Welcome to a new school year! Perhaps you’re a teacher who’s been in a co-teaching partnership previously, and you’re gearing up for another successful year. Perhaps you have a new co-teaching partner but are experienced in co-teaching. Or, perhaps you’re part of a co-teaching team for the first time ever. Whatever your situation, there are steps you can take and groundwork you can lay in order to get started smoothly and prepare for the challenges that you know will arise.
Both researchers and practitioners have ample advice about how to co-teach effectively, and as a person who has been a co-teacher myself, so do I. One point is very clear in all the research and in every conversation that I’ve been involved in as a co-teacher, administrator, researcher, and consultant: The relationship between the co-teachers is the most important determinant of the success of the team. I’ll say it again for emphasis: The relationship between co-teachers is the #1 thing to be concerned about! Without a successful partnership between the adults, students will not achieve their full potential. So, it is critical that all of us who are co-teaching partners to devote time and effort to developing and sustaining a good working relationship.
How do you start cultivating a good working relationship from day one? First, you need to take a look inward. Reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses, preferences, and goals. Think about your teaching style. If you haven’t worked with your co-teaching partner previously, set aside time to get together and discuss how you two are alike, and how you’re different, and how both your similarities and differences can be leveraged for student success.
One of the pillars of a great co-teaching relationship is that it is built upon respect; however, respect is relative. It looks, sounds, and feels different for each person. You may want to tackle the exercise below and discuss with your partner so that you can both be clear on what respect means to the other.
Which of the following do you consider to be demonstrations of respect? Check all that apply.
_____ When someone listens to me without distraction.
_____ When someone gives me eye contact as I’m speaking to them.
_____ When someone allows me to speak without interrupting me.
_____ When someone tells me that they respect or value me.
_____ When someone stays out of my personal space.
_____ When someone asks me to help them make a decision.
_____ When someone thanks me.
_____ When someone writes me notes.
_____ When someone brings me small gifts or tokens of appreciation.
_____ When someone spends quality time with me.
_____ When someone plans something special for me.
_____ When someone asks me if they can use or borrow something that belongs to me.
_____ When someone shares their belongings with me.
_____ When someone helps me do something without my asking.
I also recommend that the two of you discuss the following questions together, ideally before students arrive. Discussing these questions allows you to think about your most deeply held beliefs about teaching and can also deepen the relationship with your partner.
- What does “good teaching” mean to you? How would you describe it? You may want to think about good teachers you had in your past. What qualities did they exhibit? What did they say or do that helped you learn?
- How do you feel that students learn best? What kinds of environments and experiences help them learn?
- How do you hope that your former students remember you? What would you like for them to say about you and your teaching?
Another pillar of an effective co-teaching relationship is communication. Effective communication is not only impacted by one’s deeply held beliefs; it is also impacted by day-to-day, seemingly mundane interactions. You and your co-teacher will need to communicate frequently, both when you’re in the room working together, and when you’re apart – even in the evenings and on weekends as you plan, grade papers, and reflect on what has been happening at school.
Consider discussing the following to set up a plan for effective communication for the two of you.
- When I need to ask or tell you something as you’re teaching, how would you like for me to do that? In other words, how can I interrupt without being obtrusive?
- When I need to ask or tell you something when we’re not together, how would you like for me to do that (email, phone call, text, voice-to-voice app, etc.)? Are any times off limits (dinner time, Sunday afternoons, etc.)? If a matter is urgent, how should I reach out to you?
- When someone calls the classroom or comes to the door, how will we handle it?
- How/when/where will we discuss confidential student information?
- What is the one student behavior that absolutely drives you nuts (and how can we handle this together)?
- What is the one thing that I can do to immediately brighten your day when you really need it?
If you and your partner take the steps outlined here, as a minimum, before your students arrive, you will be well on your way to having a great year! For more information about how co-teaching can work well in your classroom, check out my book The Co-Teacher’s Playbook: What It Takes to Make Co-Teaching Work for Everyone.