Two recent articles, one from Middle Web (www.middleweb.com) by Elizabeth Stein and the second in ASCD Express, by Gloria Lodato Wilson and Joan Blednick, provoked interesting discussion and conversation in districts where CASDA is supporting co-teaching teams with professional development. The question we were striving to answer is "Are we a team or just taking turns?”
CASDA faculty have been working with districts to help partners more “co-dependent” and move from “I” to “we.” In other words, who holds the chalk? For instance, it is often very difficult for a co-teacher who is shared across courses and even grade levels to be an equal member of a co-teaching team. We have suggested that pairs consider broadening their definition of the nature of the team and how they divide responsibilities. All of those accompanying responsibilities can be shared, and equally distributed, if team members consider the most effective application of each individual’s talents and skills. As an example, while the general education teacher might be doing most of the direct instruction because her partner is in multiple classrooms, the special education teacher can take the majority of the responsibility in another area (such as creating modified materials and assessments), thus making teams more “equal” in their contributions to the instructional environment.
While planning, and preparing for co-teaching, individuals often consider their own positions first. We suggest that teams reframe their partnerships by asking,
1. “How will we plan instructional units together?”
2. “How will we prioritize content and create tiered learning experiences?”
3. “How will we resolve differences of opinion throughout the year?” (Gloria Lodato Wilson and Joan Blednick, ASCD Express, Vol. 11, No. 7)
We also ask teams to consider how students perceive the nature of the partnership in the classroom? Do students see you as “taking turns” or truly co-dependent? How does that influence the nature of their relationships with each teacher? Do they benefit from the experience and wisdom of each of you? Is the ratio of student to adult truly reduced in a manner that enhances student engagement, or are there two adults in the classroom, yet only one of which has the primary responsibility? How do you model those “on the fly” accommodations and changes you make to instruction and lesson plans for students? Are they learning respectful dialogue between two adults that demonstrate a true, shared partnership? These questions are especially important but often do not become a priority given the predominant demands of instructional planning.
We also ask teams to consider the metaphor of a chameleon to describe the co-teaching partnership. In any positive relationship, each individual knows that they need to put forth effort to accommodate the needs, ideas and skills of their partner. However, sometimes the co-teacher is expected to “blend” perfectly into each new environment, context, or classroom multiple times a day! If you visualize a chameleon in their various habitats, you realize that they change to blend into their new environment. The environment does not change. We would challenge co-teachers to consider how they combine the best of both professionals. The general education teacher can offer their classroom environment as a shared space which is welcoming and open to the thoughts, suggestions and wisdom of their colleague.
In addition, in order to honestly reach and resolve those undiscussables in order to maintain harmony in a partnership, the use of humor is particularly effective. We at CASDA spend time with teams helping them analyze their individual styles. Once individuals understand their personal needs and tendencies, they can more safely and easily raise those more challenging topics that can interfere with well-balanced co-teaching partnerships.
Finally, let’s return to the title of this article, 2n. In other words, co-teaching is not 1+1. Rather, the power of two adults in the room is exponentially increased, or enhanced, when there is a true blending of perspectives, talents, and experience.