Thursday, March 24, 2011

Two Is Better Than One

A powerful dynamic has emerged at the high school I work at. Starting in September several new classes were offered. A majority of these new courses are interdisciplinary, meet for an extended period of time and are co-taught between two teachers from different content areas. In addition to these courses, the high school has initiated a program where classroom teachers are supported by instructional leaders and special education consulting teachers. It is common to walk the halls and stop into a classroom where two teachers are working with students during a scheduled instructional block.

We have moved to embrace a co-teaching model of instruction. Classes that have been approved by our BOE and will run next year reflect this shift. Students will have the chance to enroll in Latin American Studies; a class being co-taught by a Social Studies and Spanish teacher or Journalism in the 21st Century; a course being lead by an English instructor and multi-media specialist. The notion that teachers instruct in isolation has been challenged by the willingness of educators to form partnerships with their peers.

A benefit of administration is the opportunity, either formally or informally, to visit classrooms. There is a noticeable difference between classes supported by two teachers as opposed to a lone instructor. This is not to say that our classes headed by a single instructor are less than, but instead, that a powerful dynamic emerges in a successful co-teaching environment. Instruction is personalized. Having two teachers in the room allows students to interact with adult mentors in a more intimate and personal manner through frequent conferences and mini-lessons. Exchanges between classroom participants are enhanced as a result of the unique perspective each educator inserts into a discussion. We encourage students to entertain a diverse range of perspectives before constructing concluding thoughts. In a co-teaching class, learners are compelled to assess and reflect upon intellectual diversity. Content knowledge is deepened through both the interdisciplinary approach and the expertise of two passionate educators.

It is also worth noting that our teachers have enjoyed the opportunity to instruct in a co-teaching environment. Teachers who are part of our interdisciplinary classes or work closely with an instructional leader or consulting teacher, comment on the different environment formed as the result of having two teachers in the room. Collaboration between committed educators is actualized in the classroom through the true fulfillment of common planning time and curriculum mapping. I also think that teachers appreciate the chance to learn from a respected peer. Teachers have grown both in content knowledge and pedagogically from the ability to observe how a peer interacts with students. There is a growing comfort to take risks. There is a built-in partner to endure the emotional roller coaster ride that high school teachers experience.

A co-teaching situation might not work for all. There are some teachers who are not comfortable working in this environment. Additionally, it is a fiscal challenge to support a co-teaching environment. However, the early returns have been positive and from personal observation, it is hard to ignore the emerging dynamic of what might be best for our students.