I have my first semester of coteaching under my belt. So far, I think Drew and I are doing really pretty well. We’ve been navigating communicating and coplanning, and it feels like we have a good balance in the classroom. We both have our own areas of expertise and, I think, we’re becoming better at balancing those. There are, however, still areas we need to work on. I’m going to start with our stars (the things we do well) and follow up with a post about our next steps and how we’re going to improve.
The biggest issue people encounter in coteaching tends to be navigating the collaboration and communication piece. Drew and I have the advantage of requesting to work together to pilot a coteaching program where a Special Educator works with a General Educator, so we were both on board with the idea of coteaching and knew we had similar visions and a desire to work together. This is something a lot of coteachers don’t have. I know other special ed teachers who get thrown into classrooms with general ed teachers who don’t want them there. We also weren’t totally on our own in establishing a cotaught class. Our colleagues Pooja and Emily have already done great things coteaching as English and ELL teachers, so there were plenty of places to get advice.
We’ve become better at reading each other and are able to discuss things when one of us is uncomfortable with a strategy or technique the other wants to do. I know when to pull back or slow down when trying to infuse explicit strategy instruction or another technique, and I think Drew knows when I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with the more (as I call them) “loosey goosey” aspects of Readers’/Writers’ Workshop.
While I think there are things we can do to make our coplanning time more efficient, we’re generally doing a good job of always planning together and setting out a schedule for the week. We make sure to keep that time sacred and not schedule other meetings. The agreements and discussions we had before school started about how we wanted to structure our planning time were really useful, as was this planner from the book The Teacher’s Guide to Inclusive Education (Hammerkin, 2007). It helps keep us organized and on task.
There is an ease in how Drew and I interact in the classroom, and this seamlessness has helped out students to see us both as the teachers in the classroom. Not a teacher and an assistant. Not a boss and a supervisee. That’s partially because we have trust. We trust each other enough to try new things and fail. We’re willing to make mistakes, and know we’ll be corrected kindly. This trust is what makes our partnership work. We’re really lucky that we were able to choose each other for this work, but just because we chose to coteach, doesn’t mean we would be ready to be vulnerable. The biggest thing we did to foster this was talking things out at the beginning of the year: How we wanted the class to run, what we wanted things to be like. But we also shared who we are outside of school: talked about our likes and dislikes, shared pictures of our cats. And knowing each other better, both our school and out of school personas, really helps us to be open with each other. Because of the trust we’ve established we know it’s ok to say “I’m not ready to try that yet” or “I don’t understand” and knowing that the other person will still accept and work with us.
Of course, we’re not perfect. In my next post I’ll share our goals for the end of the school year and how we want to improve our practice.
Have you ever cotaught? How did you work together to establish a strong coteaching relationship?