I recently provided coaching to co-teaching teams at an inner city middle school. Some teams were content and special education teachers, some were content and Title I or special education support staff and in some cases three colleagues were simultaneously working with students.
On Wiked at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, co-teaching is defined as
…the practice of having two or more educators in a classroom, delivering or assisting in the daily lesson. Co-teaching can be done in several ways, and can range from a second teacher simply visiting the classroom to see what instruction is going on, and to assist anyone who seems to need a little extra help, to team teaching, in which both teachers plan, deliver and assess the student’s work. Advantages for all students include:
1. More time spent working cooperatively and learning content
2. Strong emphasis on learning skills, organizational responsibility, and preparedness.
3. Diverse learning techniques and teaching techniques
4. Improved self esteem
5. Opportunities for leadership and growth within the least restrictive environment
6. Less fear of failure
7. Better or more meaningful grades
8. With two teachers in the room, they can model partner and group activities for how students should act when working with others.
The middle school arranged for a substitute to join me for my two days of coaching, creating maximum opportunities for learning. I observed teams for about 30 minutes and then the substitute covered the class while teams left for coaching and reflection on my observations.
My open-ended questions to the teams frequently led to an early response from one of the members (reinforced by the other), “We could be more productive if we had more time to plan together.”
My response was,”I know you would and the leadership team is working to make that happen. In the meantime I’m wondering if spontaneous planning during learning might
create options for additional focused instruction to increase student learning?”
Early in my two days I realized that when co-teaching there were often a lead teacher (at any instance) and a supporting teacher. Effective teams exchanged roles seamlessly and unconsciously creating instructional moments where students always knew where to focus attention. Other teams had planned “who does what” and closely followed the plan.
In all cases the non-lead teacher was in an ideal position to be studying the learners in a way that the lead teacher could not. So the non-lead teacher had information that the team could use IF they had comfort and trust with spontaneous coaching.
Math Content Teacher and Special Education Support Staff
My Observation: The support teacher was debriefing bell work problems on the board that students tackled as they entered. Realizing a few students were unclear of the process, he went into an in-depth, step-by–step presentation lasting about 12 minutes.
In the coaching session I asked the Math teacher how many students needed the support teacher’s presentation. She suggested 4 of the 18. She was in the perfect spot to interrupt and send the 4 students to the board with the teacher while she provided a more effective 12 minutes for the other students. She did not.
Science Content Teacher and Special Education Teacher
My Observation: The science teacher was preparing the students for group project work. As she got to the 5th direction I was thinking to myself, “too many directions for the inclusion students and probably some other students.”
In the coaching session I asked the special education teacher, “What were you thinking as the teacher presented the directions?”. Her immediate thinking matched mine yet she didn’t choose to interrupt by asking, ”Could we do the first two, and then check back?”.
These two teams and others quickly identified that in the non-leading role they could assess learning and suggest modifications, but “felt uncomfortable.” However the leading teacher always responded with, “ I wish you would have.”
The awareness of the non-leading teachers’ opportunity to assess and see alternatives and the openness of the lead teacher to accept evidently clicked. Two days latter I received an email from the principal that she could observe a difference in classrooms as teams were working with spontaneous coaching input to each other.