Co-Teaching is a Partnership Worth Fighting For
By Michelle Gabriel, High School Teacher
Growing up in the late 1980s there was a famous show called Batman and Robin, also known as the “Dynamic Duo”, which was one of DC Comics’ oldest crime-fighting partnerships. When I think of co-teaching, this duo comes to mind. There are many lessons we can learn and apply to our co-teaching partnerships from Batman and Robin. Co-teaching is not easy by a long shot, because you are working with people from many different cultures and nationalities with different perspectives and pedagogies. The question is, how can we effectively work with others in a co-teaching setting to be successful in and out of the classroom? There are many books written on how to effectively co-teach, however, let’s examine this from the lens of this famous duo. Of course, we are not crime stoppers, but we do encounter many challenges and obstacles in the classroom that must be addressed daily. If we can effectively collaborate with our co-teachers we can scale any wall and accomplish great things in the learning environment.
Here are 3 tips to get started:
Tip #1: Respect
Batman and Robin had respect for each other’s expertise. In my coaching meetings with co-teachers throughout the years, I often hear that co-teachers “don’t feel respected,” by the lead teachers in the room. They often feel like a “helpmate/assistant” addressing behavioral issues versus being an equal partner. Honoring the instructional expertise of the co-teaching partner is important and sufficient for co-teaching success. No matter the level of experience or educational training, everyone has some form of skill they bring into the co-teaching partnership.
Start with getting to know your co-teacher’s collaborative style by asking yourself questions.
Teachers need to do some self-reflecting carefully and honestly ask themselves: What is my approach to decision-making, problem-solving, and handling conflict? Reflect on your own communication style and what makes you comfortable.
Be honest in sharing your preferences and needs with your co-teacher. Carefully and without judgment, communicate your preferences and needs. Setting time aside, sit down and discuss your respective views on teaching, communicating, and designing a classroom. Being able to listen to others' views is a critical step in a successful co-teaching partnership. Knowing your style, and that of your co-teacher is an important first step in respecting and honoring each other and minimizing unnecessary conflict.
Here are 10 great questions to get the co-teaching conversation started:
- I would describe my personality as:
- From my co-teacher, I would appreciate:
- I will find co-teaching rewarding if:
- In front of students, I would prefer that you do/do not:
- My communication style with adults is:
- I tend to deal with conflict by:
- I will be embarrassed in class if you:
- My approach to decision-making is:
- You can tell when I am stressed because I will:
- Typically, when I am upset I:
Tip #2: Communication
Batman and Robin took time to communicate with each other before they went into combat. They planned, developed strategic goals, and most importantly, they made time to discuss what they wanted to achieve together. Understanding and respecting each other’s preferred mode and method of communication fosters mutual respect, reduces the likelihood of being misunderstood, and maximizes collaboration. Use the appropriate communication tool for the purpose. In today’s society, we have access to many communication methods. Direct face-to-face communication is augmented with telephone (cell phone), letter, fax, Gchat, email, and text. Correctly interpreting email and text messages is more difficult because of the absence of voice tone and nonverbal cues. We generally acknowledge long-standing rules of etiquette for face-to-face communication; however, we are still developing rules for using technology for communication.
- Communicate not in your preferred manner, but in the manner preferred by your co-teacher.
- Decide early on the way you will communicate through various forms. (Email, Gchat, virtual, in-person, phone conference)
Tip #3: Growth Mindset
Batman and Robin were always working toward the greater good of their citizens. There were many times one of them would make mistakes that would result in one being entangled by their enemies, but they always managed to help the other one escape. Co-teaching collaboration gets better with time, so allow yourself to make mistakes!
- You’re a learner, setting challenging goals for yourself, asking for feedback, learning from mistakes, and trying new strategies to reach your co-teaching goals.
- Focus on the journey as well as the destination.
A relationship between co-teachers, like any other partnership, requires time to grow. For co-teachers to become effective partners, they must take time out of their busy schedules not only for lesson planning and development but also to nurture the relationship between co-teachers. Relationships of any depth take time in the fast-paced world we live in. Even in the best circumstances, it still takes time to build the relationship and make it strong.
Michelle Gabriel started teaching Arts & Drama and worked as an Enrichment Director for many years before transitioning to the Middle & High school English/History position. She has a strong passion for promoting student engagement through S.T.E.A.M & culturally relevant education. Michelle presently teaches High School English and has two kids, one in High School and the other in College. She is currently working on a book entitled “Why Students Love Ms. Gs Room: 10 Creative Teaching Strategies for Students in Urban Public and Charter Schools” where she shares years of experience working with different age groups and teaching strategies that promote student engagement. One quote that drives Michelle’s passion for learning is from Maya Angelou: “ Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
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To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.