10 Tips For Co-Teaching In Special Education

Co-teaching.

If you haven’t done it before, it’s coming your way. With inclusion of students with disabilities becoming increasingly more important among school districts co-teaching is on the rise. Special education teachers working alongside general education teachers is becoming more of the norm. But collaborating and working in a confined space for an entire school year can be tough to navigate.

These 10 tips are bound to get you on track for a great school year.

1.       Build Rapport

The first thing you will need to do is build a rapport with your colleague. You may have been paired up with a fellow teacher and perhaps you have never worked with each other before. So… build a rapport with your new roomie. Take some time to just talk. Get to know one another. Building trust and a bond will be imperative to working cohesively. You must be able to be on the same page and know that the other will back you up. It’s sort of like being in a work marriage, but, with 25 children. Your students need to see that you both will back each other up. Try to make sure you use similar wording when it comes to things such as boundaries, expectations, etc. That way you'll know if you say, “no chewing gum in class,” that your fellow co-teacher will as well.

2.       Identify Teaching Styles

We all teach differently.

You can probably remember the different types of teachers you had in school. Some were perfect, some too laid back, some too strict. Some did projects, some lectured all period, some made you write book reports or completely explain how you got the answer to a math problem. Some just “got” you, while others were WAY OFF. So if you are unfamiliar with your fellow co-teacher, take some time and understand each other’s teaching styles. Will there be a lot of essays or will there be more project-based learning? Will students be expected to be accountable for missing work, or will they be allowed to make it up? These are all things that need to be discussed in order to have a successful co-teaching experience.

3.       Discuss Strengths and Weaknesses

Sometimes, as a special educator you do not get to choose what class you are placed in to co-teach. Sometimes you are responsible for co-teaching in a subject that you are not very proficient in. And that’s okay. But be honest and open with your colleague. Let them know that you are fine with helping students break down projects, helping with time management tasks or resolving behavioral issues, but you may defer to them for more of the instructional aspects.

4.       Discuss IEP and Gen Ed goals

Sometimes students with Autism have goals in their IEP that differ from what the general education goals set forth by common core or the classroom teacher. Discuss what you need accomplished as far as the IEP goals and progress monitoring. And I’m sure your fellow classmate will have their own goals for the year. Collaborate and work together to see how you both can meet your needs and your students’ goals.

Make sure to discuss timelines in detail.

Although you have both discussed goals for the year, your student’s IEP is bound to end before the end of the school year and you will have essential objectives to meet along the way. So, be clear about what you need accomplished, but also by WHEN.

5.       Divide Up Tasks

Make a LARGE list of all the responsibilities of a classroom teacher. Divvy them up accordingly. You may notice that the classroom teacher takes on more responsibilities than you. If that’s fine, then let it be. You will most likely be working in the general ed teacher’s classroom, so acknowledge that they may be more comfortable completing certain tasks. Sitting at their desk to take attendance every day, may be a task that they prefer to do. Or they may just have certain quirks about how they run their classroom. Maybe they always do attendance first then announcements. Or perhaps they save attendance for last. If it’s not a dire problem, I’d let it go.

If you do come across an issue there are 3 ways of going about resolution.

1. Let it go, and build up future resentments and have a terrible school year.

2. Don’t say anything, but act annoyed and have a terrible school year.

Or

3. Talk it out, before any resentment sets in and have a fantastic school year! Okay, so, hopefully you picked number 3…

6.       Stick To a Plan

All right. So you have all responsibilities sorted and potential problems talked out. It’s time to make a plan and stick to it! You have now built a rapport with your fellow teacher, and understand the kind of teacher each other is, so create a plan with each other’s strengths in mind. If you are in a math class and you are not math-minded, then I wouldn’t suggest running the daily lesson. But I also wouldn’t recommend having the general education teacher tackling the perseveration tendencies from your autistic students (unless they like that sort of thing…) So, use the strengths and weaknesses you have discussed earlier to create a daily plan and stick to it. That way each of you knows what the other will be doing during. Knowing what each other will be doing will decrease any wondering or resentment. And if its not working, don't worry! Just tailor it along the way!

7.       Make Time for Planning and Collaborating

Co-teaching takes work!

I probably don’t have to tell you that. Set up some time with your colleague to meet once a week to discuss progress, student behaviors, and future units and lessons. It's a professional relationship. The more you do to foster and support each other, the better your relationship will be. Make sure to take it seriously and do your job. Hold up your end of the bargain and complete the tasks you said you would.

8.       Take Risks

Take some risks and go for it! Show your students that you can be adventurous and step out of your comfort zone too! If this is a new venture for you, go into it whole heartedly. Devote the necessary time and energy and be excited! If you do not just go for it, you will never know if it is something truly great. Showing your students that you are excited and energetic about the whole co-teaching thing will get them excited to learn as well.

9.       Use a “We” Mentality

Use the “We” mentality! You are going to be together for a substantial portion of a school year and it’s important to think of your co-teaching as a team. You are in it together and will be working side by side for months. Respect each other by respect the team. When addressing the class as a whole say, “we would like you to do this,” or “we expect,” this way there is an understanding of cohesiveness that the students will pick up on.

10.   Have Fun!

I mean, what else will you do? Turn any negative to a positive and have fun! Believe me, I have known many colleagues that have not followed through with the previous 9 steps and had horrific school years. If you are going to be co-teaching for the entire year, imagine the agony it will be if you cannot have fun and be happy every day. Have fun, be playful when it’s appropriate, be serious when you need to be and be each other’s support.

Laugh and laugh often and let misunderstandings roll off your back.

You will be glad you did.