For the past few years I have had the privilege of being an instructional coach working with amazing teachers in amazing schools. It is hard to explain just how much I’ve learned from all of the experiences I’ve had throughout this time. The position, while still relatively new, has evolved quite a bit into what it is today, but one thing that has remained a focus is the importance of Co-Planning, Co-Teaching and Co-Debriefing. This is because at the heart of coaching is the belief that teachers are the most important resource we have – far more important than programs or classroom materials – and that developing and empowering teachers is what is best for students.
While the roles of Co-Planning, Co-Teaching and Co-Debriefing are essential parts of coaching, I’m not sure that everyone would agree on what they actually look like in practice?
Take for example co-teaching, what does it mean to co-teach? Melynee Naegele, Andrew Gael and Tina Cardone shared the following graphic at this year’s Twitter Math Camp to explain what co-teaching might look like:
Above you can see 6 different models described as Co-teaching. While I completely understand that these 6 models might be common practices in schools when 2 teachers are in the same room, and while I am not speaking out against any of these models, I’m not sure I agree that all of these models are really co-teaching. Think about it, which of these models would help teachers learn from and with each other? Which of these promote students learning from 2 teachers who are working together? Which of these models promotes teachers separating duties / responsibilities in a more isolated approach?
I will admit that after looking at the graphic (without being part of the learning from #TMC17) I was confused. So, I went on Twitter to ask the experts (Melynee Naegele, Andrew Gael, Tina Cardone and others who were present at the sessions) to find out more about how co-teaching was viewed. I was interested to find out from reading through their slideshows and from Mary Dooms that often, the “co-teacher” is a Special Education teacher and not an Instructional or Math Coach.
So, I thought it might be worth picking apart a few different roles to think more about what our practices look like in our schools.
Co-Teaching as a Special Education Teacher
Special Education teachers and Interventionists do really important work in our schools. They have the potential to be a voice for those who are often not advocating for their own education and can offer many great strategies for both classroom teachers and students to help improve educational experiences. When given the opportunity to co-teach with a classroom teacher though, I would be curious as to which models typically exist?
In my experience, the easiest to prescribe models would be model 3 or 4, parallel teaching / alternative teaching. Working with a large class of mixed-ability students isn’t easy, so many classroom teachers are quite happy to hear that a special education teacher or interventionist is willing to take half or some of the students and do something different for them. I wonder though, is this practice promoting exclusion, segregation, integration or inclusion?
While I understand that there are times when students might need to be brought together in a small group for specific help, I think we might be missing some really important learning opportunities.
At the heart of the problem is how difficult it is for classroom teachers to differentiate instruction in ways that allow our students to all be successful without sending fixed mindset messages via ability grouping. Special Education teachers and interventionists have the ability, however, to have powerful conversations with classroom teachers to help create or modify lessons so they are more open and allow access for all of our students! Co-teaching models 3 and 4 don’t allow us to have conversations that will help us learn better how to help those who are currently struggling with their mathematics. Instead, those models ask for someone else to fix whatever problems might be existing. The beliefs implied with these models are that the students need fixing, we don’t need to change! Rushing for intervention doesn’t help us consider what ways we can support classroom teachers get better at educating those who have been marginalized.
The more time Special Education teachers and interventionists can spend in classrooms talking to classroom teachers, being part of the learning together and helping plan open tasks/problems that will support a wider group of students… the better the educational experiences will be for ALL of our students! This raises the expectations of our students, while allowing US as teachers to co-learn together. I think Special Education teachers and Interventionists need to spend more time doing models 1, 5 or 6, then, when appropriate, use other models on an as-needed basis.
Co-Teaching as a Coach
The role of instructional coaches or math coaches is quite different from that of a Special Education teacher or Interventionist though. While Special Education teachers and Interventionists focus their thoughts on what is best for specific students who might be struggling in class, Coaches’ are concerned more with content, pedagogy, the beliefs we have about what is important, and the million decisions we make in-the-moment while teaching. Coaching is a very personal role. Together, a coach and a classroom teacher make their decision making explicit and together they learn and grow as professionals. The role of coaches is to help the teachers you work with slow down their thinking processes… and this requires the ability to really listen (something I am continually trying to get better at).
Coaching involves a lot of time co-planning, co-teaching and co-debriefing. However, in order for co-teaching to be effective, as much as possible, the coach and the classroom teacher need to be together! Being present in the same place allows opportunities for both professionals to discuss important in-the-moment decisions and notice things the other might not have noticed. It allows opportunities for reflection after a lesson because you have both experienced the same lesson. Models 1, 5 and 6 seem to be the only models that would make sense for a coach. Otherwise, how could a coach possibly coach?
If you haven’t seen how powerful it can be for teachers to learn together, I strongly suggest that you take a look at The Teaching Channel’s video showing Teacher Time Outs here.
To me, the more we as educators can talk about our decisions, the more we can learn together, the more we can try things out together……. the better we will get at our job! We can’t do this (at least not well) if co-teaching happens in different places and/or with different students!
As always, I want to leave you with a few reflective questions:
- How would you define co-teaching? What characteristics do you think are needed in order to differentiate it from teaching?
- If you don’t have someone to co-teach with, how can you make it a priority? How can your administrator help create conditions that will allow you to have the rich conversations needed for us to learn and grow?
- If you are a Special Education teacher or an interventionist, how receptive are classroom teachers to discuss the needs of those that are struggling with math? Are conversations about what we need to do differently for a small group, or are conversations about what we can do better for all students?
- If you are a math coach or an instructional coach, what are the expectations from a classroom teacher for you? How can you build a relationship where the two of you feel comfortable to learn and try things together? What do conversations sound like after co-teaching?
- Are specific models of co-teaching being suggested to you by others? By whom? Do you have the opportunity to have a voice to try something you see as being valuable?
- School boards and districts often aim their sights at short-term goals like standardized testing so many programs are put into place to give specific students extra assistance. But does your school have long-term goals too? At the end of the year, has co-teaching helped the classroom teacher better understand how to meet the various needs of students in a mixed ability classroom?
For more on this topic I encourage you to read Unintended Messages or How Our District Improved
I’d love to continue the conversation. Write a response, or send me a message on Twitter ( @markchubb3 ).