Frequently when doing school wide observations of teaching and learning with instructional coaches and principals, questions arise regarding the co-teaching settings we experience. I find rather often that many schools have no clear picture or guidelines of ways to assess how the quality of learning is impacted by the efforts of the teaching team.
I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a team of learning-support teachers who mainly work in classroom settings with students with special needs and students who are English language learners. Here is the process I used which might be useful in your school settings.
These questions and the team’s responses set the stage for assessing current practice and for planning continuous improvement in serving student needs.
When observing co-teaching at its optimum what would I notice students experiencing and doing?
Students understand expectations and instructions. All students are engaged, on task, asking questions, responding to questions, interacting appropriately with teachers and peers. All students perceive that both lead and support are their teachers. Learning is more comprehensive and in-depth.
What would you see and hear observing the involved teachers?
Students are responding equally to both teachers. As opportunities arise, teachers conference and realign based on what’s happening in the moment….ongoing reflection during a lesson is evident. There is equal participation from both teachers as they are equal stakeholders regardless of the co-teaching model being used. Both teachers are prepared and know the plan …. collaboration and planning are evident. Trust and respect are apparent in the teachers’ working relationship as they value what each brings “to the table.” There is flexibility and multiple strategies being used as the team works to meet shared objectives and expectations. Students’ needs drive decisions.
When co-teaching is ineffective or inefficient, what would you observe watching and listening to the teachers?
When there is no planning, support teachers are learning with the students and not co-teaching. There is a lead teacher and a support teacher who has not been part of the planning. Teacher language is “I” rather than “we.” The lack of joined and shared responsibility for “our” students and not viewing oneself as an equal creates a hesitancy on the part of the support teacher to dive in where students need help.
How does the inefficiency of co-teaching impact student learning experiences?
Classroom can be confusing and sometimes quite loud. The unsettling environment and inconsistency impact behavior management in the class. The lack of planning means student needs are not met. The situation is subtractive rather than additive. There is less learning time. Discomfort is present and teachers feel less confident. Students may feel activities are a waste of time and actually detract from the focus of the lesson. “Why are we doing this?” “I’ve already done this”.
My facilitation continued by asking the team to use their descriptors to create a continuum of co-teaching and to appraise a collection of experiences they had in the recent week. Individuals described co-teaching experiences and where they would place them on the 1-12 scale and “why”?
Support teachers then identified the percentage of time they functioned in the 1-4,5-9, and 10-12 areas. When the team committed to a desire to continuously increase student learning with optimum co-teaching, we began the exploration of elements to support those changes. The team’s next task is to analyze what knowledge, skills, beliefs/ attitudes, and resources are needed by classroom and support teachers to increase co-teaching impact.