Co-teaching during remote learning: Making it work
by Alison Cohen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“What’s bothering you most?” I asked. “The constant texting about everything and anything. It’s too much! I’m attempting to balance caring for my family members while trying not to worry about the symptoms I’ve recently developed, not to mention figure out this whole remote learning thing!” During my recent Google Meet sessions with the educators I coach, “how to navigate virtual co-teaching” keeps topping the list of high-priority topics to discuss. Co-teaching, also known as the educational system’s equivalent of arranged marriage, can be hard enough to navigate in person. Now add in COVID-19, social distancing, the steep learning curve involved in attempting to master Google Classrooms or another learning management system, and the fact that many educators are simultaneously teaching their students from home while juggling many other responsibilities.
For many co-teachers, this unprecedented time is also adding new, and in some cases challenging, dynamics to co-teaching relationships. What can you do to ensure that your virtual co-teaching relationship rides the waves of this tumultuous time? Here are a few tips that we hope will help:
- Meet weekly in real time; whenever possible, be sure you can see each other’s faces. As you both adapt to this new way of teaching and learning, being on the same page about planning, grading, student outreach, and the other aspects of your work together becomes all the more important. Weekly meetings during which you can see each other’s facial expressions – and maybe even laugh together! – are key to this, and can also help prevent misunderstanding that is more likely to happen due to hard-to-interpret, hastily written emails.
- Make a communication plan. Recently a first-year teacher shared with me that she texts frequently and informally with one of her co-teachers while with the other she corresponds via formal emails. Each relationship has a different communication plan in place, and both work. Each partnership is different, so what matters most is that you co-create an explicit communication plan. In addition to a weekly meeting, come to consensus on these questions: How frequently will be in touch? What topics will we be in touch about? What medium(s) will we use? Be honest with each other about what’s on each of your plates right now so that you are able to make a realistic plan that works for both of you.
- Focus on “we”-ing as much as possible and make sure students perceive the two of you as a team. When you’re posting an update or assignment for your students, use “we” or “Mr. X and I…” Right now, many students are experiencing upheaval, uncertainty, and a sense of disconnection from their school community. It can be stabilizing for them to know that in the midst of it all, you two are still working together to support them. One co-teaching pair I work with adds personal “we” touches to their Google Classroom, such as posting their own baby pictures. Also, thinking in terms of “we” is essential on the planning front: if you’ve posted a lesson and then you later want to add an additional resource, run it by your co-teacher first. You’re a team.
- Name what you appreciate about your co-teacher (and your students!) by expressing gratitude and identifying successes. According to the research of relationships expert and author John Gottman, it takes at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction to sustain a relationship, and if you want your relationship to thrive, the ratio becomes ten to one. Near the beginning or end of each weekly meeting, consider taking a minute or two to thank each other whether for finding a new resource to share with students, finally getting a hold of a student who had been difficult to reach, or taking on extra grading so that you could go grocery shopping for an elderly relative. Whenever you can, identify student successes so that you can celebrate students together; let students know via a post, video, phone call, text, or other form of communication that you see what they’ve accomplished and are proud of them. Just make sure that your note of congratulations begins with “We.”
By this point, you may have noticed that all of these tips ultimately come down to communication: communicating openly, compassionately, and frequently. This is the kind of communication that builds trust and allows us as educators to work with each other in productive ways. Teaching Matters coaches are here to support you and your co-teachers as you courageously collaborate to meet the needs of all students, every day. For more information, please get in touch: email@example.com