Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

Tag: co-teaching

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.

What’s Your Classroom Mission Statement?

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

Classrooms As Businesses

One of the most important considerations when developing a co-teaching relationship is a shared purpose, or goal. What is your mission? And if it sounds like I’m talking about a business, then great.

Maybe we should think of classrooms as non-profit business organizations that rejoice in the attainment of goals for the betterment of the public.

Conduct a S.W.O.T. Analysis

Businesses complete S.W.O.T. analyses of their companies to enhance their rate of success. During this process, they analyze the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats to the success of the organization.

Why not use this same model in our classrooms? With co-teaching, this is realistic: you are not an island reflecting on your practice; you have someone else there to reflect with and to determine whether or not your actions are supporting your mission and vision.

If you have administrative support, like Joe and I have in both our principal and central office staff, then your chance of success is that much greater.

20% Brain, 80% Heart

When Joe and I first started working together, a three-by-four-foot laminated poster hung on the wall that he created with his wife, Lea, when he began teaching: 20% Brain, 80% Heart. As a teacher, and a mother, I think this is a great a message to kids. Growth mindset needs to be taught to all levels of learners.

The Problem with “Smart Kids”

When I was in elementary school, I remember being pulled back or sent to a different room to work with the other “smart kids” on math problems. By the time I was in the 7th and 8th grade, my math grades drastically dropped and honestly never recovered. I knew why – in my eyes, I wasn’t “smart” anymore, or my teachers had identified me incorrectly.

To an extent, this was true! When I was in elementary school, my skill set was strong relative to my same-age peers. As a result, I thought math just came easily to me. When it wasn’t easy anymore, I figured I wasn’t “smart” anymore. Had I learned early on that education was 20% Brain, 80% Heart, perhaps I would have been more tenacious when faced with challenges.

Attainable Goals Promote Intrinsic Motivation

Teaching 20% Brain, 80% Heart applies to our below-level learners, as well. This year, Joe and I taught several readers performing multiple grade levels below their peers. With the help of our reading specialist, we assessed their skill level at the beginning of the year and introduced these students to individualized weekly fluency passages.

The ‘go-getters’ in in our fluency group quickly became evident. By creating an attainable goal with a route to success – If I practice my fluency passage daily, then my reading level with increase – some students aggressively attacked reading, and their fluency improved. (Mind you, we didn’t just say that fluency passages were going to improve reading ability, we also developed a classroom culture that included a love of reading, but more on that later.)

But the shared mission of 20% Brain, 80% Heart reverberated beyond fluency passages: The same students who attacked their fluency passages were also asking questions in science and seeking to internalize patterns in math. They wanted it.

Our Classroom Mission Statement

For me and Joe, 20% Brain, 80% Heart, is a relatable and attainable mission. We are teachers because we love learning, sharing, and creating, and we want the same for all individuals, regardless of innate ability level. We want students to recognize their own Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and to develop their own roadmap to success, and we want to support them in this process.

Yes, as teachers, we want (and need) to give students the tools to understand learning objectives, but in a world where Siri is accessible to a large part of the population, we want to create problem solvers. For some, this may mean recognizing the importance of engaging in repeated trials to acquire a skill; for others, this may mean asking and seeking answers to one’s own challenging questions.

How do you promote growth mindset in your classroom? Do you have a classroom mission statement? We love growing our practice by learning from our peers and we can’t wait to hear what other teachers are up to!

How to Stop Cringing at Group Work, and Why Your Students Deserve It

Group work has always been a passion of mine. When I first became a teacher, I wanted my students to have the opportunity to learn and work together as much as possible; five years later, I still see the value of having heterogeneous groups of students learning to work with one another.

In our collaborative classroom, students have the opportunity to work with all types of ability levels and backgrounds, but our goal is to highlight and the value of working with diverse strengths.

Group Work Frameworks

We know that students can gain knowledge by working through projects and problems with their peers; however, students have to be taught how to effectively work together. There are some excellent frameworks out there, including Scrum and the Kagan Cooperative Learning, that help scaffold learning in groups.

Modeling Group Work

I believe the teacher has to lay the foundation for group work and model what it looks like to work with others. As a co-teacher, I am fortunate to have ample opportunities for modeling, but that does not mean that modeling how to work with others is an unachievable goal for those without co-teachers. You just have to be proactive by reaching out to others and being open to the work that goes into collaboration.

In the past, I have been guilty of assigning group work without modeling how I want my students to collaborate. Now I realize that I have to model how to share the workload; this includes demonstrating how to work through conflict as well as helping students realize the potential of picking teams based on strengths. Never forget the power of your presence as a teacher. The teacher is the most influential person in the classroom. The students will mimic whatever the teacher does, and teachers have to show students how to work effectively together. It may not be a statewide goal, but it is a life skill.

“Never believe that you are better than anybody else, but remember that you are just as good.”    -John Wooden

This quote by John Wooden is a great way to start engaging your students about what it means to be on a team. When we work with others, we really should be serving others instead of competing against one another. I try to teach my students that we all have our strengths and weaknesses, but what is most important is how we use our strengths to help others.

How to Pick Groups for Group Work

One way to help your students understand the importance of recognizing strengths is by teaching them students to pick their own groups. When you do so, encourage them to choose teammates based upon skills the group needs to succeed, instead of picking based upon friendship. Go through the group project expectations as a class and then discuss what types of skills would be needed in order to create the best project. Here’s an example of some of the questions we encourage our students to ask when picking groups:

  • Do I need a teammate who is skilled at drawing?
  • Do I need a teammate who knows how to code?
  • If I’m not particularly organized, could I find a teammate who would help me keep everything together
  • How can I surround myself with the best people for the job? 

Help your students realize that what makes us different can also make us stronger.

Teaching Styles: Starting a Co-Teaching Relationship

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

It’s 4:30 AM and I’m up to grade papers and prepare for the science lab I will teach today. I listen to the coffee drip with eager anticipation and hope that my own two children will at least give me 30 minutes of uninterrupted work time before they wake up requesting breakfast. The busy demands of my collaborative teaching position in 5th grade at GES have me stressed in such a way that I am both growing and fulfilled; it is a good stress.

My 4-year-old heard me and just woke up… Thank goodness for Caillou. Let me get to the point… Three things I would like to reflect on since my last entry: teaching styles, pre-test/post-test data, and co-planning:

Teaching Styles:

Joe and I have a lot in common – we both believe in the power of music for teaching, the importance of relationships with students and families, and imperativeness of student engagement. However, we are still two different individuals with unique backgrounds and experiences. Perhaps our starkest contrasts are that Joe is a male who has taught only general education, and I am a female (mother) who has taught only special education. If I’m not careful, my nurturing qualities might neglect to maximize the potential of every learner. But there is great value when our personalities come together, especially because we are both open to communication with one another.

Joe and I respect one another. This allows us to pull one another aside if we think that either ourselves, or the other person, could have handled a situation with a student better. We reflect with an open mind. We are willing to seek first to understand and then to be understood. I believe this may be one of our greatest strengths as a teaching team. 

Pre-Test/Post-Test Data:

We started using pre-test/post-test comparisons for math this week. The growth, for all students, was thrilling. We are so excited to continue with this practice!

Co-Planning:

Yesterday afternoon, Joe and I quickly reflected on what needed to be done before school the next day. (And quite frankly if I don’t stop writing soon, it won’t be done!) But what I loved about this exchange was that I felt like we were volleying a ping-pong ball:

I’ll take grading the math quiz.

         -Great. I’ll make sure the science data gets entered.

         -OK. Reading groups are almost set. I’ll finalize that.

         -Awesome. I need to prepare for the lab.

         Etc…

We both know what’s going on. We’re willing to help each other, and we both want to be able to step in for the other person at any time. We collaboratively “own” this classroom. No responsibility rests solely on one individual’s plate, and if it does, the other person is eager to learn the role and support the teacher who must fulfill the responsibility.

Now back to work! Looking forward to another great day!