I got excited today after receiving an email from a colleague. She shared a concern about something we will be starting next year. Starting in the fall, we are beginning a new co-teaching model where we are assigning staffing and specifically timetabling co-teaching pairings in all of our schools. We are also going to be offering days when the pairings come together at a divisional level, so we can build relationships, plan, reflect on our students and our practice and engage in responsive instruction through co-teaching. I am very excited about this approach and cannot wait to learn alongside others! However, her concern was why we were engaging in co-teaching when class sizes are increasing. Why not just divide the students in half? What is the advantage to having two teachers with a larger class? That is when I got excited…because I had some thoughts about her question:
1) Co-teaching invites reflection and uses the model of a critical friend to talk about what happened in the moment, so the soundest instructional choices can be made. Two people means the chances of this happening are exponentially greater.
2) Students do not always benefit from fewer students in class – fewer sometimes means fewer perspectives, less flexible grouping. We make far too many assumptions that fewer is always better – it always comes down to instruction. Always. More than any other factor (including class size, student demographic, gender ratio). So, co-teaching builds stronger, more responsive teaching.
3) Two teachers mean greater chances for students to connect with an adult who shares interests, styles, abilities with them. It takes some pressure off trying to be everything to everyone. Teachers can share that role.
4) Anyone who has been involved in a successful co-teaching relationship will tell you that the synergy is a case of the whole being far greater than the parts. True story.
5) “Taking extra time” to plan together and concerns from colleagues about the “extra work” involved in co-teaching makes me think something that may not viewed as fair …but it occurs to me that the work we do is not primarily about US and OUR TIME. It is about meeting student needs. We are a service profession and two people serve better than one. I do not believe life should be filled with unreasonable sacrifices for teachers but I also do not believe that their needs always come first. In this case, more work at the front end means less work during and after because students will be more successful, more engaged, more connected and will need fewer re-dos, fewer re-teachings, fewer study halls…well, you get my point. Effective instruction means less time in the end, even though it initially seems like more.
6) We are still building and learning – building strong planning, building effective instruction, building authentic assessment. When you are building, building together means greater success and the chance to share this success with others. Closing our doors again means we go backward, not forward. We need to keep going forward.
7) Through pre-assessing, two teachers can identify gaps, work to provide support to understand the missed content and introduce the new outcome, seeing success for that student. Having two teachers in the classroom has lowered the pupil-teacher ratio and has very much benefited some of the struggling learners, while benefitting the teachers at the same time.
8) Having two teachers in the classroom allows the opportunity for students who pre-assess as already understanding the intended outcome to show enriched understanding.
9) Having two teachers allows teachers to sometimes work in two locations at times – not only reinforcing the concept taught, but providing a platform for the student to take their fully meeting understanding and apply it to real world situations.
I am sure there are many more reasons but these are the ones I offered off the top of my head. I consider this step part of a journey – we are continuing from where we are right now. I am quite sure we will learn a great deal together. There will be challenges and there will be celebrations. Most importantly, we are trying something new in order to meet the needs of our students. There just isn’t a higher purpose than that.