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How I Handled...

Encouraging Regular and
Special Ed Teachers to
Work as a Team

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Inclusion has thrust many regular and special ed teachers together. Sometimes those teachers don't know how to manage being in the same room. How could I get two such teachers to perform more as a team -- to be equal stakeholders in the classroom lesson?

The Problem:

Inclusion is a great thing, but it has thrust many teachers together and, sometimes, that presents unique difficulties. Some regular education teachers and special education teachers -- who, individually, are terrific teachers -- do not know how to fuse together when they end up in the same classroom. I observed a situation recently where a regular teacher and a special ed teacher were working in an inclusion setting. I noticed that the regular ed teacher was doing almost all the actual instruction; the special ed teacher was helping with daily modifications for the special students. It was my desire to see them perform more as a team -- where both would be equal stakeholders in the lesson.

The Solution:

I talked with the two teachers involved. It turns out that they had never really taken time to talk through how to work in the situation into which they had been thrust. Since the class took place in the regular teacher's classroom, the regular teacher handled the class as she always had done. The special ed teacher felt this was not his classroom, so he sort of stepped back. Neither, it turns out, was really sure of their roles or how they might share the space and duties.

Since our special education department has the same vision as I do for situations where a regular teacher and a special ed teacher are teaming, I shared with the teachers that I would like our special education supervisors to work with them. They were open to that.

The two teachers met with the special ed supervisor individually and then together. A plan was formulated. The first step was to have the teachers observe other teachers in action at another school; they observed those teachers working collaboratively in a setting much like their own. After the observation, the supervisor met with the teachers to talk about what they had seen.

The two teachers then had a week to plan and make adjustments in their own classroom. After a week, the supervisor and I went into the classroom to do an observation. After the observation, we scheduled a feedback session with the teachers. Strengths and areas of need were discussed.

The team was allowed to work together for another three weeks before the supervisor made a follow-up observation. (In the meantime, I observed them weekly and gave the two teachers words of encouragement.) When the supervisor did her final observation, she was pleased with the teachers' progress.

The Reflection:

I am very pleased with the teachers' responses, the supervisor's participation, and the final result. Now these two teachers plan lessons together, teach together actively, and grade tests jointly. They conduct class as a relay team; the choreography of their two performances is a joy to watch. The biggest beneficiaries, however, have been the students. They have told me how much they enjoy both teachers and all the help they receive in the classroom. Since all students in the class are being taught by both teachers, the special ed students do not feel timid about asking for or receiving help. The two teachers working together have produced a win-win situation.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. Six principals comprise our How I Handled team; two of them are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals. Team members remain anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.

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