say. These people would be right about the second part — the purpose of an assessment is to show whether or not a student understands a concept.

But the purpose of teaching is to make sure students are learning. If a student does not understand a concept, shouldn’t we support their learning? Should all time in school be a learning opportunity? It is my opinion that good teachers assess their student’s level of understanding not just by a number on a sheet of paper, but by daily interactions. Today, our daily interaction occurred while working on an assessment.

One of the questions my students were stumped on involved figuring out the weight of 1 chicken when given the total weight of 3 chickens, and the individual weights of the 2 remaining chickens. I drew a picture of the chickens on the board. I drew them on a scale. I didn’t give them numbers. I had them find the information and figure it out. But I did support them. I did want them them to see why and how we found our numbers.

After the quiz was completed, my co-teacher told me how impressed he was. He admitted that at first he was concerned with the level of support: If I removed the support, would these students be able to answer the questions? What about the SOLs? But the bottom line, which we both understand, is that if they can barely get there with the support, how could we possibly expect them to get there without the support? When the SOL comes, maybe they’ll remember how we figured things out, maybe not. But what they will remember, is that they were supported, that they did not simply fail for lack of knowledge, and that they did not waste an assessment period just sitting around.

So yeah, my co-teacher gets it, and we’re all better for it.

What are your thoughts on differentiating for assessment?

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