Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

Tag: collaborative teaching

Should Teachers Make Home Visits?

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

Should Teachers Make Home Visits? 

With a few exceptions, you would not pick a primary care physician without meeting him or her first. The knowledge, support, and care that doctors offer is vital to your health. When it comes to your child, you are likely to be even pickier. You might even read reviews and recommendations online before scheduling to meet with a potential pediatrician. And if your child has medical needs that extend beyond average, the stress involved in finding and committing to a specialist may be that much more intense.

So why don’t parents traditionally engage in relationship building with teachers before sending their kids off to school?  Is there an option for this? ‘Back to School Night’ is a way for parents and students to meet face-to-face with teachers and see classmates prior to the school year starting. It’s a nice baseline, but we can do more (and not just for the sake of our students.)

What about making home visits? What about meeting with families individually before servicing their children day in and day out for 240 days? Here are a few reasons I think you might say ‘no thanks’ to home visits, and then I would like to try to shed some light on why I think they are actually worth it.

Thoughts Against Home Visits
  1. Pay: You chose to be a teacher, not a doctor. Although there is data to support that teachers and doctors have comparable stress levels, the financial reciprocation is not there. Sure, you get summers off, but between teaching, planning, meetings, committees, duties, etc., the summer break does not even begin to compare to that MD paycheck.
  2. Safety: Yes, any time you travel to a stranger’s house, you are putting yourself in a potentially compromising situation. If no one will go with you, this is a legitimate argument. (I am apt to believe you can find someone to go with you.)
  3. Time: Remember that summer break we talked about earlier? Scheduling any part of it with home visits kind of negates its value, doesn’t it? And if you think you can do home visits once school starts, you’ve clearly never taught during the first nine weeks of the school year.
  4. Anxiety: Maybe you’re nervous! What if you don’t know what to say? What if you can’t answer their questions? What if you come off looking under-qualified? What if you look incredibly qualified and now the family wants to contact you all the time? Isn’t this just opening a huge can of worms?

I get it. I do. I get all of these reasons. And even as I type them out, it’s tempting to throw in the home visits towel. But I’ve been making summer home visits for students on my caseload since I returned to teaching after having kids, and this is why I would strongly urge you to consider trying them too:

Why Home Visits are Worth It 
  1. Relationships: Steve Geyer, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction for Goochland County Public Schools, has always touted quality instruction to be two things: relationships and engaging instruction. And he practices what he preaches with all members of the community, even with all his responsibilities. In fact, all of our administrative staff in our school system model this well. But there is a good reason for why they do this, and I think it stretches beyond good manners: You are more likely to trust someone that you have met, right? I would hope so! Showing up at someone’s house and asking to learn about their family equates to making huge deposits into a bank account that will support you throughout the school year. And I am just trying to sell you on the logic – the time you will save later – without even taking into account the fulfillment you will receive by reaching out. To teach is a great honor, and to be welcomed into the life-story of families in your community is truly a gift. I thought I would have more to write when I started this list, but that’s it: Relationships. Relationships are everything.
How Can I Get Started?

Postcards are a great way to reach out to families. The thought of calling and asking if I can come over sounds painfully awkward to me. It can be short and sweet:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. _____________________,

I am so excited to be teaching __________________ this fall! I love meeting with families prior to the school year to learn how I can best support student goals. Is there a day/time that we could get together before the school year gets started to chat? Please get in touch when you can and we’ll figure out a time I can pop over. Thanks so much!

Best,

Your Name

Your Contact Info.

Not everyone is going to respond to your postcard, and that is OK. At least they know you care, and that you are willing to take the extra step for their family. When they do call or email to set up a time, do everything you can to keep that appointment. And if they do not get in touch, make sure they are one of the first families you call to touch base with during that first week of school.

What Should I Do When I Arrive? 

The first couple of times I went on home visits, I brought a preference assessment that I created for students and a preference assessment that I created for parents. (Both of these documents are linked here: Parent Preference Assessment Student Preference Assessment) I wanted students to know that I was interested in what they liked to learn about and how they liked to learn. For parents, I wanted to know their preferred method of communication and their expectations for how often they liked to communicate with their child’s teacher.

You might say that asking a parent how often he or she expects to hear from you is setting yourself up for more work. But here’s the thing: Most parents are not going to request excessive communication. The ones who do request it probably have a good reason: maybe their child has high needs that must be monitored and communication between school and home is vital; maybe their experience with home-school commination in the past has been negative or non-existent so they are expressing their frustrations with high demands. Whatever the reason for requesting frequent communication, it is within your best interest to know about it. You can increase your control over the situation by setting up mutually agreed upon expectations.

The  most important thing you can do during a home visit is listen. Ask questions. Use the preference assessments as a guide if you would like, but try not to make it look like an interrogation. Make that family know how fortunate you feel to be in their home and how excited you are to support their child’s development. Be yourself. Smile. Be confident in knowing that you are doing something that is above and beyond, and that really does make a difference.

How Do I Leave?

You might laugh at this one, and that’s OK, you can skip this part, because although some of you have no problem wrapping up a conversation, others, like myself, don’t even know how to get off the phone. In fact, I might even ask more questions when I’m awkwardly trying to wrap it up…

You can let the family know up front that you have to be somewhere at a certain time in the future, or you can wait until the conversation just winds itself down. I have had families invite me over for dinner and give me tours of their homes. Again, in my opinion, this is all a one-time investment that is so worth it. I have developed some incredible friendships this way that have really aided me in doing what is most important as an educator: helping all students to maximize their potential.

When you mess up, and you will, it is also so much easier to call yourself out to someone who has already seen the good in you. Home visit really emphasize the the value and importance of a home-school team to student development.

Are You In?

Will you do home visits this year? What will they “look” like? If you’ve done them in the past, how would you rate your experience? Any tips? I am a special education teacher who co-teaches 5th grade, so my primary focus has always been meeting with students on my caseload, but my co-teacher and I have also considered doing a picnic and inviting all students and their families to kick off the year with us.

 

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!

Benefits of Collaborative Teaching

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher @AmandaSteeley

The movement toward fully inclusive education is gaining momentum. Part of the reason for this goes beyond parental and administrative requests: teachers and students are enjoying its benefits. If you know me, you know that I am loving my first year in the collaborative classroom. But my fulfillment is supported by research, too.

Zou, Kim and Kerekes (2011) explored the benefits of collaborative teaching at the college level specifically for pre-service teachers. Imagine, exposing pre-service teachers to collaborative practices as students before they become collaborative teachers themselves. This makes so much sense, and yet, it was neither my experience nor that of anyone else I know.

The article itself, Collaborative Teaching in an Integrated Methods Course, concluded that currently there is just not enough research to support greater benefits with this model of preparing pre-service teachers, but just like the growth of collaborative teaching in K-12 education, I’m sure further research may increase this practice, as well.

What I did takeaway from this article were the several benefits of collaborative teaching cited by its authors for both students and instructors.

Benefits of Collaborative Teaching

Benefits to Students

  • Interest and enthusiasm
  • Improved achievement
  • Enhanced ability to work in teams
  • Increased interdisciplinary learning

Benefits to Teachers:

  • Increased growth from professional discussions
  • Increased learning from one another’s experiences
  • Increased learning from one another’s teaching styles
  • Increased opportunity for curriculum integration/real world experiences

The authors also cited Hinton & Downing (1998) when explaining “collaborative teaching is most beneficial when it promotes diversity by including teaching members from different disciplinary areas in addition to different ethnic and cultural backgrounds”. I could not agree with this more. Any time we can use our collaborative teaching practice to model treating each other with humanity, everyone wins. In my own practice, I believe that the simple juxtaposition of Mr. Beasley and I (male and female) in addition to being SPED and general education counter-parts, is valuable: We just bring different things to the table.

In future posts we can address challenges, but today’s focus highlighted benefits. Do you teach collaboratively? What do you consider the greatest benefits to your students and team?

 

References

Hinton, S. & Downing, J.E. (1998). Team teaching a college core foundation course; Instructors’ and students’ assessments. Richmond, KY: Eastern Kentucky  University. ERIC Document No. ED 429469.

Kerekes, J., Jinyoung, K., & Zhou, G. (2011). Collaborative teaching of an integrated   methods course.     International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education. 3(2). 123-138.

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!