As a special educator working with four different content teachers, I’ve realized that one of the most important factors of my success is the ability to accept. Each one of my fellow co-teachers has a different level of readiness when it comes to changing activities in lesson plans or deviating from pacing guide dates, and I must be accepting of this.
This week I attended a professional development workshop on how to incorporate adaptations for the differentiated instruction classroom, and I left with an almost bittersweet feeling. The presentation was amazing, but the special educators I sat next to noted the same thing that I thought all along: These instructional adaptations are only possible when the content teacher is open to that approach.
One participant, a high school math teacher, stood up to share an incredible three-day lesson plan for which she had been recognized for outstanding instructional differentiation. She explained how she uses pre-assessments to set up groups the following day according to student levels of knowledge. She reviewed two worksheets covering the same standard on the rules of exponents in different ways; students pair up with someone who did the opposite worksheet to compare their different learning approaches. Then she laid out four different presentation formats that students choose from to present what they had learned about the academic standard, noting that the struggling student groups were limited to two choices, one being a math intervention program using laptops.
After we all had the chance to pick this teacher’s brain a bit, one of the presenters asked the workshop participants whether we thought she was a content teacher or a special educator. I think one person raised her hand for the latter, but the rest of us knew that she had to be a content teacher. When the presenter seemed surprised by all the correct responses, someone commented that a special educator doesn’t have the liberty of making those types of instructional decisions in co-taught classes.
I was really impressed with this woman’s kokari (the Hausa word for excellent effort). She was comfortable with a remarkable amount of change in her classroom—and not all teachers are so open-minded. As co-teachers, we special educators must adapt and adjust accordingly, accepting that this is essential to our interpersonal relationships with our content teachers.
Change is a part of life and I’m so grateful for it. Our emotions, thoughts, and experiences may change from one moment to the next, but large-scale change sometimes is a slow process. Some of the most powerful historical social movements in the United States took precious years and decades to manifest as institutional and societal changes. Although my heart and soul is in seeing my students be successful, independent, and confident, I’m also on a quest for the best approaches to support my fellow teachers.