June 7, 2016 by

Co-Teaching: It’s a Marriage

By Tamera Musiowsky-Borneman

Co-Teaching: It’s a MarriageCo-teaching is a marriage. There are good times and bad times, and you learn to weather them together for the children.

How can you make it work? Here are five tips I have learned over my eight years of successful co-teaching.

  1. Be Realistic

Some teachers think that having a co-teacher will be half the work. Wrong! I would consider it double the work because it’s likely that you’ll enter this relationship without knowing much about the other. Be mindful that you’ve got two sets of everything now—ideas, beliefs, practices, etc. You’re going to be busy learning about each other and your students, so be realistic about what you expect to accomplish as a team right away. Get to know each other so that you can set realistic goals and expectations for yourself and your partnership. There is a lot to get used to when you are working with someone else, and it is easy to get overwhelmed by getting to know your partner and maintaining your workload.

  1. Create Structures for Your Team

We know that systems and structures are important for our students, and we need to remember that they are just as important for us as educators. Staying organized is essential because there are two of you, and you each come with different thoughts and experiences. You need to establish structures at the start of your relationship and discuss and set your planning schedule. If you need an agenda and minutes to stay on track, make them and stick to them. You will have so much to plan and discuss that scheduling will likely be something that keeps you sane. Once you have your schedule, discuss, plan, and implement your managing structures, documentation systems, and other structures you need to have in place for students. Students need to know you are on the same page. Having your structures and systems in place early will create a positive and proactive teaching and learning environment.

  1. Determine Models for Co-Teaching

If you’ve never co-taught before, you may get caught in a traditional model of teacher and assistant teacher tandem teaching. Don’t let this happen. Your students need to know that you are a team. If you don’t have the luxury of getting co-teaching training beforehand, do your own research on co-teaching models. There are many sites and books that explain the six models of co-teaching: one teach/one assist, parallel teaching, alternative teaching, station teaching, team teaching, and one teach/one observe. The Inclusive Classroom Project website has a breakdown of each and the purpose of the co-teaching environment. Some of the models are less desirable than the others, but there is a place and time for each model in a classroom. Spend the time reading about and watching videos on each co-teaching model, then determine with your partner which models you will use throughout the day.

  1. Check In with Each Other and Be Honest

Just like you would check in with your partner at home, you should check in with your partner at school. Communication is key to having a smooth and successful partnership. And remember, you’re there for the kids so you have to make sure they don’t notice the bumps when things aren’t going well. Make sure to talk about things you think are going well before you get into the challenges you may be experiencing. Examine what the students are getting out of your teaching and how you can improve student learning experiences. Focus on how students engage during learning experiences and discuss how you can deepen their engagement. Trust each other’s opinions and reflect on how your decisions affect all people in the classroom environment.

  1. Celebrate the Successes

Talk daily about what is going well. Get excited about how the students are engaged in the learning experiences you plan together. Share the celebrations with your students through a picture share or with a broader audience on Twitter! Everyone should know about the positive things taking place in your classroom!

When I started teaching at my former school in Harlem, I was placed in a 4th grade class with another teacher I didn’t know. Was I worried? Sure. There was no “dating” phase of our relationship. We both had to jump in with two feet. As I began teaching with my new co-teacher, I came to find that we had similar organizational structures and pedagogical philosophies. We really became a partnership quickly, spending our Saturdays planning together at a neighborhood cafe. For two years, we taught together, facing battles and rejoicing in the triumphs.

After those first two years, my co-teacher moved to another state. I had the option to have my own class or have a new teaching partner. My initial thought was to just teach my own class, but I was really going back and forth about the decision. Taking my own class again would mean all my own systems, which I thought would be great, but I would miss the continuous collaboration. My potential new teaching partner was just returning from maternity leave and she felt the same way.

Our principal decided to place us as co-teachers, and both of us became very excited to teach together. Right from the start we began collaborating over the phone and spending our mornings together planning for our students. I can’t tell you how fantastic our teaching became, and we learned so much from one another. Despite having opposite personalities, we balanced each other. We were a team, and our students knew that from the way we spoke and listened to each other and the way we worked quite seamlessly together. We spent six years teaching together. From attending professional development to adapting new routines and programs for to evaluating student progress, we did everything together (including drinking a lot of coffee), and that created our strong team.

Co-teaching is not always easy, but it is possible to have a very successful partnership. Invest the time and energy with your co-teacher and you will have an amazing teaching and learning experience.

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Tamera Musiowsky-Borneman currently teaches primary school at ISS International School Singapore. She is an active member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2014. Previously, she worked as a preK instructional coordinator and coach for the NYC Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Education. She also taught elementary students and lead teacher teams at Alain L. Locke Magnet School for Environmental Stewardship in Harlem.