Last year, rumours of a new and innovative fellowship program began circulating around the school, regarding a Pilot program called LEAP (Lakefield Educator’s Apprenticeship Program). Immediately, I was drawn to the idea of mentoring and co-teaching with a newly graduated teacher. I have always been an advocate of collaboration between staff and within our classrooms. Needless to say, often two heads are better then one. When the call finally came for volunteer staff mentors for the program, I jumped on it. I now have been co-teaching, co-planning, and co-marking in all 4 of my classes.
Myths Surrounding Co-Teaching:
- It makes your job easier. Fact is that the amount of time that is freed up in marking is negligible to the amount of co-planning that must take place. To be successful in this role, you essentially have to form a relationship of open communication and acceptance to ideas from two, sometimes very different, minds.
- There is only one way that is right. Absolutely not. There are several models of co-teaching that are successful. Personally, I feel that a 50:50 split is the best approach. It gives ownership to both individuals and allows for feedback to go in both directions. In a mentorship program the ‘mentor’ can be the learner in some cases, as they continue to develop their own repertoire of teaching skills.
- It is an avenue for the leadership team to gain insight on our teaching. If properly implemented, a teacher should never feel that a administrative role is using it to assess or evaluate your teaching. However, the conversation could certainly present itself if the relationship between the two co-teachers begins to crumble.
Benefits to Co-Teaching
- Student Achievement: With two people in the room, students have access to two heads and therefore two sets of ideas, personalities, and educations. I know some of my students will approach my Fellow more readily then myself, as a preference. There is no problem with this. In general, this creates a community where more students will be willing to ask for clarification or help.
- Staff Collaboration: Increases comfort in sharing, accepting, and planning within staff. Co-teaching can be done on several levels but at all times, staff work together to form a cohesive and successful program. It certainly boosts confidence and improves consistency.
- Evolution of Teaching Philosophy: Maintaining currency with new strategies and approaches. At Lakefield, the Fellows have brought with them new ideas and strategies straight from cutting edge universities. By approaching mentorship in a co-teaching style, it has encouraged a shift into a more 21st century style of learning.
- Reflection & Feedback: Two heads are better then one. I find myself constantly asking, ‘How do you think that went?’ to my fellow whom I co-teach with. We have a conversation and alter the lesson based on feedback that we give each other. It almost always results in a better lesson and therefore learning.
- Accountability: For those of us who find we are rushing to plan for units & lessons or just continue using the same expired lessons from year to year, then co-teaching also pushes you to rethink lessons, plan ahead, and in the end takes the stress out of your day to day life. As a teacher, accountability can sometimes slip through the cracks. I have worked with several in the past who simply reuse their lessons from one year to the next. Sure some of these lessons may be great but in honest truth, lessons must be altered to stay current with new teaching practices, new curriculum, and new technology. Co-Teaching has certainly pushed me to be more accountable for what I deem a ‘good lesson’ and my students are benefiting from a much more engaged class. (For those looking for a great conference about engagement and cooperative learning, check out GLACIE in Toronto.)
A TEDx on Mentorship and Co-Teaching:
Obviously, this is something that only schools with perhaps a few more resources can fully implement. However, I challenge you to sit as a team, discuss your lessons, and find time to co-plan for your classes. Give up a ‘Prep’ period to take a step into someone else’s class. It may just open your mind to being part of a team, to better yourself professionally and your students academically. I know that both my Fellow and I have grown as teachers and I see it everyday in the students that I teach.
A question that I want you to think about after reading this: Are you willing to expose your teaching methods to open feedback and collaboration?
I think that, although it takes more time (especially in the beginning) to teach collaboratively with someone, there is much to be gained by both teachers and students. And like you said, when those resources don’t exist, observing colleagues can be a rewarding experience for everyone. At our school there is an expectation that teachers visit other classes at least 3 times per term. I have really appreciated the feedback and also enjoyed the opportunity to see what others are doing and draw inspiration from them. I hope that you had some great conversations with your co-teacher following our first face to face session in October, and continue to do so this year!
Thanks for this post! Indeed, I believe (hope!) that all at Cohort 21 are open and willing to share their best practices and pedagogy – heck, even assignments!
I appreciate the time piece that you’ve mentioned. Time is something that we don’t get a lot of, and so it is a huge commitment to co-teach; however, as you’ve outlined, the rewards and student learning benefits certainly make it worth it. I would challenge you to look at how your school infrastructure is set up to facilitate co-teaching? Timetables and scheduling are a direct reflection of what schools value, and too often it is on class time, or units of time. Perhaps it is time (haha) to think outside of the traditional timetable?
Looking forward to seeing the Lakefield dynamic duo on Saturday,
Hello Tim and Garth,
Congrats on a insightful and thoughtful post, Tim.
Like you, I feel co-teaching in inspirational. Two heads is not only better than one but together two heads is much better than two on their own – the sharing of ideas helps ideas flow exponentially.
Thanks for sharing,