Creating a Collaborative Co-Teaching Culture: Building Teacher Relationships to Improve Student Achievement
Developing a common language for teachers pays off
The goals of the Teacher Development Grant: Creating a Collaborative Co-Teaching Culture project lead by Seol Moon and Barbara Onofrio, Principal, at Stone Scholastic Academy were multiple:
- Build strong, cohesive, collaborative relationships amongst educational professionals within the school,
- Work collaboratively to raise student achievement, improve climate/culture and build teacher capacity by having teachers work collaboratively on tailoring content to match the needs of all students in the classroom, and
- Move toward a more inclusive environment for our special student populations.
Supporting the Teachers in Collaboration through Professional Development
Stone Academy started the first year of the project (August, 2014) by enlisting a consultant, Dr. Meg Carroll from the St. Xavier University. Dr. Carroll presented a 2 day workshop to all staff which included the following topics:
- Co-Teaching: A presentation of the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards, particularly Standard 8-Collaborative relationships: “the competent teacher builds and maintains collaborative relationships to foster cognitive, linguistic, physical, and social/emotional development. This teacher works as a team member with professional colleagues, students, parents or guardians, and community members.” Included were common Co-Teaching Models, Team Teaching key concerns and a Co-Teaching Checklist.
- Neurology of Learning: Brain-based Applications and types of learners: concrete, abstract and reflective.
- Executive Functioning and Organizational skills: focusing on planning, emotional control, attention, self-monitoring, organization and the working memory.
- Accommodations and Modifications: definition and examples of each. Included in this session were the characteristics of various disabilities and matching instructional strategies.
After having built a common language collaboration centered on two things:
(1) building strong collaborative internal relationships and
(2) digging deeper into what successful Co-teaching is and how/when to use various models.
We purchased several copies of Dr. Marilyn Friend’s publication, “Co-Teach! Building and Sustaining Effective Classroom Partnerships in Inclusive Schools.” We formed a book club, broke down chapters and held discussions related to the content. (Meetings were held on 10/20/14, 10/27/14, 11/19/14, and 4/6/15).
In addition to our book club, on January 16, 2015, 9 teachers were sent to the Dr. Marilyn Friend’s workshop: “Best Practices in Co-Teaching.” Both grant and local funding were utilized.
Teachers were sent as partners in an effort to strengthen their professional bond. They learned first-hand the components and intricacies of Co-Teaching, and had a bit of experience working with different models so that they could be more effective.
As Co-teaching is a new strategy to this school, it was important for teachers to feel supported, yet not threatened. It was felt that teachers should have the autonomy to work with the strategies and would benefit from a mentor or coach. They needed to be able to be observed and receive feedback on their progress and performance, without this being used toward their professional evaluation. Dr. Meg Carroll was commissioned to do this work. She visited the school on numerous occasions (10/20/14, 12/15/14, 1/29/15, 4/6/15, and 4/20/15) to observe teachers and teacher teams, discuss, document and provide critical feedback.
Throughout the year, the project team needed to enlist the assistance of substitute teachers and also provide extended day opportunities for teachers to work together, both of which were utilized. This time was used to have teachers observe colleagues within the cohort, provide feedback and have professional conversations. Teachers also began to work on lesson planning together. As time passed, and they were able to work together as one generalist and a specialist, and we agreed it would make sense to look at an entire year’s curriculum. A couple years ago, Stone teachers began work on curriculum mapping, but the task never fully developed. Now, with newly learned instructional strategies and stronger relationships, teachers decided to revisit that activity.
Fortunately, Dr. Carroll has experience in curriculum mapping, and provided guidance to teams of teachers as they worked together to develop grade level curriculum maps which concentrate on the areas of literacy and math. Once curriculum maps were complete for a grade level, the plan was to then meet as a team to look at vertical alignment so that the end product would be complete and cohesive for grades K-8. From there, they can begin to delve into examining and creating effective student assessments.
At the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, Stone was cited by the State of Illinois regarding student placement of students with disabilities. The school houses 629 students, with roughly 12% of our students receiving special education services. Once notified, our special education team met with administration and outlined a plan to correct these measures. We collaborated, and through teacher discussion, we identified a small group of students who could perhaps benefit from receiving instruction in a more inclusive environment.
Parents were consulted, IEP meetings were reconvened, and the internal structure was adjusted so that more Co-teaching environments were made available. Co-teaching helped us be successfully removed from the state’s Focused Monitoring after only one year, as opposed the customary two year process.
How teacher collaboration impacted learners
Students were asked directly to write about their experience in a Co-teaching classroom. Overwhelmingly, students indicated they preferred this type of teaching and offered the following reasons:
- I like having two teachers because we can learn from two different ways.
- I’d say having two teachers is good due to the fact that if there’s a long line for one, the other is able to help you.
- I like having two teachers because all of the stress is not on one teacher.
- I enjoy having more than one teacher around because if we had one teacher and 32 students, the teacher would be yelling A LOT!
- I like having two teachers because if you asked one and you didn’t understand it, you can ask the other.
Not all students like working in a co-teaching classroom. One student is quoted as saying, “I don’t really like having two teachers around because I can’t get away with secretly playing with Smartape 360 or reading.”
Teacher’s comments related to co-teaching express positive aspects as well. One teacher commented “the best results have been having the opportunity to give the students two ways to look at solving problems. Because my co-teacher has a background in Special Education, she naturally uses ways to explain the concepts in a more concrete way, for example, drawing pictures on the board. etc. “ They also said there is less stigma for children and professionals use a common language. Teachers stated they are able to do more small group work, and feel they are better supported. They also say they have developed a greater professional respect for colleagues because they learn from the others’ expertise and find out what each brings to the table. They illustrated their Co-Teaching experience by creating the attached display which they proudly placed in the staff lounge which was the only available space due to overcrowding.
Addressing challenges for future implementation
The most significant challenges we faced this first year was to find time for teachers to meet. Since we are now on a longer school day, our regular day starts at 8:00 a.m. and ends at 3:00 p.m. For a good portion of the school year, many teachers also work an extended day program for some part of the week, as approximately one half of our children attend the After School All Stars program from 3:00 until 4:15 p.m. Teachers were accommodated by giving them a choice of being provided a substitute teacher, or earning an extended day stipend.
Teachers are also concerned they will have to change partners every year due to different assignments or staff leaving. Fortunately the staff at Stone is relatively stable, and administration is making a commitment to keeping as many positive teaching partners intact as possible in the upcoming year.
Grading is another area of concern. Teachers must have time to discuss individual student progress and agree on a fair and equitable grading system.
Finally, there is one teacher who is still showing reluctance to “let go” and collaborate. Offers continue to be extended to her to participate in discussions and administration is working with her to lessen her concerns. It is my hope that giving this teacher time, and keeping her exposed to her co-teaching colleagues, she will see the added benefits to utilizing this model.
A fun, creative approach to growing scientific thinking for all students
As educators, we’ve found ourselves spending most of our time and resources finding ways to better convey the STEM subjects to students that live an increasingly technology dependent world. The problem with this way of thinking is that it, without really even trying, devalues the arts and humanities as non-essential. Although no one is going to cure cancer by reading Shakespeare and we aren’t going to solve world hunger by painting pictures, we lose something by leaving these essential subjects by the wayside. The humanities help us understand what it means to be human and art is almost always fun. It’s easy to engage students, especially young ones, when you can incorporate dramatic play into your own lessons. So why not teach STEM lessons through the lens of theatre?
Triggering the joy of discovery in STEM
This is exactly the kind of creative idea that Elizabeth Bruce at CentroNia in Washington, DC is doing with her Theatrical Journeys Project. Drawing on over 35 years of experience in the arts, Ms. Bruce has developed this project as a homegrown, community based initiative, with funding from the DC Arts Council and similar organizations contributing (including the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation). According to her proposal “The Theatrical Journeys Project is innovative because it fuses child-centered, dramatic play with simple STEM phenomenon. The STEM phenomenon is explored thoughtfully through experiential lessons. STEM content is made concrete through simple simulations and multi-sensory explorations rooted in play and the joy of discovery.” Elizabeth Bruce has also ensured that visual aids are bilingual, reflecting the needs of the students in her school and making sure that all students are able to participate.
How a science lesson becomes a theatrical journey
Bruce’s lessons are simple, real world situations that kids may find themselves in some day. For example, in the sick teddy bear journey, the children (”doctors”) will diagnose their teddy bear (”patient”), checking it’s pulse, or taking a mouth swab. They then will “culture” the bacteria in an incubation oven. The next step of the lesson is figuring out which bacteria has grown and how best to cure it using antibiotics. It may seem silly at first to imagine a group of young kids diagnosing a teddy bear. But when you look closer, you can see those gears in their minds starting to shift. Connections are being made between this lesson and the real world. By taking scientific inquiry and couching it in make believe, educators are making learning more digestible, turning a lesson into into a playful treat.
The work of Theatrical Journeys is to produce simple lesson plans. Twenty was the original goal, though that may be exceeded as of this update. Documentation and video of the project will also be uploaded to YouTube for other educators to consider. Like the art it imitates, Theatrical Journeys is constantly evolving project, driven by the needs of the students in every way.
Increasing respect between peers, opening minds to STEM careers and capturing disengaged learners
As mentioned before, the project has already produced a number of new and exciting journeys, so how are the students responding? According to the progress report “the tactile and kinesthetic child-centered nature of the journeys has become a model of how to effectively engage young children who often present behavioral or disengaged learning challenged in the PreK classroom. Happily, these children consistently engage fully with the hands-on, “there-are-no-wrong-answers” approach to the Theatrical Journey Project.” Not only that, there has been the unexpected, but wholly welcome side effect of increasing respect between students. By exposing students, especially minority ones, to moments where they are refered to by their peers as “Doctor” has fostered an aspirational attitude that wasn’t there previously in many of the students. And this is a good thing.
I said earlier that no one is going to cure cancer by reading Shakespeare, but if by playing doctor with this teddy bear in PreK even one student is inspired to grow up to become one… they might just.
Microfinance in Action Revisited
It’s been an exciting, tumultuous, but ultimately productive three years for the educators and students at Southwind High School in Tennesee. Those involved with the Microfinance in Action (MFiA) project have seen a lot of success despite some setbacks along the way. But the outpouring of support from the community and other educators has helped keep the flow uninterrupted.
What is Microfinance in Action (MFiA)?
When MFiA was originally proposed, it was proposed as a three-year project that would take students through the process of learning about microfinancing, and how important it can be to stimulate the economy. Especially in resource and job depressed areas in this country and abroad. They were also tasked with learning about and distributing KIVA loans to small businesses. It also proposed that students travel to low-income areas, or areas affected by natural disasters to get a real look at what poverty looks like and hopefully become passionate about ending it. In our blog we explored what an integrated curriculum exploring globalization and economics looked like and heard about the real world skills and field experiences (Microfinance in Action, August 2013). Results were inspiring.
Exploring Local Economics through Field Experiences
One of their main goals was to leave the textbook behind and create an environment of practical learning, where students would interact with their community, and communities beyond theirs to get a greater perspective on what economics and Microfinance in particular means in their day-to-day lives. So they started a journey to some of the most economically devastated states in the nation. Beginning with their own.
Making a Global Impact
They began this journey along the banks of the Mississippi in Memphis and worked their way down through the Delta to New Orleans. From there they moved to the home of the Lakota Tribes and finally to the sugar cane fields of the Dominican Republic. No one could accuse them of being lazy travelers, that’s for sure. And while I could spoil you with the details of their trip, that would ultimately take away from what was the end game goal for this project; creating a book entitled Microfinance in Action: A Guidebook for Teenagers. They just recently returned from Guatemala where they finished filming the documentary portion of their proposal, which should be edited later this summer. That documentary, along with the book they plan on publishing, will be a great resource for educators who might want to try this model at their own schools.
Other goals they had proposed were setting up a KIVA Club loan program where students could work with accredited loan companies to set up microfinance loans for those in need at home and abroad. This ended up being far more successful than they had anticipated but came with an unfortunate cost. Biba Kavass, the innovative educator behind this proposal, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. And while she continues to work on the project, she will soon have to take a step back and let others lead in her place. But the community rallied. Roughly to the tune of $150,000 and climbing. Because of this community support they’ve already made 148 loans out to people in over 50 countries. The next step is setting up a larger and more focused KIVA Club loan program, working with SME Uganda to make slightly larger loans available to people in need.
Follow MFiA Online
The project website, microfininaction.weebly.com, is also doing well, having received it’s 1000th unique visitor recently. This website is where Biba, and those who will continue in her stead, chronicle their work as well as get in contact with prospective partners.
Despite the unforeseeable setbacks they faced it would seem like MFiA has been a great success, in every avenue they proposed. The students, educators, and community all benefited from this project, which is something we value here at McCarthy Dressman. We hope to see many more innovative projects, like this one, funded in the future.
“When one country has an issue, it becomes the whole world’s issue. We as a planet have to try and make a change, because there is only one earth, which happens to be our only home… The small things affect the most, so definitely, I will do small things to save and conserve our planet.”
That’s a quote from one of the students, in the ESD: Sustainable Education Through International Understanding program, after collaborating internationally with Japanese students. It exemplified what the educators at Lakeridge Jr. High School were setting out to accomplish with this program.
Students Learn About Sustainable Education and How It Impacts the World
In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world the butterfly effect takes on new meaning. Emission problems in one country don’t just affect them; they affect all the surrounding countries and some that are not so close. As the rainforest is depleted we lose a global source of oxygen. When radiation leaks into the ocean, everything from algae to people are affected. Creating an awareness of global issues and sustainability is a necessary part of surviving in the modern world.
As Americans we often find ourselves a bit self-centered when it comes to world issues, but now that we can communicate across oceans with the click of a button, that distance has shrunk immeasurably and we can no longer afford to only think of ourselves.
How are 9th grade students in Orem, Utah learning about global issues through sustainability?
According to the initial proposal, submitted by Merida Davis’ team at Lakeridge Jr. High School, “Our goals are to stimulate and facilitate responsible sustainability awareness and interaction at the individual, community and global scales.” Their goal was to be realized by creating cross-curricular partnerships between the science department and the other subject instructors, initially in a professional development workshop. By creating this cross pollination of subjects teachers learned to “seamlessly incorporate sustainability into their subjects… and […] new perspectives on teaching their own subject area.” After this initial work with the educators was completed, the project moved on to address the students directly.
To become well versed in sustainability, students participated in sustainability-based community service projects. Part of those projects were about creating a documentary movie to highlight local issues, such as pollution, agriculture, climate change, resource management and depletion. Along with this, they also collaborated with Japanese students, giving them a perspective on this subject that they wouldn’t get otherwise.
This project includes plans to offer a Sustainability Fair where students will celebrate their work by sharing their service and other sustainability-based projects. The Fair will culminate with a student film festival showcasing their work from throughout the school year.
Is this project something other teachers can replicate?
While now the primary benefits go to those students and educators directly involved with the program, it is the hope with future funding that they will be able to create online archives of lessons, produced videos, and other student work to serve as an outline for educators to adapt the program to their own schools needs.
Though the bulk of the cost goes into covering the teachers training, the best part about this model is once that initial hurdle is cleared it becomes increasingly easier year after year to teach this program.
How has the project evolved?
Through the lessons learned the projects accomplished in the last year, the educators have a better grasp on how to replicate the program in other classrooms more efficiently. Being able to replicate the program will enable them to broaden their scope in the coming year.
Through the grant they’ve been also able to fund Pen Pal letters to Toyoda Jr. High School in Japan. The exchange went beyond traditional pen pal relationships in that they were also able to chat electronically with students in Japan and Pakistan. A few students started learning basic Korean which resulted in a field trip to a Korean restaurant for many of the students first encounter with that culture’s cuisine. As a result of these opportunities, exchanges have also begun over Skype with students in Korea.
All of these things are creating students with a wider worldview and a greater connection to a global society. Through building relationships between teachers, offering meaningful exchange opportunities to students and by taking time to integrate curriculum, the ESD team has made sustainability education a reality for their students.
Members of Tucson’s Mariachi Casabel Youth Organization take pride in new costumes and higher grades
Last year the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation funded the Mariachi Cascabel Youth Organization (MCYO), an innovative program attempting to combine academics with community engagement using music, specifically Mariachi music, as the binding agent. With Tucson’s Sunnyside Unified School District’s diminished music budgets there didn’t seem to be much hope for the group, especially since they needed new costumes. For mariachi, image is just as important as musical ability. Their costumes, called Trajes de Charro, don’t come cheap, especially if you want quality and authenticity. Organizer Daniel Dong proposed a unique project for improving not only the image of the musicians but also their success in math and science. Funded in 2013 by the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation, this unique and special music education program has already made an exceptional impact.
… students in arts-integrated classrooms are more creative,
and effective at problem solving
than their counterparts who are not in arts-integrated classrooms.”
– Arts in Education Research Study, Kennedy Center ArtsEdge
Setting the tone for academic success
Research has indicated that students that who receive music education tend to do better, across the board, academically. This program takes it a step further by including a cultural component that has true community value. Daniel Dong’s idea was to help the Mariachi Cascabal Youth Organization Program, serving a primarily Hispanic district, be available to play in the community for all the most important celebrations. Even before funding they were able to play at a number of events including the Annual Latina Breast Cancer Conference and Mexican Mother’s Day festivals. He also coordinated within the school district to help MCYO get regular gigs at school carnivals and other related events.
Because within the district there is no other program like this, demand to get in is high. Here’s where the alignment with academics found a harmonious fit. The program instituted a requirement where students must retain passing grades or seek tutoring for those subjects. Now, not only were the students getting the benefits of a musical education, they were also more motivated to perform well in their other courses.
Costumes and instruments build pride, Tutors nurture brains
Because looking authentic was important for their success as legitimate mariachis within the community, the Foundation’s investment also went toward new costumes for the organization. They have currently received sixteen out of seventeen Trajes and are just waiting for the final jacket to come in to make their ensemble complete. The funding also provided new instruments for the group including two Prelude Violins, two Michoacána Vihuelas and four Yamaha Guitars from a local music company. Furthermore, students received three digital video cameras from Walmart to help document their experiments with the MCYO.
While a couple of students have fallen behind in their other academic courses, the tutors in math and science that have been provided are helping them reach their academic goals. In September, they held a large parent meeting to inform students and parents of all the benefits students receive by being involved in the MCYO. The prospects laid out got many parents excited which in turn helps the students realize the value of such a program.
There were, as always, some unexpected but not insurmountable costs. Trajes wear out quickly and they found they needed to bring their tailor up from Mexico City to do the measurements to make sure they got the highest quality Trajes. The Trajes were completed and shipped back to America in late April.
Culturally relevant music education and tutoring add up to better grades
From the beginning, the educators responsible for this project saw the value of a tutor. While the students were less than happy, initially, about being required to attend tutoring and a few stopped coming due to the requirements, many of those students returned and participated in the tutoring and watched their grades improve – a win for everyone involved.
Project educators also reported on how they could improve on this project for the next school year. Though they noted how enthusiastic parents were about tutoring, they couldn’t help but acknowledge how adverse the students were to it. They discussed ways to better sell that idea to students, so that this program and others patterned after it would find a lot more success. There were also important considerations that could be fine tuned in the future, such as streamlining the auditions, assessment of initial abilities and tutoring placement procedures.
Anecdotally, Daniel Dong reported, one of the biggest challenges was procuring the Trajes, which took about six months to obtain. Because they were authentically handmade in Mexico, however, the time was worth the wait.
All in all, the MCYO has been successful with their approach to using music education and tutoring to improve student success and creativity. They are on track to meet and exceed their proposed goal “to acquire mariachi outfits and musical instruments to help motivate students to be more engaged in their academics and to be positive role models in their community.”
What did the students have to say about their work?
MCYO members wrote about their experiences in the program and about attending the Tucson International Mariachi Conference.
Similar programs could be proposed in your other schools; take advantage of your local musical genres that impact your community the way that Mariachi music does in Tucson, Arizona, will be your real challenge.
For more information on the magic of music in academic enrichment, read on:
- Playing a musical instrument could boost brain function in kids (Digital Journal, 2014)
- Using Music in the Classroom to Inspire Creative Expression (Edutopia, 2014)
- New Evidence Links Music Education, Higher Test Scores (Pacific Standard, 2013)
iPad Based Business Project Benefits Children in Africa
It is far too often that education simply consists of students taking in and regurgitating information, which does little but display retention skills. What is oft overlooked is how each student is developing as a person. So what if you could tie school work and kindness together in a way that teaches 21st century skills? That’s what the educators at St. Vincent’s Catholic School in Salt Lake City are doing. Their Pay it Forward project aims to both educate students about venture capitalism while also tuning up their social conscience by letting needy students in Africa be the beneficiaries of their profits.
How does Pay it Forward work?
The idea is exceedingly simple. At the start of Spring 2010, educator Rhea Hristou, project creator, gave each of her second graders five dollars.
“The children were asked to use that $5.00 as “seed” money to begin [their own startup] – some type of business venture that will turn the $5 into at least $15.00. Over one month, they could use the money for ingredients for cookies or lemonade for a food stand, posters for a garage sale, beads for jewelry to make and sell, or whatever they choose. At the end of that month, students do a presentation displaying their venture.”
Hristou then assisted the students in taking the profits and using them to gain entry for three children in Africa to a school sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame Mission in Uganda. Pretty cool, right? The project doesn’t stop there.
Hristou also requested ten iPads for technology center in her classroom to allow her students greater access to information about the children they were benefitting. Describing the benefit of these devices, she noted how many learning opportunities arose: “…apps to learn about the geography, cultures of Africa, a newspaper app to look up African current events, Math apps to help with funding and money collection, tools like Skype or email to communicate with the children in Uganda, and use presentation apps to help students present their ideas to the class.” The class based set of iPads were made available not only to the second grade, but also after school for other projects.
How can you replicate this program?
While ten iPads may seem like an expensive purchase for a school, they were lucky to find an independent donor to match five iPads if they were able to come up with the remainder. Remember, iPads aren’t necessary to begin teaching your students about business while also filling them with a social conscience. Using resources like those available through Pay it Forward Day, the charity chosen could be anywhere in the world.
When students know that they are making a tangible difference in their world, it fills students with a sense of pride while also bolstering their motivation to succeed at their task. If real lives are being affected, then the effort must be greater. An important lesson for any student.
This project started in 2010, so where are they now?
Student created startups were varied and ran the gamut from dog walking to making and selling pot holders to bake sales but the results were astounding! While only aiming to make a ten dollar profit on each student, Hristou was filled with pride to receive back an average of sixty five dollars a student. The iPads also were a hit, both for the teachers and the students. It allowed them unprecedented access to their African counterparts, while also providing tools and resources that expanded and shaped their world view.
The “Pay It Forward” model is an obvious success. Educating students while also giving them a more worldly view of their planet and filling them with a social conscience. In an increasingly globalized world these skills cannot be emphasized enough. For more information on the ideas in this project, please visit the websites below.
- Teaching Kindness: More than a Random Act (Edutopia, 2013)
- Pay It Forward Kindness Project (Random Act of Kindness Foundation)
- “Pay It Forward” Service Learning Project Gathers Momentum (Beaver Creek City Schools)
- Pay It Forward Day Kit for Schools (Pay it Forward Day)