Today 3:26 PM
Brown: Want to write a blog with me?
Dozier: Maybe. What do I have to do?
Brown: We would each write 400-500 words on ways to effectively co-teach.
Dozier: How about two words? Relationship and planning.
Jennifer: When my former teaching partner asked me to join him on a piece about co-teaching, I knew I couldn’t refuse- and this annoyed me. I could not refuse because I knew he wasn’t asking me to regurgitate the methods or models of co-teaching that could be found on any PowerPoint or professional development video from 1997. He was asking me to talk about our relationship as co-teaching partners. As you can see from our text conversation above, in my experience there are two key components to successful co-teaching: Relationship and Planning.
Adam: For two years, Jennifer Dozier and I (Adam Brown) were co-teachers for students with emotional disabilities. During this time, we were able to develop a united front to provide positive and safe learning environment for our students. Eight years later, I serve as the Principal in the same building that Jennifer and I taught in. Jennifer now serves as a Program Compliance Support Teacher in the same school division. I asked Jennifer to write a blog with me about what made our co-teaching work so well. We were able to come up with four key elements
Adam: Trust is essential to any relationship. This is no different with co-teachers. This area was a strength for Jennifer and me. This level of trust was developed through everyday decisions that put our students first. Throughout our two years, people often commented on our ability to know what each other was thinking without even talking. Some were mystified by this phenomenon. However, it is rather simple. Jennifer and I put our students first. No matter the challenge that was placed in front of us, we simply did what was best for our kids. We did not contain a special super power. We simply did what was necessary for our students.
Jennifer: Trusting your partner doesn’t mean knowing they won’t tell on you for calling out sick on Friday to catch the Greyhound to Coachella. It’s not when they give you their emergency lesson plans from 9 years ago because you forgot yours and the principal is asking for them. Trusting your partner means they will have open and honest conversations with you about what did and did not work in your classroom today. Trusting your partner means they will make up something they need you to photocopy when you are too involved in a situation to see you are escalating a student. Trusting your partner is having total faith in what they perceive with their eyes and ears, because they are also your eyes and ears.
Adam: In my first year of teaching, Jennifer served as a co-teacher and a mentor. She understood what I was going through as a new teacher and adapted her teaching to accommodate my areas of need. She didn’t do this with angst, frustration, or annoyance. She did this because it allowed me time to grow comfortable in my role and it benefited the students. Co-teachers are never on even playing ground. To this day, I will never be the quality of teacher like Jennifer. We embraced the shortcomings/strengths and respected each other for it. Respect produces results.
Jennifer: A common misconception among teachers considering co-teaching is that you have to really like the other person. This is actually not true. You do, however, have to respect each other. “Respect” and “like” are two different things. Just because someone respects you doesn’t mean they like you, and just because someone likes you, doesn’t mean they respect you. We feel this from our students all the time. An essential piece of a co-teaching relationship is respect and value for your partner’s time, ideas, and effort. In case you were wondering, Brown and I are very good friends. However, we were partners first. Our friendship was built on a strong foundation of trust and respect.
United front –
Adam: As in any working relationship, Jennifer and I encountered times where we disagreed about something. This often came at a time during the school day when an unexpected situation required a decision to be made. When a decision was made by either partner, it could often present a moment of uncertainty. During these moments, it was vital that we supported each other. Questioning, failure to treat the decision with fidelity, and opposition in front of the students never occurred. The united front between co-teachers trumped any disagreement that is bound to occur.
Jennifer: Good Cop/Bad Cop doesn’t work in the classroom. Co-teachers MUST present a united front at all times (Notice that was the first time I used all caps. Super important!). After the kids leave, you can rip into your partner for not following the plan you had discussed for giving partial credit for incomplete assignments, or letting little Adam take home the treat he didn’t fully earn. Talk about it, set up a plan that you can agree on, and do better tomorrow. When students see that you and your partner are on the same page, they will have more trust and respect for you as leaders in the classroom.
Adam: The most effective measure you can take to produce results with co-teachers is planning. When you mention planning, people often feel that this entails hours of sitting and working out the fine details. While planning can last longer up front, the most effective planning occurred for five minutes after school. During this time, we attempted to close the loop holes. Any mistakes, miscommunication, or disagreements were hashed out for the next day. This level of planning made our co-teaching style work. This commitment is fundamental to make the best impact possible for our students.
Jennifer: Ok! You’ve got the relationship part down – now what? Plan. Preferably together. Gone are the days of “fly by the seat of your pants” teaching. Save your quick thinking for the day your technology craps out. Whatever co-teaching model or models you and your partner choose to use, you have to make time to plan your lessons together. Collaborate with your peers. Take a walk and see what other teachers are doing. Pick a planning day and stick to it (I suggest Thursday, so on Friday afternoon you can be like, “BYE!”). Taking the time to plan and prepare your week will take a ton of stress off you and your partner, and will enrich the learning environment for your students.
Adam Brown is a K–12 principal in Virginia. He is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader, an ASCD Influence Leader, and member of the Educational Leadership Reading Advisory Board. Brown is also a 2014 AERA Emerging Scholar. Connect with him on Twitter @AdamBrownEDU or his on blog at https://medium.com/@AdamBrownEDU.
Jennifer Dozier has served students and teachers in a variety of capacities at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She has taught in both center-based programs and in the comprehensive school setting. She currently serves as a Program Compliance Support Teacher for Virginia Beach City Public Schools.