Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

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This is Urgent!

Joe Beasley, General Education Teacher

I hate wasting time. It is one of my biggest pet peeves. When I was in school, I can remember feeling bored countless times. Most of the time when I felt like this I was in a classroom with no sense of urgency. Now as a teacher, I realize how difficult it is to turn every single lesson into an engaging one, and there will always be a lesson that may turn out to be a little dry. However, I have come to realize that half the battle of confronting a an otherwise boring lesson is how you deal with it.

In our classroom, we teach our students how to create a sense of urgency. Amanda and I want our students to know that we have a lot to do, every day, and we can not slack. Whether we are reading science notes or walking through how to edit a sentence, we want our students to be engaged and ready to move on to the next lesson — fast! One way to create a sense of urgency is to bring a sense of energy to all lessons. Teachers have to move and they have to show excitement. Your students feed off you and you feed off them. Make note taking into a treasure hunt certain key words; have students act out a reading from a textbook; give students the choice in how they would like to complete the assignment. But whatever you do, do not let it be sluggish. There must be a sense of urgency.

Students need to see the spark of learning alive in their teachers. Often teachers feel like they have to put on a show in order engage their students. Yes! We should all the time, every single moment of the day. Kids thrive on excitement and energy. If you create a fast-pace classroom with little time for sitting or downtime, your students will be more likely to stay with you every step of the day. This means teachers have to be movin’ and groovin’! At times, I feel like a coach reminding my students that we have 5 minutes left and we have to get going to the next lesson. Let’s push forward and focus! We can do it!

Here are some helpful ways to bring a sense of urgency to your classroom:

1. Keep downtime to a minimal or only when it is absolutely necessary. 

During the majority of the day, most students are sitting. Sadly, the only time students are usually moving is when they are traveling to the next class. When students come to your classroom, try to get them up and moving as much as possible.

2. Give students choice.

Have a boring assignment? Let students choose how they would like to complete it. Give students fun choices that will get them engaged.

3. Be fast but understanding.

Creating a sense of urgency doesn’t automatically make you a Drill Sergeant, and it shouldn’t. You should constantly assess the situation and make sure your students are with you. Be mindful of your students and always keep checking in with them. “Am I going too fast?” “Are you with me?”

4. No teacher desk.

The desk acts like a wall and defines a space for only the teacher. A safe place for the teacher to escape from his or her students. But in reality, you can’t teach students while you sit. I don’t remember any of my best teaching moments happening while I was sitting at my desk. Bring the energy to your students and be present with them.

Creating a sense of urgency in the classroom must first be modeled by the teacher. Once students see the sense of urgency in their teacher, they often pick it up and run with it. When students ask to go to the bathroom, they don’t sluggishly walk down the halls, stop to look in other classrooms and try to see how long it will take them to walk back to class. Our students go to the bathroom and hurry back because they know they don’t want to miss the next lesson.


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?

How can I help you?

Joe Beasley, General Education Teacher

In a classroom, group-work can be the bane of a teacher’s existence; often times, group work time can only mean one thing — organized chaos. We all have experienced the group project blues: One person seems to take over the whole project, while others are never doing their fair share of the workload. Group work can be frustrating.

However, teachers realize the importance of group work for students to learn how to work effectively together.  Collaboration is a 21st century skill and most jobs require employees to work as a team in order to complete projects. Employers want to hire people with diverse skill sets and an understanding on how to share those skills collaboratively.

How can I help you?

In our collaborative classroom, students learn the importance of servant leadership. We recognize that we all learn differently and exhibit different abilities. However, we understand that the best way to work together is to serve one another. By asking, “How can I help you?” students are putting others first. If a teammate is facing a challenge while working on a project, the other teammates are expected to work together to help solve that challenge. Instead of ignoring the problem and continue working, we seek to serve one another.

Try this…

At the start of each group work session, have your students ask each other what problems they are facing and how they can help? Stop five minutes early and have students reflect on what they have accomplished for the day. Are we still facing any obstacles? If so, how can I help?

Pick teams based on skill, not on friendship. 

Another approach to a more collaborative classroom would be by having students select group members based on skill, instead of based on friendship. Students need to understand that a great team is a diverse team. We discuss at length the importance of picking partners that will compliment your team. For example, a baseball team is made up players with a diverse skill set. The pitchers can throw the fastest while the outfielders can hit the ball the farthest. No one wants a team full of pitchers. They may be able to strike out the other team, but they may never make it to first base. Students need to make sure that their team is not one dimensional. In our classroom, we recognize that everybody is good at something. Whether it would be research, writing, art, or coding, students need to be able to choose members that will ultimately help their team reach success.

Try this…

Have students select their own teammates. Every time they select a teammate, have them defend why they chose that person. Guide students to choosing teammates based on the skills needed basing on the project.

How do you feel about group work?

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