Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's List Time, Y'all #2: Top 10 Things to Consider Before You Start Collaborative Teaching

We often get asked, "What are some things that people should consider before deciding whether to start teaching collaboratively?". Ok, actually it's not really "often" that we're asked per se, more like rarely, but people have asked it - we promise! - and for the sake of making ourselves sound important, we're going with "often". Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully this is a place to start when you're thinking of trying collaborative teaching with someone ... or courtin' as we like to think of it.


WAIT, we have a caveat ... Please know that we are not at all advocating that you need to have the exact same beliefs or teaching styles as your teaching partner. In fact, bringing together two teachers with opposite strengths can be both beneficial for the students as well as an incredible learning opportunity for the teachers. We are saying, though, from three years now of personal experience that no matter what your diverse points of view are, you do need to be on the same page when creating your classroom together - it can be a plan merged and strengthen from two diverse points of view, but it needs to be a cohesive plan in order to be effective.

AHHHH! Another caveat ... Please know also that many of these topics are general and the details will be determined as you work together to build your school year as well as when different issues arise throughout the year, just as your classroom structure shifts and changes to match the needs and direction of your current class. This is intended to give you starting point and a way to get on the same page so that you can build a common foundation from which to tackle the innumerable details that go into running an effective academic program.

Okay ... now we can get to the good stuff:

Top 10 Things to Discuss When Considering Collaborative Teaching 
(in no particular order)

1. Behavior and Classroom Management - Since you're going to be creating one large class of students by collaboratively teaching, you will need to be on the same page in terms of behavior expectations and student accountability. We are tiiiiiight on our behavior management and still, without fail, the children try to play us off each other (though they quickly learn the futility of this game). You need to determine a common plan for how your classroom will be run.

Conversation Starters
What are your expectations for student behavior? 
How do you like to hold children accountable for their behavior? 
What consequences do you feel are appropriate? 
What noise level do you like for your classroom? 
Is there anything that particularly bothers you - a behavior or procedure? 
Is there a particular philosophy that you subscribe to (ex. Responsive Classroom, First Six Weeks of School, etc.)
Is there a particular management system you like to use (ex. flip chart, clip system, Class Dojo, etc.)?

2. How You Like to Work - This pertains to how you like to organize your workload and complete the myriad of tasks associated with our wonderfully rewarding, woefully demanding profession.

Conversation Starters
Do you need a lot of think time or are you a fast processor? 
Do you like to work on things by yourself and then get feedback, or do you like to build an idea collaboratively? 
Do you like to work in silence or is it alright if you discuss while you work? 
Do you like to work at home or do you prefer to do everything at school? 
Do you like to make to-do lists and plans about what needs to get done, or do you prefer to knock things out as they come up?

3. Scheduling - Your Time - So you have the school day - a pre-determined time where you will be continuously working together - but what about the hours outside of the school day? Every teacher knows that you cannot actual complete your work within the confines of the school day so we either come early, stay late, or do both. Since you're going to be teaching collaboratively, you may want to coordinate your before and after school hours to some extent. KH prefers to stay after school while KM likes to come into work early and leave pretty soon after school gets out. Our first year collaborative teaching, we made a schedule where KM would come in early and KH would stay late, but that did not work out well for us and we didn't like not having the common time together - that's why we were teaching together, for pete's sake! So the next year, we compromised and we both come in at 7:30 and stay until 4 every day except for Fridays where we stay until 5. Of course, we still have to take work home sometimes but this larger block of time overlap is much preferred.

Conversation Starters
Do you like to come in early? Do you like to stay late? 
How much time do you want to have as an overlapping schedule? 
Do you like to stay until the work is finished or do you like to leave at a designated time and take any additional work home? 
Is it okay to talk about school outside of school hours (ex. Can I text you at night if I have an idea or a question?) or do you prefer to leave work at work?

4. Scheduling - Student Time - Once you've determined how you want to spend your outside of school hours with your partner, you need to turn your eye to the time you have with your students. Take some time to consider how you like organize your day or week.

Conversation Starters
Where do you see small-group instruction being appropriate? Whole-group instruction? 
How do you like to have your students work - individually, partners, teams? 
How do you like to structure your day (ex. Large blocks of time devoted to certain subjects or activities? Smaller blocks of time but consistent schedule with every subject every day?)
Are there any particular activities they you want to see your class participate in daily? Weekly?
 How much time do you feel is appropriate to allocate to each curricular area?

5. Organizing Your Day - If you have ever moved in with a significant other, you know the importance of this one. Sharing a classroom is really just like sharing a home ... a really tiny home with a lot of tiny people. Believe it or not, things like the arrangement of physical space can really impact your comfort level in your classroom and can definitely cause conflict if you don't have a common plan for how you'd like your space to be organized.

Conversation Starters
Are you organized?
Do you like things put away or are you more relaxed with your space? 
Does anything bother you in particular about a space? 
Do you like to keep a teacher desk? 
Do you like to decorate or keep things minimalist?
Do you like to predetermine the use of the space or do you prefer to determine the flow of the space with the students?
Do you like specific spaces for specific purposes (i.e. lots of nooks and partitions) or do you prefer a more flexible space that is open?

6. Division of Labor - When we first planned to teach collaboratively, we thought we would hold hands and do all of our planning together. HA! That lasted for about 10 seconds and then we realized that there was absolutely not enough time in the day for that so we had to shift gears and prioritize. That being said, we still wanted to have some collaborative planning so we made a more realistic plan about how we would spend our time and who would be responsible for what subjects.

Conversation Starters
What subjects do you feel are your strengths or your weaknesses in terms of curricular knowledge? In terms of tasks? 
Do you have a passion for a particular subject area? 
Do you want to split the work load by subject? By groups of children? 
Are there any subjects that you would like to plan and teach collaboratively? 
Are there any subjects that you feel one teacher could take point on? 
Do you want to assign particular jobs to one person or keep it more informal?

7. Overall Educational Philosophy/Shared Vision - This is a big one. Like really, really big. Humongous. We would like to preface by saying that do not at all believe that you have to be clones of each other in order to teach collaboratively. And, despite our colleagues thinking we are virtually the same person, we do in fact have different ideas when it comes to teaching. We completely believe that bringing together two divergent philosophies can result in an amazing instructional program, but we would like to stress the words BRINGING TOGETHER. You see, we unequivocally believe that you must get to the point where you have a shared instructional vision that you use as a foundation to drive your instructional program, your classroom organization, and decision-making and prioritizing all year-long. There has to be a big shiny common goal floating right above your heads as you build the year together. How you choose to reach that goal can change, flex, and grow, but without it, you'll be a ship without a rudder not knowing where you're sailing. Ok, you know we mean it when we're mixing metaphors. Seriously, though please get on the same page about what your striving for. Repeat after us, "Yes, we will. Right away!" Oh good, thank you!

Conversation Starters
How do you like to structure your core subject areas (ex. workshop, centers, whole-group instruction leading to individual work time)
How do you like to differentiate? 
When a child already knows the content, do you believe in pushing them further or taking them deeper in terms of instruction? 
Do you consider all of the students to be your responsibility or would you like to hold onto the rosters as a way to divide responsibilities? 
How do you think students learn best? 
What strategies or practices do you feel optimize student learning?

8. Parent Communication - Let's do some pretty serious math here. Are you ready for this?
2 class x 22 students = 44 students x 2 = 88 parents
88 parents (and this doesn't even factor in students who have two sets of parents)
Please don't let this math scare you, but do let it be a reminder that this is something you should absolutely be prepared for. We prefer to think of it as 88 wonderful people we get to work in partnership with, but during conference week boy that number can really hurt!

Conversation Starters
How do you want to deal with parent communication? 
Do you want to split the families based on your roster? 
Do you want to have any parent contact either of you when they have a question or concern? 
Would you be interested in a joint email account? 
Do you want to do conferences together? 
Are you comfortable meeting with parents separately or would you prefer both teachers to be present? 
How will you make sure that both of you know pertinent information being passed along by a parent?

9. Taking the Lead - One thing that was really difficult for us in the beginning, and something we still struggle with from time to time, was figuring our how to let go of being the absolute authority in the classroom. We had some serious power struggles in the beginning (Lessons from the Limb #2 - The Legend of the Wolf), but we had figured out how to find a balance of when to take the lead, when to sit back, and when to compromise.

Conversation Starters
Will you teach lessons collaboratively all day? 
Will one person take the lead in certain subject areas or during certain units? 
Is it alright for one person to ask the other for support during a lesson? 
What would you like to see the other teacher doing if one teacher is running the lesson with the whole class? 
Are you willing to compromise? 
How do you like to work things out when you have conflicting ideas?

10. Communication - Whew-ee! This one is critical (So important that we've written about it here, here, and here). We cannot emphasize enough how important communication and trust is to a strong collaborative partnership. In fact, we'd go as far as to say without communication and trust your partnership is over before it's begun. Luckily for us, we had trust and pretty good communication before we started teaching together, but even with that strong foundation it is something we have to continually work on and nurture.

Conversation Starters
How do you like to receive feedback? 
If your partner is having a problem, what is the best way to approach you? 
How would you like to check-in with each other? 
Do you like to talk about things immediately or do you like some space to think before you talk? 
Are you open and willing to hear honest feedback and work on things that are not working for your teaching partner? 
Are you willing to be honest and constructive when discussing things that are not working for you? 
Are you willing to prioritize and compromise for the sake of your partnership and shared objectives?

While we love teaching together and are true proponents of collaborative teaching, we also acknowledge and experience the difficulties of merging two teachers together into one classroom. It takes commitment and communication to make any partnership work, particularly when you're dealing with as complex of a system as a classroom. With that said, we also believe that collaborative teaching can be incredibly rewarding and we hope this list can help teachers who are courtin' see if they are a good fit.

From the limb,

1 comment:

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