Co-teaching teams provide benefits to teachers as they collaborate to maximize personalized learning for their students. Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld, experienced co-teacher and researcher, joins Steve to explore the challenges of building from I/My to We/Our.
Email Dr. Honigsfeld: firstname.lastname@example.org
Find Dr. Honigsfeld on Twitter: @AndreaHonigsfel
Steve: 00:30 Maximizing co-teaching for student success. Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld is an experienced English as a foreign language teacher in Hungary and an English as a second language teacher in New York City. She’s joining our podcast today to share insights on the values of co-teaching for maximizing student success. She is currently a professor in the division of education at Malloy College in Rockville center, New York, and she’s an author and consultant on the topic of co-teaching. Welcome, Andrea.
Steve: 01:06 Thank you so much for having me on your podcast.
Steve: 01:09 So Andrea, teachers always want to know about a consultant author’s teaching experience. So tell folks a little bit about your experiences with with co-teaching.
Andrea: 01:24 Sure. So by training, I’m a high school English and Hungarian teacher. I was born and raised and educated in Hungary, and I actually went back to teaching my own middle school when I was a student in Hungary years before, so it was very exciting to be a colleague to my former teachers who I now can address informally and collaborate with and learn from. And then when I left Hungary and I found myself in New York city, I became an elementary ESL – that’s the label that we used at that time, English as a Second Language teacher at the elementary level, kindergarten through third grade. My student teaching was at the high school level. So I pretty much found myself in every type of classroom from kindergarten, all the way to high school, as well as in adult education classes, both in Hungary where English was a very, very popular language to learn.
Andrea: 02:24 I was a teacher of adult ESL and when I came to the United States, I continued that line of work as well. I actually taught on Saturday and Sunday mornings in a small, tiny little school, right by the train station in Woodside Queens. And I just so respected my students who gave up their, probably, only free day. They worked six to eight weeks and they were there either Saturday morning or Sunday morning learning English. So then fast forward, I completed my doctorate and I joined a college. I’m still there, Malloy college. They hired me to start a TESOL and post-masters program in TESOL. So now going from being in the classroom, I became a teacher educator and I focused a lot on developing a practitioner-oriented masters and postmasters programs and I spent a lot of time in the classroom coaching, continuing to stay connected to what’s happening in the actual classroom environment.
Steve: 03:33 What would you describe as the as the payoffs of co-teaching for the teacher? What are the benefits for me of entering into a co-teaching setting?
Andrea: 03:45 For teachers, the strongest benefit is capacity building and partnership building that you don’t have to do it alone. The job is huge. To support our multilingual learners in acquiring language and acquiring learning content simultaneously, to make sure that they can make more than a year’s progress in a year, as well as developing the academic language and literacy skills that are prerequisites and co-requisites of academic success. Well, when you do it in collaboration with a colleague, with a partner, you feel that you can bounce ideas off of each other. We always have our favorite go-to strategies that now we can learn side by side by talking through those strategies, sharing existing practices, as well as experimenting with new kinds of practices, as technology is getting more and more integrated in our teaching. Or any kind of new initiative is rolled out in a particular school or district, when you’re learning that with a partner, it’s just going to be more beneficial for the individual, for the educator as well as for the student.
Steve: 04:53 Yeah. I’ve always found that when you’re a trial and erroring, it’s easier to error if somebody else’s joining you in it than if you’re erroring on your own. And besides the fact that it speeds the learning from it, the ability to brief what is it that happened here and talk that through with somebody else’s is powerful. How about for the students? What would you say the biggest benefits for the students of teachers co-teaching?
Andrea: 05:24 The greatest benefit for them is that we can reduce teacher student ratio. So we’re going to have more attention dedicated to the individual student, whether it’s in support of their language development, literacy development, or content attainment. So in a co-taught setting, the various configurations, we could introduce the lesson together. It’s like a co-teaching dance. We introduce the lesson together, the mini lesson, maybe a recap of what was thought before, modeling some kind of solving a math problem or an experiment in a science classroom. But sooner, rather than later, we should really break up into small groups. When a teacher is alone, they can still do small group work, Kagan structures or learning stations, learning rotations, learning centers, sure. But when we have two teachers in the room, then those two teachers can circulate and get to the students with more frequency. They could target students’ identified needs, they can observe and assess and monitor student progress much better because now we have two adults who are doing that kind of work.
Andrea: 06:24 And actually more frequently than not, I’ve also seen three adults in some of these classrooms, either a teaching assistant and instructional aid or paraprofessional, there are different names based on where you are in the United States or in the world. How we identify that support personnel as well as sometimes, special educators are also working alongside English language development or ELL teachers and content teachers. So the three way collaboration makes it even more challenging for the teachers, but even more rewarding when it works well for the sake of the students.
Steve: 07:04 So I’m almost hearing, if you put another person in the room, I’m doubling the students’ opportunity to get the feedback or the personalized extra attention that the student might need.
Andrea: 07:21 Absolutely. And different types of methodologies are also introduced. I’ve seen a number of times in my own coaching that one teacher was really savvy with technology. The whiteboard was a smart board and Flipgrid and different ways that the students are able to participate through digital tools while the other teacher was masterful in conducting, let’s say Socratic seminars and engaging students in content-based dialogues and discourse. So everybody has their own strengths. When we combine those strengths and assets in the classroom, the students will benefit because there’s not one right way that we can support multilingual learners’ development. There’s not one quick checklist that if only you do these five things, you’ll be fine. So we need a multi-dimensional classroom environment in which we infuse a lot of different strategies into our teaching.
Steve: 08:15 I have to tell you one of the things that I always found as the benefit – there were just kids that warmed up better to one of us than the other one. Almost like the magnet to some kids. And so I’d have kids that were assigned to me, but boy, they just made a much deeper connection with my partner than they did with me. And it felt so comforting when I would see my student connect with another teacher in a different way than the student connected with me, but I knew that the student was getting it. They were getting that attention that was so important to them.
Andrea: 08:59 Yeah. If I could make one other point about this, because I’m so appreciative that you shared your story and how generously you celebrated that opportunity for your students to be comfortable with another teacher, rather than this old notion of my kids, my students, my curriculum, my classroom. So how do we move away from that first person, singular mindset and move into a we, or more collective, more collaborative mindset around teaching. And one of the most powerful examples of that, that I witnessed, observed and heard from teachers too, is when the English language development teacher, the ELD or ESL, ENL teacher tells me that the general education student, the English proficiency student also seeks out their support. So the students no longer see that you see are there for those kids. You were their teachers and I’m somebody else’s teacher. So
I think that is a huge shift when students start seeing both teachers as being everybody’s teacher.
Steve: 10:10 And the other side of that shift is the work I do with professional learning communities that everybody is seeing the students as our students. So I may be here to serve the the English language learner, but the 14 other kids in the class are mine too. As well as the English language learners growth in languages, the classroom teacher’s role. So if we take shared responsibility for the kids, that’s what pulls us together as a teaching team. Andrea, there’s a lot of challenges that teachers face when they first enter a co-teaching partnership. I’m wondering if you’d talk a little bit about those challenges and maybe the strategies for tackling them early on informing co-teaching partnerships.
Andrea: 11:02 Sure. I can cite the most frequently mentioned challenges for you, both from my research and classroom-based experience. Number one is time. And I think that’s probably applies to every single educator that we have this scarcity of time, available time to implement new curriculum, develop new curriculum, examine our work, look at student work and so forth. But when it comes to co-teaching, administrative support and systemic support for collaboration, time, collaborative time, co-planning time, to me, it’s non-negotiable. I know I’m using a very strong word here. I used to be a little softer, but I think over the years, you figure out that you need to come across with clarity around how co-teaching does not happen without co-planning. If there’s no co-planning, there’s no co-teaching. If there’s no co assessment, when we look at student work, when we examine data systematically, then we can co-teach effectively. So connecting co-planning co-teaching reflection and co-assessment as an entire cycle is critical.
Andrea: 12:11 So if the teachers are not provided time to do that, then they suddenly signed that as a major concern and there’s not enough time. So one teacher comes into the classroom and simply says, what are we doing today? Or what are you doing today? And that’s no longer co-teaching. At at best, it could be in class support, but then we’re siloing the children and the in-class support is targeting a handful of children rather than collaboratively serving all children. The second, most frequently cited issue is when there’s no parody or there’s just emerging parody or equity among the co-teachers and one teacher feels that he or she is a highly paid aid and is not able to contribute to the lesson with the type of instructional intensity that would truly impact student learning. So how do we work around that? So the first point I mentioned about the time, often that’s an administrative issue. How to revisit the master schedule, how to provide additional professional learning opportunities.
Andrea: 13:14 But this notion of building the partnership is also connected, both administrative and coaching responsibilities, as well as internal motivation or intrinsic motivation from the co-teachers that we are going to build a partnership. It will be how we present ourselves to the students. It’s not about one teacher being the lead and shining all the time and then the other one is in that supporting actor or actress role, but creating a partnership in which both teachers have equal or equitable participation and opportunity to work with the students. So that doesn’t come easily, unless of course, it’s a chemistry, it’s a quick click between the teachers. Typically, it takes time and monitoring how the dynamics in the classroom or maybe even video coaching so that the teachers could really look at how one teacher just kept saying, I expect you to do this, or my expectations for you are these as he or she talks to the students and the other teacher is literally on the sidelines, just waiting to have a turn.
Steve: 14:25 One of the strategies that I encourage people to build into those early planning conversations is around a phrase I use called student learning production behaviors. So, what is it that the students need to do that’s going to cause the learning? So I might be in your classroom today in a role where I’m not deep into the content the way you are. But if you can tell me what it is we need to get the kids to do to cause the learning to happen, then my interactions with the kids are driven towards getting those learning behaviors. Versus when I see that that’s missing, the behaviors, get driven towards helping the kids get the work done. And get the work done may not be what’s producing the learning. So if I can get the people talking to each other, when we’re watching the learners, what is it we want to be seeing and hearing the learners doing? And now we both can go to work to make that happen. If you’re the language person, you might be assisting me on what those English language learners’ behaviors need to be so that as the classroom teacher, I’m helping get those. And I can share what the content behaviors are and now we’re both working together to generate that, that set of behaviors.
Andrea: 15:46 So from the English language development perspective, in a co-taught setting, I often coach or guide teachers to examine their upcoming lessons, units, curriculum through two lenses. Like when I wear my glasses, there are two lenses on it. So one lens is going to be the cognitive lens or the academic lens. The other one is going to be the linguistic, language or literacy lens. And the big question as we co-plan or review the curriculum will be, what are the academic and linguistic demands of the upcoming lesson or curriculum? But then the demands is sort of a harsh deficit oriented word. So what if we switched that word around and now change it to opportunities? What would be the academic or cognitive opportunities to, as you said, to demonstrate learning, what are we going to be looking for for the students to be doing with the content? And the same time you can forget about that content cannot be taught without language, even mathematics. Even when we think that math is the universal language, not really, you’re going to need precise academic language to be able to solve a math problem. So what is the linguistic demand of that upcoming lesson, or again, switching the words around, what is the linguistic opportunity or literacy opportunity for the students to fully engage with the content? So that is very similar to your thinking.
Steve: 17:12 It really is because the big change in my work was when I switched from watching teaching, to watching learning. So when my time is spent in a pre-conference, what I’m mostly asking is, talk to me about what it is you need to get the kids to do. And then I’m watching the kids. And if the choices you made or getting the kids to do what you said, you needed them to do, that’s going to be great feedback for you. And if the choices aren’t getting it and now when I got two teachers working together and some students with special needs, what’s the support that the special needs student has to have so that he or she can engage in those learning behaviors?
Andrea: 17:57 Similarly, linguistically, what are the linguistic expectations and opportunities? And the added challenge of course, is, we have English language development on at least five different levels. So if you’re using the wida standards or any kind of established framework, sometimes it’s only four levels. Sometimes it’s even three levels, beginning, intermediate, and advanced, but more currently we’re using five levels of language proficiencies. And that’s huge to consider that on all five levels students could and should –
Steve: 18:28 And I could have all five, right?
Andrea: 18:32 Yeah. And what does that going to look like? So having those conversations, planning is essential. You can’t just walk into a
classroom and figure it out in the moment. The work is too big for that.
Steve: 18:44 As I moved to closing out, I want to give you an opportunity – one of the most important words of wisdom that you might want to leave with teachers who are who are entering into a co-teaching opportunities.
Andrea: 19:01 Focus on the relationship first.
Steve: 19:04 Got it.
Andrea: 19:05 If you asked me that question 10 years ago, I would have probably asked them as heretic with pedagogy co-teaching models, and then you live and learn and you realize that a strong partnership actually is absolutely pivotal for this.
Steve: 19:25 Thank you. Would you share with folks easiest ways for them to get in touch with you to follow up questions they might have, or to look at the resources that you have available?
Andrea: 19:38 Sure. My email is Ahonigsfeld@gmail.com and of all the social media platforms, I’m very active on Twitter and that’s @andreahonigsfel – that’s my Twitter handle without the D. I also have a website, andreahonigsfeld.com. And I have a lot of my books produced either by Heinemann or by Corbin press.
Steve: 20:01 Well, we’ll put all that information on the lead-in to the podcast. Andrea, thank you so much. Really appreciate the time and
sharing that you did with us.
Andrea: 20:10 Thank you for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it too.
Steve [Outro]: 20:16 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.