courtesy Kennesaw State University
Many schools experience a gap in the scores of state assessments between regular education students and special education students. The “gap” is the spread in scores of regular education students compared to special education students. One solution to eliminating or reducing that gap is to address co-teaching. Co-teaching is only one method to address the gap in scores; there are numerous other variables and methods (i.e. modifications required on the IEP (Individual Education Plan)), that can be addressed simultaneously or in concert with effective co-teaching.
Part 2: A Solution for the problem
Developing a plan demands multiple steps. Research suggests completing needs assessments, surveys, or other investigative instruments and/or procedures to create a rationale. Writing a rationale for why you want to complete a project is the “backbone” that you will build your project around. I began this process through data analysis. What did the data tell us about the success of our special education students? What did the data NOT tell us? What do we want to see in next year’s test results? I gathered the data from information that is published for the public. The data exist; it’s just a matter of locating it. Through the data analysis I supported the problem of the gap in scores and made suggestions about reducing or eliminating the gap. I really wanted to focus on effective co-teaching; therefore, I completed a literature review.
I researched journals, scholarly articles, education magazine articles and developed an action plan. What did I want the teachers to “walk away with?” As, mentioned in the previous article, conversations between and with teachers are so valuable, even when they are casual conversations; I wanted a facilitated conversation with a specific purpose; teacher learning. I wanted them to have an open exchange without fear of evaluation, to discuss what actually worked in their own classrooms. Since I wanted the teachers to discuss their practice in their classroom, I wanted some basis for that discussion to be built. Obviously, to me, it would be an observation by other teachers.
Throughout all the research on professional developments and projects two themes or common threads that were repeated multiple times was recruiting your participants as volunteers and the learning activity is not evaluative. I began talking to my colleagues, explaining what I would like to achieve and accomplish, and what were their thoughts on the process and would they be willing to participate. I stressed over and over again, that this process was not evaluative, but rather focused on teacher learning. It was and is my belief that if the process is about evaluation, then all teacher “leaning” ceases and it becomes teacher “performing.” I simply went and talked to folks and tried to make an assessment of the climate and cultural attitudes of the staff at the middle school and at the high school; in the end, four teachers volunteered to participate.
Our superintendent was an excellent resource for creating the project. The suggestions and advice I received were the building blocks for my “next steps.” I needed a working team of advisors. The team that was originally assembled was small, overtime it grew, as needed. The original participants were the superintendent, the middle school principal, the high school principal, the district Director of Special Education, the Assistant Director, a special education teacher from the high school, and myself. Prior to meeting with the team, I needed a written action plan to include a timeline, resources, contacts, and documentation that supported the process.
The action plan is a crucial part of the process. It is your step by step guide for how the project will be implemented. I identified all of the resources that I needed and all of the people who would be involved. At the initial meeting of the working team of advisors, I presented the action plan and with their assistance, made modifications to the plan. In my enthusiasm for the project, I feel prey to my own egocentricity. I realized my focus was limited and that I would need to broaden my focus about the whole process. The working team and their suggestions made me realize this and I needed to curb my enthusiasm. I felt an urgency for the plan to be put into action. We first met, during the second nine weeks of school; I realized my timeline was too ambitious. As a classroom teacher I am keenly aware of my pacing guide for my classroom and the flow of time, hence my egocentricity. I saw the year slipping by and I hadn’t even begun the professional development. My timeline was adjusted from beginning at the end of the second nine weeks to beginning at the start of the third nine weeks.
The plan that I had envisioned, and eventually carried out, was a cycle of observations and debriefing at the middle school and at the high school. The working team and a team of co-teachers would observe a teaching team in their actual classroom. Following the observation, we would meet and I would facilitate a discussion of what the observers had seen in the classroom combined with the reflections of the teachers who were observed. The second half of the cycle would include the teachers who had been observed at the high school to observe the co-teaching of the middle school teachers who had previously observed them, followed by a debriefing session. All of the members of the working team did not always participate in all of the observations due to scheduling constraints; the three constants from the working team were, the special education teacher from the high school, the Director of Special Education and me.