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Tips for navigating teaching partnerships

New York Teacher

For many years, teaching was a solo endeavor: Educators could close their classroom doors and spend all day alone with their students.

Now, many teachers work in collaborative environments throughout the day. Whether you work side by side with a co-teacher, cooperate with push-in support staff or join forces with colleagues on inquiry or grade teams, here are some tips for navigating your teaching partnerships.

Establish strategies for communicating with each other. “You should be comfortable giving feedback and talking to each other,” says Alexandra Salomon of the UFT Teacher Center. If you haven’t already, set aside a standing time each week — or ideally, if you’re in an integrated co-teaching classroom, each day — for discussion.

In these conversations, take time to establish your “non-negotiables” for management and routines in your classroom, whether it’s your standards for student work or your expectations for how students will request to use the bathroom.

If you work with several different co-teachers and you have difficulty establishing a regular meeting schedule, Salomon suggests developing a shared “communication log” where you can debrief through notes.

Think about adding structure to your conversations. If meetings with your colleagues aren’t going the way you envision, consider setting an agenda ahead of time to ensure you’re as productive as possible.

“Following protocols is a way to keep everyone on track and make sure everyone gets to contribute,” says Salomon.

To get started, check out the Protocols & Resources section of the School Reform Initiative website at www.school reforminitiative.org.

Share your space. “This classroom belongs to both of us,” Salomon says of teachers who work together. That means your students should see both teachers as equals — even if one of you isn’t always in the classroom. It also means both of you should know where to find important files and documents in the room.

And share your positive attitude. “Showing veteran teachers you want to learn from them is always a great way to get people to open up,” says Bryan Miltenberg, a peer collaborative teacher of humanities and music at Scholars’ Academy in Rockaway Park, Queens.

If you find yourself working with a teacher who isn’t receptive, Miltenberg advises, “Approach problems with an attitude of ‘What if we…?’ rather than ‘We need to…’” In other words, try to make helpful suggestions rather than demands.

“Knowledge is hard-fought for experienced teachers, and they want to see someone who’s appreciative and not someone who thinks he or she knows everything,” Miltenberg says.

But don’t be afraid to demonstrate what you bring to the table.

“Show what you have to offer and make yourself as valuable as possible,” says Salomon.

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