Co-Teach Your Way to Successful Inclusion - ASCD
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May 2, 2019

Co-Teach Your Way to Successful Inclusion

When you step inside another teacher's classroom, receiving the same respect as that teacher isn't a given. The teacher must adjust to sharing the space. You have a new set of students to get to know and a different set of classroom rules.

My first time walking into a general education teacher's classroom came with little planning and lots of frustration. Leadership often sprang assignments on me at the last minute. I would find out just days before school started which teachers and students I would work with for inclusion. During my second year as a special educator, in addition to teaching math resource classes, I was in a 7th grade math class where 12 of the 25 students received my inclusion services for 90 minutes a day.

In the beginning, I stood around waiting for opportunities where I could jump in or inconspicuously assist a student without disrupting a lesson. Because I wanted to be involved, I would volunteer to hand out papers, and the students would ask, "Are you an assistant?" I often felt like one. Although the general educator did not intend to make me feel that way, she would ask me to make copies or complete other small errands.

Though I was frustrated, the experience opened a gateway for us to build stronger communication. The general education teacher would express during our weekly meetings that she wanted me to play a more active role in instruction. There are five steps we took to foster an improved inclusion experience for us and the students.

1. We planned our classroom time together.

We all have limited time throughout the school day, but it was important to sit down together and discuss our daily lessons. We had the same planning period, which made it easier to get together, and we sometimes brought in the other 7th grade math teachers. We looked at standards and Individualized Education Program goals to determine the best methods of instruction and who would teach each section based on student needs. We also taught each other a lot. Math was not my strongest content area, but I knew strategies to use when students had difficulty grasping concepts, such as using graphic organizers when delivering instruction and manipulatives for a hands-on connection.

2. We used the co-teaching method.

Many of our general education students also struggled with concepts. For our first year, we explored six methods of co-teaching:

One teach, one observe: One teacher provides direct instruction to the classroom while the other teacher observes student behaviors. This approach allows the observing teacher to monitor student behavior to discuss later. Although this method worked, we found switching our roles was necessary to keep one teacher from looking like the assistant.

One teach, one drift: One teacher gives direct instruction while the other teacher helps students individually or keeps them on task. Teachers should also switch roles often when using this method.

Station teaching: The class divides into three strategic group stations; each teacher provides direct instruction at a station, and one station is reserved for independent work. This method worked particularly well for us. Students were engaged and curious to see what was going on in the other groups.

Parallel teaching: The special educator and general educator teach the same lesson to groups in different areas of the room.

Alternate teaching: One teacher pulls aside a small group of students and works with them on specific concepts they struggle with. We used this method a lot, making sure to include both special and general education students so that special education students did not feel singled out.

Team teaching: Both teachers instruct together. We bounced questions off each other and worked out problems together, showing students different methods of completing the same problems.

3. We built up a rapport with students.

No two teachers are alike, which can be a great benefit to the students when those teachers know how to make those differences work well together. In a working relationship, you must have mutual respect for each other's ideas and a willingness to try new ways of teaching that may feel uncomfortable at first.

When my co-teacher and I were willing to step outside of the box and develop mutual respect, the climate in the classroom changed. We developed relationships and felt that all students belonged equally to both of us. When students had questions, they felt comfortable working with either teacher.

4. We didn't underestimate professional development.

We attended professional development sessions together. I was seen as a math teacher who taught students with special needs, so every time the general education teachers had PD, I was able to go, too. We also attended a co-teaching session together and developed a partnership that translated into our actions in the classroom.

5. We reached out to administrators for support.

 The administrator we worked with made sure we had a common planning time and allowed us to attend professional development sessions together. He saw us as two equal teachers with different expertise. Other administrators can support inclusion classrooms by first acknowledging that general and special education teacher are both qualified to give classroom instruction and that each teacher plays an important role. Something as small as making sure the door is labeled with the names of both teachers can change how the special education teacher feels in the classroom.

With the support of two teachers in the classroom, the students with special needs were able to work in cooperative groups to build social and academic skills, communicating with peers and highlighting areas in which they excelled, such as acting, singing, or drawing. One activity we planned for the students was an American Idol performance. We placed them in mixed-level groups and gave them a math concept. Each group had to demonstrate a way to explain the concept to the class through performance.

I initially cringed at the idea of working in an inclusion classroom. That changed once I saw how revolutionary our joint teaching was for our students. They were able to see us bounce ideas off each other. They were able to see how two different thought processes could give the same answer. They were able to see how two different people could work together in a healthy relationship for one common goal. By the end of the year, it didn't feel like I was stepping into another teacher's space. We'd built a shared learning environment, one class at a time.

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