I hold the firm opinion that your assigned students are yours, no matter where they happen to be learning in your building. Meaning: classroom teachers should do everything they can to help their students be successful in all aspects of school.
That means teacher collaboration. Not just formal sessions, but informal. Here's how to work with other educators for the benefit of your students.
Art, music, library, and fitness
Far too many teachers treat specialist classes like they do the lunchroom: leave the kids at the door and walk away until it's time to pick them up again. Yes, of course the art, library, music, and fitness teachers are trained professionals and don’t need hand holding.
But failing to introduce yourself and participate to a certain extent with your class in these specialist transitions is leaving a huge learning opportunity on the table.
Your specialists will have a specific curriculum they are teaching, but I have always found them to be more than willing to work with me to reinforce content that I am teaching in the classroom. For example:
- Art projects that incorporate geometric designs or other math concepts
- Musical numbers that dovetail with social studies curriculum
- Library research that is aligned with informational essays in writing
Fitness can be harder to align with your classroom curriculum, but innovative collaboration can often find a way.
You will immediately stand out as an exceptional classroom teacher with the specialists if you do nothing more than spend a few extra minutes after dropping off your kids to ensure that they are settled, and showing up one or two minutes early to pick them up.
It's so easy – and fun – to have time to “ooh” and “aah” over the artwork that has been created, or hear the final rendition of the song your students have been practicing for the last thirty minutes.
You can also hear first-hand if there have been any behavior issues that may need to be worked on as a team.
I love, love, love my Special Education students. These kids really need all the resources that a school can provide, so collaborating with the SPED teachers is super important for the success of your children.
Find out who the Special Education teachers are right away and seek them out to ask about how they administer the IEP's in the building.
There will be some combination of delivery of their services to the children in your classroom or (more commonly) pulling children out. You'll want to ask how you can coordinate the work that is being done in your room with the Special Education teachers so that they can help support students in performing grade-level tasks.
Please, please do not hand off responsibility for the success of your Special Ed students or the fulfillment of their IEP’s completely to the Special Education staff! I have always considered the primary responsibility of fulfilling an IEP to be mine because the kids spend a lot more time with me than they do in Special Education.
If they are going to make progress and exit their IEP’s, then I know that I must be working with them constantly on the necessary skills.
Regardless, Special Education provides critical individualized support, so you want to remain closely coordinated with these specialists.
Other grade levels
Find some time within the first month of being in a school (whether you are student-teaching or starting a new job) to introduce yourself to every other teacher in the building, whether they are in your grade level or not.
In the big picture, you will be getting students from some of these teachers and passing your students on to others, so it’s good to know all of them.
Some schools have programs that pair up different grade levels for “buddy” time. It would be nice to know the names of the teachers with whom you feel you are most compatible if there is any chance to influence these assignments when they are made.
Teacher collaboration meetings
Nearly every school will have a formalized collaboration program in place. Oftentimes, this will rotate between whole-group collaboration and grade-level collaboration. The point, of course, is to ensure that teachers are being consistent in how they are teaching curriculum from one grade level to the next or among the same grade level.
Frankly, sometimes collaborations are effective and sometimes they are not. It's usually the person with whom you are collaborating who will make the difference. Some teachers simply don't do well in this area and put up roadblocks to effectively getting anything done.
Don't be one of those teachers.
You don't have all the answers, so always be willing to learn from others – that’s the main attitude for collaborative success. Be prepared, be humble, listen, ask questions. You may or may not apply all that you learn, but fresh perspectives are always welcome.
A few resolutions for you related to your participation in collaborations:
Arriving at a collaboration without having put any thought whatsoever into it is a sure recipe for getting nothing out of it. Have questions or concerns in mind.
Have a positive attitude
Sometimes this isn’t easy if you are particularly busy and would really rather use the collaboration time for catching up on grading papers or straightening out your classroom.
If you are not feeling positive then take my advice: fake it. If you start off with a cheerful attitude, even if it’s forced, you will soon find that you are receiving tremendous value from your active participation.
Give as much as you get
True collaboration is a two-way street and we must be prepared to provide input, opinions and advice (in a respectful tone) to our teaching partners. You pay it forward and in return you get that same great input back.
This last one can be difficult if you are paired up with a teacher who is inexperienced or perhaps new to your grade level. Even if this is the case, I really encourage you to actively solicit their input, even if they don’t feel confident in giving it.
Not only will it help them grow in their professional development and knowledge, but you may be surprised what an outside observer can provide even if they are not a subject-matter expert.
Great teacher collaboration is a huge part of student success at any elementary grade level. Reach out and make it happen.