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NYC Helpline: How To: Build a Community of Learners
How to Work Collaboratively Allison Demas

With the new mandated math program and the reading and writing workshop models there isn’t much room for flexibility in planning your day. If your school has blocked in math and reading periods, then you don’t have a choice at all. Add this arrangement to a team teaching situation and you either have an opportunity for incredible growth on the part of both the teachers and the students or an opportunity for total disaster. I have witnessed both. One problem arises from the selection of the teachers themselves. Very often they are hired separately without regard to personality or working styles. Administrators’ hands are tied due to the rules of licensing and seniority. The teachers’ hands are tied due to administrative decision.

So you have to make do with what you are given.

First look at your schedule. If your school has blocked in periods then you simply insert the reading, writing and math periods into those blocks. If your school allows flexibility in scheduling then you need to look for a large block of time which is consistently free, by that I mean uninterrupted time everyday. This should be your reading workshop period. It should be the same time everyday. If you can, follow your reading workshop with the writing workshop. This generally brings most classes to midday and a lunch period. Math can follow lunch.

Next, you have to look at yourselves. Critically examine your teaching styles. Look at the reading instruction first. If one of you is a stronger reading teacher then that person should initially undertake the task of all reading instruction. By default, the partner must handle the math instruction. Math instruction is easier to plan since the Everyday Math program gives a detailed daily schedule. Even if you are uncomfortable with math you just follow the guidebooks.

By definition, team teaching requires that one person teaches the lesson while the other person assists. Depending upon working and personality styles, this may mean interjecting in the group discussion. If you are very comfortable working with each other, then you may want to split the lesson, each teaching a portion or demonstrating how to work as partners. During guided reading each teacher should take a reading group. You may want to duplicate this during the math period.

This does not mean that one teacher plans one topic (i.e. reading) and the other plans another. Your planning is done together. You both should be seeing all the students for reading (it’s not “my students and your students” - it is “they are our students”). You should both be assessing the student needs and discussing these needs. Your plans come from these needs. I did write that initially one teacher should undertake the task of all reading instruction. Note the word “initially.” That is how your year should start, until you get your footing and a routine begins to develop with the students. Once the students are comfortable with the way their day should flow, you each need to start taking responsibility to share the content instruction.

Before taking a team teaching position, you must first examine yourself, your abilities and your motives. If you cannot share responsibility, if you are not willing to relinquish authority, if you are not going to hold up your share of the burden, then you have no business in this position. It is not just a job. It is a very important and critical aspect of children’s lives. If you are thrown into a situation with someone ill-equipped to handle it then you must do everything in your power to make it work.

Part of working collaboratively means remembering that you are not the primary focus-- the students are. Everything must be done with their best interests in mind. If you are both professionals, and consider the students’ needs first, then you should be able to figure out what steps you need to take in order to make the year a successful and productive one for all concerned. It is a delicate dance and you need to work out the choreography.


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