Having another teacher by your side can be an enormous benefit, but it requires plenty of communication and organization. These strategies can help you get the most out of your co-teaching experience.
The Co-Teaching Model
Co-teaching is an instructional strategy in which two teachers share a classroom and work in unison to deliver lesson plans and teach students. In most situations, a new teacher or teacher-in-training is paired with a more veteran instructor for the purpose of learning on the job. The model has been gaining popularity in recent years, and with good reason. Co-teaching offers a number of benefits, including more attention for individual students and real-world experience for new teachers.
If you or your school is considering the implementation of the co-teaching approach, you may be wondering what you can do to make sure that the quality of instruction does not deteriorate. The tips and advice offered below come from my own personal experiences with such a model. Every classroom is different, so feel free to adapt or modify any suggestions to better suit your own needs.
Parallel Teaching: Divide & Conquer
If you like working with smaller groups of students, this may be the approach for you. In this model, teachers divide students into two groups and then provide instruction simultaneously.
The obvious benefit to this strategy is the personalized approach it offers. I very much prefer working with smaller groups as it allows me to better serve the needs of my individual students, and research backs up the notion that small groups are better at engaging students.
Parallel teaching also introduces students to new teaching styles. While you and your partner should make sure to teach the same content, you should allow yourselves some creative freedom when it comes to delivering said content. If you tend towards a lecture-based teaching style and your partner prefers a more democratic group discussion, you shouldn't feel obligated to choose one or the other. Exposing students to both teaching methods is especially helpful for their development.
A word of warning: you'll need to be absolutely certain that you and your partner are on the same page before attempting this approach. When we first implemented parallel teaching in my classroom, we had some initial consistency issues when my partner and I discovered that our lesson plans were not always covering the same content. In order for this approach to work, you need to confirm that both groups are receiving equal quality instruction.
This approach is intended to take full advantage of the discrepancy in experience between the two teachers involved in a co-teaching situation. In this model, one teacher serves as the 'lead' and teaches a lesson, while the other teacher plays the 'support' role and provides background assistance such as monitoring students and fetching lesson supplies and materials.
The supportive model affords both teachers the opportunity to observe one another and offer feedback. When I was just starting as a teacher, I would serve in the support role and watch my more experienced partner. With fewer responsibilities, I was able to fully observe how she controlled the room and led students through the lesson. Likewise, when we swapped roles and I took over the classroom, she was able to observe me while I led the class and would then provide me with helpful tips and notes on how to improve my performance.
This model is a popular approach for teachers looking for ways to find a better student-teacher ratio. It is achieved by designing several different activities (or 'stations') around the classroom and having students move in groups from one activity to the next.
This flexible model presents teachers with plenty of options. You can each handle a single station, you can rotate and cover multiple stations, or you can 'float' and frequently move back and forth between activities. You can focus your stations on a particular subject (math, science, etc.) or you can vary the topics for a more diverse learning experience. In my own classroom, I noticed that students were usually more productive and focused when our stations focused on a single subject, but your results may vary.
Designing a Communication Model
It should go without saying that any co-teaching set-up needs to have constant communication between both parties, but I've come across plenty of fellow teachers who have struggled because of an inability to be in sync with their partner. Each of the ideas and strategies listed above requires intensive amounts of communication. In order for a co-teaching model to be effective, both teachers must be open and honest in sharing their thoughts and opinions on the day-to-day classroom happenings. To make this happen, you'll need to devise an organized and reliable means of communication.
My partner and I decided that a daily meeting was a little excessive and settled on a Friday afternoon session once the students had left. We used this time to compare notes, talk about the progress and struggles of individual students (and how we can address these issues), and plan for the upcoming week.
While communication models are essential, the format and frequency of these plans are entirely up to you and your partner. If you'd prefer to meet up on a daily basis, go for it. If you'd prefer to eschew meetings and instead communicate via a communal notebook or email chain, by all means do so. There is no one 'best' communication model; the best model is the one that works most efficiently for you and your teaching partner.