Coteaching is a model for teaching in which educators work together to plan, teach and assess the same group of students, generally in the a common classroom. Coteaching is an opportunity to maximize the skills and strengths of each teacher while reaching all students.
Introducing… Carly McKeague, coteaching pro!
I would like to introduce you to my friend, and former colleague Carly McKeague. She is one of those people that can go above and beyond in her job with such ease, grace, & humility. Carly forms relationships and uses systems that help students fall in love with learning & flourish as students. One of my favorite memories working with Carly was the year she taught several 3rd grade students in the and out of the general education classroom. It didn’t matter what she did with those kiddos, every time they came back from working with her BEAMING about “What Ms. McKeague showed us!” I later taught those same students in 6th grade and many of them were still using the skills that Carly taught them in 3rd grade. Carly is one of those people you want to know because you learn so much from just watching her. I can’t wait for you all to learn from her today in this blog post. Please leave a comment below and reach out to Carly.
A Guest Post: Coteaching to Double the Educators, Double the Success!
“Next year, instead of co-teaching sixth and seventh grade reading, you’ll be co-teaching sixth grade math!” The words of my administrators were ringing in my ears. Me? Teach math?
Growing up, I loved math – knowing that every problem had a solution was a very satisfying concept to me. In fact, until fifth grade, math was my favorite subject in school. Then in sixth grade, math became boring. A chore. A class I dreaded each day.
I knew that as a sixth grade math co-teacher, I did not want my students to share the same experience that I had in sixth grade. I wanted them to feel excited when they entered our shared space. I wanted my students to feel inspired to learn. I wanted them to feel confident in their mathematical abilities.
But before I could create this experience for my students, I had to learn how to be an effective math co-teacher. Today I am sharing some of the strategies I’ve learned on my journey so that you can have a more effective co-teaching relationship, whether it be with a special education teacher, general education teacher, instructional coach, or interventionist!
In Coteaching Relationships Come First
In teaching, we always value our relationships with students above all else. Co-teaching relationships are no different. As teachers, we are humans first. In order to engage in a successful co-teaching relationship, both educators must be vulnerable with one another. Admittedly, this can be very challenging, especially when difficult conversations arise. Here are some strategies I’ve learned when approaching new co-teaching relationships:
- Be Honest: Functional co-teaching relationships depend on honesty. Be honest about your expectations. Be honest about deadlines and if they are achievable. Provide honest feedback about activities and assessments.
- Understand Each Other’s Communication Style: I am an over communicator. I am the type of person who writes three emails when it all could have been condensed into one (sorry, everyone I’ve taught with!). At the beginning of your co-teaching relationship, you and your co-teacher should discuss how you best communicate and how to avoid miscommunication, especially through email and text.
- Respect Boundaries: Setting work boundaries is okay, and encouraged! If my co-teacher tells me they do not work on the weekends, I respect that boundary. If I write them an email over the weekend, I always preface the message with “No need to respond until Monday” – and truly mean it. In your co-teaching practice, you might come to a shared boundary (e.g., let’s have all our planning done before Friday) so that you can feel successful together!
The reality of co-teaching is that you will not always agree; however, having these conversations at the start of your co-teaching journey, and circling back to these norms on a consistent basis, helps keep your relationship fresh and thriving!
Sacred Time for Coteaching Collaboration
Every Wednesday at 9:15, you’ll find me in a meeting with my co-teacher. This time in my weekly schedule is non-negotiable. Why is this so important? During this time, my co-teacher and I have an opportunity to reflect on the content taught so far that week, adjust the remainder of our lessons that week if necessary, and plan accordingly for the following week. It also gives us a chance to discuss how to challenge our thriving students and how to provide more support to students who need it. We take the time to assess student work and create flexible groups so that all students can demonstrate their understanding, regardless of their entry level with a specific topic.
I realize not all educators are fortunate enough to have an hour within their week to collaborate with their co-teacher. And although we all wish we could add more hours into our day, here are some other practical times a collaborative conversation can take place:
- A phone call in the morning on the way to work
- An email after school hours
- A socially-distanced hallway check in during passing periods
- Over lunch
- While drinking coffee together outside on the weekends
Content & Responsibilities for Powerful Coteaching
Once you’ve figured out the relationship aspect of coteaching, it’s time to tackle the content! In your career, you’ve probably taught more than one grade level, or maybe even more than one content area. Entering a co-teaching relationship, it is not expected that either party is a content expert – but it is critical that both educators strive to unpack the standards to ensure that their students can meet the grade level expectations. As a special education teacher, I have often found that my teammate is typically the content expert while I am the expert at modifying and accommodating any task to meet the needs of all our learners. Knowing our strengths allows us to divide and conquer our responsibilities. This could mean my co-teacher is creating the first version of our assessment and I am creating a second (or third or fourth!) version that allows all students to show what they know! Take the time to reflect on your strengths as an educator and…
Now that all the tough stuff is out of the way, it’s time to HAVE FUN! One of the best parts of co-teaching is when you finally get into that groove – where a visitor walking into the classroom doesn’t know the difference between the general education teacher and the special education teacher/interventionist/instructional coach. Some of my best teaching memories are moments when my co-teachers and I see our students shine because of our collaboration.
Let’s Continue the Conversation…
I’d love to hear from you – what have been your biggest successes and challenges in your coteaching journey?
Carly McKeague is a Special Education teacher in Chicago Public Schools. She has been teaching throughout the Chicago area for the past ten years, and has developed collaborative co-teaching strategies that have allowed her to coach other teachers as they embark on their co-teaching journey. Carly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on her instagram at @Carly_0205
A Long Long Time ago Carly and I did some coteaching of math. Honestly, it wasn’t long enough. But I have had the good fortune to work with a few dynamite educators to coteach problem solving. Check out more about how I implement problem solving here.
Engage Every Student in Math!
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