Teaching today is a complex venture that requires continuous learning through professional development experiences outside of the classroom and personal reflection about experiences within the classroom (York-Barr, Sommers, Ghere, & Montie, 2001). Because of the fast pace of the teaching profession, many educators omit this valuable step in the instructional process.
Reflective practice requires purposeful examination of one's teaching skills and facilitates the use of instructional competencies that may otherwise go unnoticed. Jim Knight, in his book Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction (2007), states that "reflection is necessary for learning since often the most important parts of skillful or artistic activities, like teaching, are hidden from our conscious understanding" (p. 48). Teachers who reflect on their instruction are constantly thinking about their lessons and applying new and improved practices. Students benefit from teacher reflection because when teachers learn, an increase in student learning occurs (Richardson, 2002; York-Barr et al., 2001).
Although reflection is often a personal experience, it is beneficial for co-teaching pairs to engage in reflective dialogue. Such exchange of information allows partners to examine the working environment from another person's point of view and to understand their colleague's goals, values, and beliefs about instruction (Richardson, 2002). When the relationship is based on trust, both individuals are open to and confident about sharing and discussing ideas, valuing each other's talents, and making improvements for enhanced student learning (Knight, 2007). Further, time set aside for reflection can reduce feelings of isolation, increase commitment among teachers, and strengthen connections to the school environment (York-Barr et al., 2001).
The end of the school year is an ideal time for co-teachers to reflect upon their co-teaching experience. Collaborative inquiry is one process to use to structure a reflective conversation. When teachers engage in collaborative inquiry, they "identify common challenges, analyze relevant data, and test out instructional approaches" (David, 2009, p. 87). Co-teachers who wish to use a collaborative inquiry approach to an end-of-year reflection can guide the process by discussing their answers to the following questions:
What successes and challenges have we faced this year as co-teachers?
What strengths do our student work samples and assessment data show?
What areas of growth do our students still need to focus on?
What research-based practices might we want to consider using next year to improve our instruction?
Co-teachers can also use the following questions, adapted from Dieker (2006), to structure a thoughtful conversation that celebrates the successes of the past year and identifies areas of growth for the next:
How do we both feel about our roles as co-teachers?
What changes would we like to make for next year?
Are there other people we should collaborate with in order to ensure the success of our students?
What are the curricular expectations for our students next year? What are our students' IEP needs?
What assessments will occur in the fall for our students? Have we prepared the students and do we need to make accommodations or modifications?
What celebrations can we share about our co-teaching relationship with each other? With a colleague? With our administrators?
What do we plan to do over the summer to relax and recharge for the coming school year?
Deep reflection and a commitment to improving co-teaching practices can help increase the likelihood that co-teaching will be a powerful service delivery option for students with disabilities.
The following websites provide additional information for co-teachers to consider as they plan for next school year. Visit http://www.specialconnections.ku.edu for information about collaboration and to find instructional, behavior, and assessment strategies teachers can use to help students with disabilities access the general education curriculum. The Iris Center (http://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/resources.html) provides free online interactive resources on a wide variety of evidence-based topics, including behavior, Response to Intervention, learning strategies, and progress monitoring.
Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
David, J. L. (2009). Collaborative inquiry. Educational Leadership 66(4), 87-88.
Dieker, L. A. (2006). The co-teaching plan book (3rd ed.). Whitefish Bay, WI: Knowledge by Design, Inc.
York-Barr, J., Sommers, W. A., Ghere, G. S., & Montie, J. (2001). Reflective practice to improve schools: An action guide for educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Richardson, J. (2002). Reflection gives educators a chance to tap into what they've learned. Retrieved March 4, 2009, from http://www.nsdc.org/news/tools/tools4-02rich.cfm.
Date: May/June 2009