Teaching can be a lonely and isolating profession sometimes. As teachers, we have a tendency to plan our lessons and then close our classroom door to implement those lessons with little worry about what is happening in the other classrooms around us. I have heard the quote that “teaching is the second most private thing you will ever do.” In my experience, that is true. However, we know that we are better teachers when we work as a team. And as Special Education teachers, we are often required to collaborate with other teachers; it is in both our best interests and the best interests of students to improve our collaboration skills. Thankfully, there are a few evidence-based practices for successful collaboration with other teachers.
Table 1: Evidence-Based Practices for Successful Teacher Collaboration
Know your personality types and collaboration styles and consider the differences between one another
Discuss your teaching preferences, including philosophy of teaching and classroom management
Determine each person’s responsibilities for ensuring that student needs are met
Have regular communication with your colleagues
First, you should become familiar with your own personality type and collaboration style, as well as that of your colleagues. During collaborative efforts, be cognizant of the differences (Bos & Vaughn, 2006; Griffin, Kilgore, Winn, & Otis-Wilborn, 2008). It can be beneficial for all parties involved in the collaborative relationship to take an assessment such as the Myers-Briggs to best understand each person’s personality and the ways that the team members best work with others.
A second evidence-based practice is for teachers to have conversations about their own teaching preferences. They should discuss their personal teaching philosophies, preferred classroom management styles, and any pet peeves they have that might impact their teaching and their responses to the instruction of a colleague (McLaren, Bausch, & Ault, 2007; White & Mason, 2006). When we better understand one another, we are more likely to be sensitive to one another’s preferences. Throughout the school year, we should come back to this conversation to see how things have changed and if both of our preferences are being addressed in the collaborative relationship.
Once we have shared our teaching preferences with one another, we need to decide how we will share responsibilities for student instruction. This is especially important in co-teaching relationships, but it is also important for any teachers who share the teaching responsibilities for the same students (Bos et al., 2006; Snyder, Garriott, & Aylor, 2001). The research suggests that the best option is to share the responsibilities for grading the work of Special Education students and, in the case of co-teachers, to share the responsibility of whole-class and small-group instruction (Meadan & Monda-Amaya, 2008; Snyder et al., 2001).
A final evidence-based practice for effective collaboration between teachers is the use of regular, planned communication with your colleagues (Griffin et al., 2008; McLaren et al., 2007). This can take the form of 20-minute weekly meetings to discuss student concerns and plan lesson modifications, daily communication logs that the student brings to each teacher, frequent email communications, and an open-door policy when concerns arise (Hogan, Lohmann, & Champion, 2013).
Utilizing the strategies listed, both General Education and Special Education teachers, as well as other professionals in the school, can increase their likelihood of successful collaboration, and therefore, student success.
Bos, C. S., & Vaughn, S. (2006). Strategies for teaching students with learning and behavior problems. Boston: Pearson.
Griffin, C.C., Kilgore, K.L.., Winn, J. A., & Otis-Wilborn, A. (2008). First-year special educators’relationships with their general education colleagues. Teacher Education Quarterly, 35(1), 141- 157.
Hogan, K.A., Lohmann, M.J., & Champion, C.R. (Spring/Summer, 2013). Effective inclusion strategies for professionals working with students with disabilities. Journal of the American Academy of Special Education Professionals, 27-41.
McLaren, E. M., Bausch, M. E., & Ault, M. J. (2007). Collaboration strategies reported by teachersproviding assistive technology services. Journal of Special Education Technology, 22(4), 16-29.
Meadan, H., & Monda-Amaya, L. (2008). Collaboration to promote social competence for students with mild disabilities in the general classroom: A structure for providing support. Intervention in School and Clinic, 43(3), 158-167.
Snyder, L., Garriott, P., & Aylor, M. W. (2001). Inclusion confusion: Putting the pieces together. Teacher Education and Special Education, 24, 198-207.
White, M., & Mason, C. Y. (2006). Components of successful mentoring program for beginning special education teachers: Perspectives from new teachers and mentors. Teacher Education and Special Education, 29, 191-201.
Dr. Marla J. Lohmann is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Colorado Christian University. She can be contacted at MLohmann@ccu.edu