Working Together: Top Tips for Collaborating with Special Education and General Education Teachers

 Sometimes, being the only special education teacher in a sea of general education teachers can make you feel like you’re your own little island. You’re writing the IEPs, overseeing progress monitoring, meeting service minutes… all while being pushed and pulled in a hundred different directions. And when you give the general education teacher the list of student accommodations, sometimes they look at you like “HUH?” 

And speaking of general education teachers- they’ve got a lot on their plates, too. Classes of 30 students, curriculum guides, RTI… It’s so much. And it makes it easy to each go about your own business with your students getting shuffled back and forth between the two of you.

But there are things you can do to show your students that you are a team! And when students have a whole team on their side, they have such a better chance at success in the classroom. So here are my TOP TIPs for teaming up with gen ed teachers.

  1. Make sure the gen ed teacher understands the IEP. 

IEPs are long, legal documents with so many parts. And it can be tough for even special education teachers to navigate them. Something I did for my gen ed teachers this year was give them an “IEP-at-a-Glance” page: it included everything they needed to know written in simple, easy to follow terms. Because if a gen ed teacher is responsible for implementing the IEP, they need to know exactly what that means.

When I’d pass them out, I’d briefly go over each section so they knew if the kids had fully-inclusive services or would come to my room. They knew what their targeted goals were. They knew what accommodations they needed while in their classrooms. And my co-workers LOVED it. They said it made it so much easier to keep track of everything. And I loved it because I knew we were all on the same page. You can find my template included in my digital binder here.

  1. Assist each other with accommodations

When I taught third grade, the third grade teacher would send me her weekly tests, I would accommodate them, and then I would test the students who needed it on Fridays. But then we realized this was a lot of extra work for me. Usually I didn’t have an answer key, and I had to make the accommodations by hand with my little jar of white out. It was so much easier, we learned, for her to make the accommodations directly in the program and then print my copies. But I had to show her the accommodations that needed to be made. We spent one afternoon together with me explaining the accommodations and her making them, and then we were golden. Testing days ran so much more smoothly than they ever had: I didn’t have to wait for her to give me the tests, and she didn’t have to wait on me to accommodate them. Accommodations are not *just* a special education teacher’s responsibility, and when sped and gen ed work together on them, the whole process is much easier. 

  1. Collaborate for IEP goals

It can be difficult when you have a student in the resource and inclusion setting who is several grade levels behind in a subject. But unless your student is receiving program modifications (which would be a WHOLE other post), you still have to align IEP goals to grade level standards. The easiest way I have found to do this is to ASK A GEN ED TEACHER.

“What standards have you noticed your students struggling with the most?” “ With what standards do your students require extra support? Less support?”

Asking these questions can help you narrow down where to start when selecting an appropriate IEP goal. If your math co-teacher says the kiddo is having a hard time dividing fractions, look at that standard. What is the most basic piece of information a student needs to know in order to divide a fraction? Multiplication facts. There’s your IEP goal. There’s the skill you need to target for your student to be able to progress through the general education curriculum. I use these IEP Input Surveys to get information from the general education teachers to include, not just in writing the goals, but also in student strengths, present level of performance, and more. General education teachers can provide valuable insight into your students, and they are an important member of the IEP team, so have them assist in its development. 

  1. Decide on a team teaching model

Team teaching can look different at every school, or even between different teachers. The trick is finding what works best for you, your co-teacher, and your students. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to team teaching, but there are a few tried and true models. One way could be one person teaches the whole group and the other assists a few students at a time. You could each teach a small group of students simultaneously. Or you could take turns leading parts of the lesson. And no one way is better or worse than the other. Decide as a team which works best for your situation. In my ELA class, we take turns leading the lesson or sometimes I pull a small group to work with me during independent work time. In my math class, I either have a small group or I assist students one or two at a time while the other teacher leads the lesson. Whatever you choose, be intentional in your planning and teaching and keep the students’ best interests in mind.

  1. Stick to a schedule

My current class schedule puts me in ELA classes for first and fifth periods and math classes for third and seventh. However, in previous years, I pulled students according to a small group schedule rather than a class schedule. With my small groups, I had to communicate with the gen ed teachers about different times during their classes that would work for me to pull students or push in for math or reading. As much as you can, try to stick to the same daily or weekly schedule.  This not only lets both teachers know what to expect, but it lets the students know what to expect, too. And if the schedule needs to change for one day or if you’re going to be out, make sure you communicate that with each other (in advance if possible), as well. 

Students have the best chance for success when their teachers are working together and presenting a united front. And it not only benefits the students, but it benefits the teachers, too! You can use each others’ strengths and rely on each other in a career where it’s so easy to become overwhelmed. Remember, “Teamwork makes the dream work!”

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