The Building Blocks of Strengthening an ESL/ELE Co-Teaching Partnership

by Amanda Goddard

Amanda Goddard is a English Language Education Department Head at Foxborough Regional Charter School. She earned her Master of TESL from Framingham State University in 2017 and is currently pursuing her PhD in Educational Studies at Lesley University. Follow her on Twitter at @oh_mygoddard.

Spending the last two and a half years as an English Language Education (ELE)  teacher in a formal leadership position, I have had the privilege of coaching and leading ELE and General Education teachers into forming co-teaching partnerships. As with many other districts, we have been moving toward more of a co-teaching model of ELE instruction rather than a push-in/pull-out model. This transition can pose both new opportunities and challenges for ELE teachers and general education teachers alike. In many districts, ELE teachers are still trying to advocate for their role and purpose within the schools, nevermind in “someone else’s” classroom. 

I have spoken with other ELE teachers and leaders who are facing similar situations and want to know how to help build their co-teaching partnerships. At the beginning of this transition, ELE teachers often report that they feel like paraprofessionals in the general education classrooms rather than professional language specialists or co-equal partners. It is difficult for them to accomplish their language objectives within the classrooms where they are co-teaching, and they do not feel like valued resources. The first thing I typically tell teachers and leaders is that building a co-teaching partnership takes time. However, there are some steps that pairs can take in order to strengthen their partnership for the good of their students. Three things I encourage all of our ELE co-teaching pairs to do are to:  (a) generate norms, (b) consult on a regular basis, and (c) try new things. 

Building Block #1: Agreed Upon Norms

When you are a teacher of one in your own classroom, what is one of the first things you go over with your students? The expectations of the classroom, of course! You do this so all students know what is appropriate and what is not in your shared classroom community. Well, when you are in a co-teaching partnership, you should co-create norms so you know the expectations of each other. Norms can include items ranging from how often you agree to consult with each other to how you want to organize your lesson plans. It is equally as important to check-in with your norms to get a sense of how well you are both meeting your shared expectations. 

One of the most important norms that I expect to be on every list is that the classroom is a shared space. Therefore, the ELE teacher is not a visitor in someone else's classroom. He/she is not a second teacher or a helper teacher. With this norm naturally comes other norms such as using “we” language and ensuring both teachers’ names are on the door and all documents that get passed out or sent home. Pairs that embrace this norm make the transition to co-teaching and co-leading lessons much faster and easier.

Building Block #2: Regular Consultation

In order to effectively co-teach, both teachers must know what is going on in the classroom. Therefore, it is important to meet on a regular basis to discuss plans, procedures, and assessments. The district where I serve as ELE Department Head refers to this time as “consultation time”, but I have also heard it referred to as “co-planning” or “common planning.” This time should be at a set time each week in order to ensure that both teachers can be available. I suggest that new co-teaching pairs attempt to meet as often as possible, at least twice per week. This allows time to discuss the content, the language, the plan, and the assessment including who is taking on which part of the lesson and who is creating what materials for the lesson. By meeting on a regular basis, and having it as one of your norms, teachers will also have the opportunity to reflect on how well their lessons and co-teaching partnership are progressing. 

All too often do I hear that teachers don’t meet because they “don’t have time.” Not only is consulting on a regular basis important for your co-teaching partnership, but it is imperative for doing what is best for your students. In most co-teaching partnerships, one teacher is the expert on the content and one teacher is the expert on language acquisition. Typically, both teachers aren’t experts in both fields. Therefore, it is necessary for the teachers to meet and combine their expertise.

Building Block #3: Try New Things, Twice!

Let’s face it. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, especially when there are varying levels of English Learners in the class. So, when entering a new co-teaching partnership one should expect to try new things. Each person should recognize that their new partner will come to the table with his or her own unique experiences, expertise, and pedagogical beliefs. Rather than putting up a wall to trying out new approaches to lessons, teachers should be open to the ideas of their co-teacher. Teachers must also be okay with the fact that the first time they try a new teaching strategy (e.g. a jigsaw), it may be incredibly chaotic and uncomfortable. 

Think back to your first middle school dance. How awkward and uncomfortable was your first slow-dance? You and your partner were probably worried about the same things: Which foot goes where? And what do I do with my hands?! I am sure that after a few times, slow dancing became less uncomfortable and more natural. You may even put in a twist or dip once in a while. You didn’t quit slow dancing forever because the first time was awkward, did you? (At least, I hope not!) So, don’t quit trying new teaching strategies with your co-teacher either. 

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