As my summer vacation comes to a close, I anticipate returning to my classroom and my students for the upcoming school year. I have not just spent this time resting and relaxing, but reflecting. During my vacation, I examined some of the successes and challenges I faced through my first year as a special education teacher.
In my current position, I work as a resource teacher and support students with IEPs in the general education classrooms through co-teaching. The biggest challenge was collaboration with my colleagues in the general education classrooms. Of course, we could communicate with each other, but working together at times was difficult. It was hard for them to fully understand the benefit and purpose of my presence in the classroom, and I was often faced with the feeling that I was invading their territory or being viewed as an assistant, floating around the room to help out. Not, only was I the new teacher on the block, but now I wanted to be in their space and I was expected to teach with them.
The inclusive model is new to my current school, so all they have ever known is that students with disabilities were taught in resource rooms or self-contained settings. So this summer I spent a great amount of time reading and participating in professional development that focused around collaboration and co-teaching.
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a two-day workshop with Dr. Marilyn Friend, CEC’s immediate past president, who has done a great amount of fieldwork in co-teaching and collaboration. Dr. Friend described collaboration as a “style” and the vehicle in which the work of co-teaching gets done. So far my vehicle of collaboration is in need of repair!
I wondered how I could go back and change the dynamic of these relationships with my colleagues and alter my perceived role as a special educator. Through the workshop and other trainings I have learned strategies to support my students in the general education classroom and how to implement different co-teaching models. What I’ve learned so far is that to establish a solid foundation through collaboration we must:
- Establish communication and define roles.
- Understand that collaboration is voluntary and is not just proximity with your colleagues.
- Establish parity in the relationship so that it is balanced.
- Have a mutual goal or problem that drives the collaboration.
- Be willing to share responsibility in order to drive decisions.
- Share in the accountability of the decisions that are made.
- Be open to sharing your resources with one another.
Speaking now to any veteran teachers who might be reading, do you have any tips to share? I look forward to implementing the different models of co-teaching in the classroom and will be sure to share my experiences here. Wish me luck!