Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Working together for the benefit of the students: Collaboration in the classroom from a special educator’s point of view

Fonts by Kimberly Geswain, Background by Lovin Lit

As educators, we have chosen the career path in which we are constantly working with other individuals – students, parents, administrators, fellow teachers, among others. Our days are faced with challenges that we may not have faced if we had chosen a different path. Working with so many different types of people and students can be tiresome, but it is a necessity, and sometimes legality when concerning special education.

Throughout my years teaching special education, I have learned a few things about working with the general education teachers that makes the co-teaching process go more smoothly for both parties involved.  

Here are 5 things to consider when you are collaborating with a special educator:


Communication is the key to Collaboration.

First things first, if you know you are going to be working with someone for the entire the year, COMMUNICATE with them. Introduce yourself and your classroom. Take the time to grab a cup of coffee or eat lunch with your special education teacher. Go over your usual classroom routine, give him or her a copy of your classroom schedule {& stick to it!}, and discuss your teaching styles together. Find out what type of teaching will work best for both of you and don’t just assume the special educator will be okay with being your “assistant.” There are so many different options when co-teaching, so have fun with it! My favorites are parallel teaching {splitting the class in half and taking my half to my room} or station teaching {smaller groups, both teachers lead a station while the other groups are at independent stations}.

For a good website explaining all the different styles of co-teaching, click here.

This is also a good website that outlines things you and your special educator should do before the students walk in the door on that first day!


Lead by example.

Treat that person with respect from day one and ensure you student’s view him or her as their other classroom teacher, not your aide.  Introduce him or her to your students at the very beginning of the school year. Again, make sure you keep them informed on your classroom policies and routines so they can ensure students are following these as well. Setting this standard from the first day of school with your students will eliminate a lot of confusion in the long run. Also, try not to always have them do your dirty work while you teach. Share the duties of making copies, grading papers, classroom management and such.

I love this article from Education Week: The Power of Two: Co-Teaching in the Classroom


Set aside time for planning together.

This one can be super tricky to do because you and your special educator might have different planning periods, but you should try to get together to plan at least one day per week, even if it has to be before or after school starts. During this time, discuss upcoming goals, any tests that might be given, standards you hope to teach, any student concerns, and bounce ideas back and forth about upcoming lesson plans. If you have grade level team planning and the special educator cannot make it, create a simple form or jot down a few basic notes to place in their mailbox so they stay in the loop. A little goes a long way!

Below is the form I provide my general educators when I know I can't make it to a team planning.


Create and stick to a daily routine.

Try to set a routine schedule for the time they are working in your classroom so they have a set purpose and aren’t just walking around watching you teach. This way, you are utilizing them in the most effective way possible! Inevitably, your schedule will change sometimes because of unforeseen circumstances. When you work with a special educator that is depending on your schedule, try to forewarn them of any changes to the day’s routine schedule so they can plan accordingly. 


Keep organized.

As a general educator, if you have a student with an IEP in your classroom, you are just as responsible for that student as the special educator is. You are expected to be providing all the accommodations listed in their IEP and making any modifications necessary to your daily lesson plans as well as keeping data for all of these things. Here are a few things I give my general educator’s at the beginning of the year to help them stay organized with data.

Cheat Sheet Rings:  I know that “IEP cheat sheets” have been floating around Pinterest for quite some time and I cannot stress how much this can help during the year. These can be as fancy as you want, but I prefer a simple notecard size with the basic info I need to start off the year. I keep the template saved and just fill in the info as I get it, print on cardstock, and I keep all of them on a metal ring and in my clipboard that goes with me everywhere I go. This way I can add to it as the school year progresses and students come and go.
My cheat sheet ring that I keep in my clipboard

Blank Cheat Sheet

Example of a Completed Cheat Sheet {not a real student}

Accommodation Checklists: It takes one parent to accuse you of not providing a service to a student to ruin your credibility. When you are distributed your student’s IEP’s , create an accommodation checklist for yourself to complete on a daily or weekly basis. Check off and date any service you had to provide on any given day to protect yourself. Below is a snapshot of the table I create for my general educators using Publisher to complete for each student and I have them turn them in to me on a monthly basis. I make copies for them and keep the original in the students file.

Google Docs: If you are familiar with Google Docs, you know about the beauty it beholds when collecting data. You can literally create any type of form you want and have it at your fingertips at all times through the use of an Ipad or a laptop. I have introduced this form of data collection to a lot of my general educators to lighten their load with data collection on not only my students, but all the students in their classroom. For more information on how to use Google Docs to collect data, read my post on it here or click the picture below.

File Folders for Tests/Assignments: Most of your students with special needs will have accommodations on how they must take a test and modifications for how the test format must be given. These can be super tricky to keep track of because they are all so different, so to help keep my general ed teacher’s organized, I create a file folder for each student in the class that lists their testing accommodations inside so the teacher can make any changes to the test before the student takes it.

Classroom Teacher Report Sheets: I give these to my teachers so they can give their own input at IEP meetings because it is important and should always be included! :)
As a special educator, I have had the chance to work together with various educators, all with differing teaching styles. Sometimes, general educators have not had to work jointly with the special education teacher, let alone have them in the classroom co-teaching. Some teachers become threatened by the fact that another person is invading their territory, and some welcome another adult into their classroom with open arms. Obviously, the latter is the better, and embracing the opportunity will only open doors for you and your students. Try to look at co-teaching as a blessing, not an inconvenience, and wonderful things can happen in your classroom!
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  1. Great resources! Thank you for sharing! I am a Title 1 intervention teacher, and I definitely agree about the importance of clear and consistent communication.

    Eclectic Educating

  2. As an extraordinary teacher, I have had the opportunity to cooperate with different instructors, all with contrasting educating styles. Some of the time, general teachers have not needed to work together with the custom curriculum instructor greenessay.com, in addition to have them in the classroom co-instructing.

  3. Thanks a lot for this great and informative blogpost.
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