Monday, August 18, 2014

Co-Teaching in an Autism Classroom: Qualities Needed

In the spirit of back to school, I wanted to share with you one of the best things I ever did as a teacher: Co-Teaching.  Co-Teaching with one of my colleagues best friends was almost always the highlight of my day.  I learned so much from her, and I truly believe that the two of us working together helped our kids make more progress than either one of us could have done alone.

Co-teaching is not something I started with in my first year of teaching...I waited until I was a few years in before taking on this project.  Since our co-teaching set-up is quite complex and involves a decent amount of prep work, I am going to take the next few days to bring you through the nitty gritty of co-teaching in an autism classroom.

We will cover:
3. Qualities Needed in Co-Teaching
4.  Topics to Co-Teach
5.  Grouping in Co-Teaching
6.  How to Schedule Co-Teaching
7.  How to Plan for Co-Teaching

Today we will cover Qualities Needed in Co-Teaching Relationships. 

My coworker and I were lucky...we got along like best friends from the moment we met.  People at work would ask us if we had been friends before we starting working together because we seemed so close and our friendship/working relationship came so naturally.  That's not to say it is always easy working with someone else.  Sometimes one of us would be in the mood to do a huge project or huge planning session and other wasn't.  Sometimes one of us would have an idea that the other didn't like or quite understand.  Sometimes we had different philosophies on how to teach academic or behavioral skills.

I think the most important thing to remember throughout a co-teaching relationship is to be open, honest, and flexible.  

Be open to trying new things.  Just because sometimes I didn't quite understand what my colleague was saying or vision of a lesson/project, I still went with it (and usually turned out fantastic!).  If my coworker had an idea of a behavioral intervention for one of my kids, I tried it.  If she had a teaching method she was using with her kids, I used it with her kids and even tried it out with mine.  Being open to new ideas and experiences is how we learn from each other and grow as teachers.

Be honest with your co-teacher.  Luckily my colleague and I are 2 very honest people.  Neither of us could tell a lie if we tried and this quality comes in quite handy in a co-teaching relationship.  If one of us wasn't in the mood to plan, we would just tell each other.  If we were busy with other school or life things, we let each other know and the other person always picked up the slack (no questions asked).  We knew we were both equally invested in this co-teaching adventure and that even if one of us worked harder one month, the other would probably be doing extra work the next.

Be flexible in scheduling, grouping, and your ideas.  Every year we write out our schedule for co-teaching and EVERY year, we have to change something.  Either we have to change the length of an activity, the adults in charge of the activity, or the kids in the groups.  Once you go through the grueling work of planning, you feel like everything should be ready to go...but it won't be.  Be flexible enough to make changes when they are needed, but also be patient enough to carry out your plan even if everything isn't perfect in the beginning.  For instance, one thing we had to change about our plan last year was the start time/end time of activities.  We noticed we never had enough time to get through our second group before our third group was showing up and we always had extra time with our third group.  So what did we do?  First, we tried out the plan for a few weeks to see if the problem would fix itself (maybe our transitions would get faster and we would feel like we had more time? maybe the kids would benefit from shorter activities?).  After a few weeks and this was still an issue, we realized it was time to change the timing.  We added 5 minutes to group 2 and took away 5 minutes from group 3.  Sounds like we didn't do very much (because we didn't), but it was exactly what we needed to make all of the groups flow smoother!

Make sure to check out my other posts on Co-Teaching in an Autism Classroom!

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