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For years, Lynda has fostered collaboration among special education and general education peers. In this article she will show you how to transform the learning environment as you work together to leverage skills and talents across the special/general education line.
By Lynda Mattison, Certified Special Education Teacher, Cobb County, GA
How can you build a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with special and general education colleagues using a collaborative teaching approach? Collaborative teaching is the wave of the future! In little time, you can develop the know-how to fully enjoy being a team. And you’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish for your students.
1. Share strengths and needs. Teachers have different strengths and needs. Imagine collaborating together to recognize one another’s strengths and to help each other identify your needs.
While general educators are well trained to use and teach students on many types of software, the special educator brings a working knowledge of a versatile realm known as assistive technology.
These tools and programs are designed to increase student access to the general curriculum and bypass pervasive challenges to individual engagement with reading, writing and math. A shared knowledge and use of these tools will increase the engagement and productivity of many students in the general education classroom, not just the disabled.
2. Develop simple routines. Organizational routines and templates for routine planning are a valuable resource and very helpful for the student. Identify what those routines are early on by talking with other teachers. You’ll save time when planning and instructing.
There’s a lot of change going on in schools every day! The development of a few simple routine activities for students at risk is very helpful. For many children in general education, structure of assignments and content blend together easily.
Children with special needs first have to learn the structure of the assignment’s directions before they can address its content. For example, with highly challenged students, the use of matching or tracing routines allows for planning independent activities. What actually is a good routine depends on a student’s cognitive abilities. Although the pace may be much slower, challenged students will advance with content when the routine eliminates being challenged by the directions.
3. Compliment individuals frequently! Notice what’s going right and speak to it on a regular basis.
Classroom teachers know their students try harder when they feel successful. It’s no big stretch to say the same for adults. Teachers are problem solvers, so most of the time we talk about our problems. Still, what really motivate us are our successes.
When we recognize success, we are making note of it. Complimenting a co-worker is hardly flattery. Think of it as taking verbal note of something that’s working well. The school day goes by quickly. We need those verbal success notes to keep good energy flowing; not only for the boost in confidence, but success is generalizable. What worked in your team today can be built upon and used again, but only if you have noticed and shared out.
4. Create time for mutual planning. Mutual planning is a must. You won’t be able to stand it if you don’t plan together.
Schedule one regular planning session per week is minimum; even if it has to be after school. You have to do this or you will drown in lack of communication and unmet expectations.
Yes, there’s never enough time. It’s also true that we make time for what is important. If you make the effort and focus to believe that, yes, you want to set aside time to plan together, it will become so. If you believe there’s never enough time, sorry to say you will be right!
5. Communicate honestly and honor the process.
Working together can be compared to a marriage. You just don’t know what you don’t know about one another.
What’s important is the sharing of ideas and efforts. Job satisfaction comes in the experience. It’s not one day, a week or two, nor even a semester, but the unfolding progress you make on your learning journey, with all its surprises.
Recognize that what you are going through is always a process and expect your first weeks together to be an adventure. Just as students discover new ideas through you and your ways of teaching over time, your collaborative relationship will undergo its own synthetic metamorphosis, meeting the needs of students in better ways.
6. Be a focused observer. One interesting result from collaboration is gaining new perspectives.
Asking reflective questions and stepping back to watch what’s going on will reveal classroom dynamics not evident when you’re at the crest of delivering instruction.
Jot down brief specifics. These observations and examples will trigger your memory to help fine tune what’s best for student learning at a later time with your teammate. It’s so very hard for people to problem solve without clear specifics at hand. Clear examples keep the focus on student learning and will make communication with your partner an objective and professional exchange. Note examples of students blooming in response to learning activities will give your partner more of a boost in energy than chocolate, delicious as it is.
7. Be a mover and shaker! Both teachers need to be actively engaged and on the move in the classroom.
It’s a red flag if a person comes in and sits down in a corner or remains at their desk. Why? When you are stationary, your point of observation is narrow; you’re not on top of what’s going on globally. No matter who is taking the lead at the moment, the other teacher can interact with students.
8. Make student organization part of your routine. Develop broad strategies to help everyone work together and participate in being organized.
Organization is a life skill, resulting in internal structures that help one learn to face change. It takes a good deal of time to formulate improvements, and to empower students into their responsibility. It also saves time and forms positive habits when it becomes routine.
Generally, teachers organize their classrooms in patterns that reflect what has worked well in the past. As needs and students change, there will always be opportunities to fine tune.
Collaborate together and list your common organizational goals. Look back at these periodically. In the crush of time, organization tends to be overlooked once schooling is underway, but it’s one of those things where small improvements can have widespread effects.
Ask reflective questions such as, “How might we improve our organization for ______?” or “How could we spend less time __________? These questions may reveal new connections and ways to build on existing patterns for better results.
Help colleagues view the classroom as an environment in total. How well do the children stay organized and react to a smooth flow?
Special education teachers are well trained at monitoring and supporting student needs for organization. Once student needs are identified, we readily create simple structures that cue the children with visual cues, step by step routines, and self-monitoring routines.
Children with weak executive functioning will need a consistent external structure to cue them because this is not happening internally and will not develop when they rely on always being verbally reminded.
9. Analyze, Reflect, React. Step back and look at the whole process you have created and remember the power of two to draw upon. You’ll find many new ideas and choices. 1 + 1 = 4 in good teacher teams. Combine your ideas and there are four times the new connections to be made.
10. Make the most out of your collaborative experience. Don’t try to do things the way you’ve always done them. Try things that cannot be done solo.
It’s a new opportunity to work as two in the classroom, which can more than double your impact on students. Sharing leadership roles, you can provide more student support as well become highly effective personally through your communication and collaboration.
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