This year two grade-level colleagues and I embarked on a three-classroom shared teaching model for the first time. Overall, I believe the model was a great success for a large number of reasons, reasons supported by research which shows that collaboration builds successful teaching and learning in the schools.
Mostly, the success was due to TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More. We worked together to care for all of the students, and with our varied skills, experiences, and strengths we were able to plan carefully to meet many standards and multiple student needs and interests in conjunction with the broader teaching team of teaching assistants, specialists, families, coaches, and administrators. Our team generally met during PLC with the broader team and one more time each week with just the grade level teachers.
Next, together we planned a good program with lots of special learning events including many field studies, grade-level projects, and celebrations. In addition specialists and leaders added to this by organizing each Monday's school assembly, orchestrating the fifth grade play, planning the upcoming field day, creating art displays, crafting tech projects, designing library learning, and many parent led celebrations too.
Scheduling a Pattern of Effective Teaching/Learning
We spent a lot of time in the spring designing a schedule that would work for our fifth graders. Then when we received the building schedule, and we spent more time finessing the schedule. There were a few tough spots in the schedule this year so we spent quite a bit of time this winter looking at how we might change that for the year ahead and made those suggestions to our building administrators and schedulers. The schedule is very important with regard to meeting the goals you set forth, and hopefully we'll have an even better schedule next year.
Deep Learning and Teaching
Because we divided up the main teaching/learning focus areas, each of us was able to teach with greater depth. I had a great opportunity to think deeply about math and STEAM teaching while my colleagues focused heavily on writing/social studies and reading/science. The fact that I didn't have to teach all subjects, allowed me to read and study more about math which resulted in better, deeper learning experiences.
While we each focused on specific areas for depth, we also worked together to create interdisciplinary learning events. For example while students were studying about space during science research, I was using space numbers with regard to place value and the powers of ten. Then together we all learned at the wonderful Christa McAuliffe Challenger Center at Framingham State University. We also all worked together on the Rube Goldberg Simple Machine project where students read and wrote about the study as well as designed wonderful marble mazes. Now we're working as a team to help students complete their biography presentations and also learn about and preserve the spadefoot toad. I'm sure as we continue down this path of shared teaching/learning, we'll find and embed greater opportunities for interdisciplinary study.
Our weekly meetings spurred considerable professional learning as we discussed curriculum, student needs/interests, and professional endeavor. We learned a lot from each other. We also identified and attended professional learning events that supported our areas of specialty too and shared that learning with each other. This summer we are scheduled to share our model with interested educators at the MTA Summer Conference as well. While we teach, I'm sure that we'll also learn new ideas from the participants at our presentation.
Another advantage of the learning model is that our three homerooms in a sense serve as one large learning space. Each room is designed to mostly match the homeroom teacher's specialty area. This has been an advantage because we have more space for our specialty subject and materials. For example the back of my room is filled with STEAM supplies while my colleagues' rooms are filled with books, writing materials, and research supplies. Students move comfortably from room to room as they learn.
One plus of the model that I did not think about at the start was the strong sense of collaboration displayed by the grade level students and families. They see themselves as one team rather than three distinct groups. There's no competition between classrooms since all the students are getting the same program and all the teachers work together. Sometimes as educators we find we have that one student has more than another and we will relay on each other in that respect. For example, I had trouble helping a child yesterday so I asked her if she would rather talk to my colleague. She agreed and my colleague was able to help the child. This happens all the time as we work with each other to help all students. As students practiced for the play, we noticed that they quickly worked as a collaborative team this year, and we surmised that this happened because they had worked as a team all year.
There have been few behavioral issues all year. Of course there have been some, but we've been able to navigate those issues together and support one another as we help children who struggle in that regard. Knowing all the students has really made a difference in this regard as we all share recess duty and other supervision responsibilities.
All of our grade-level information is hosted on one website that is open and available to all team members including students, families, colleagues, administrators, and community members. We send out a weekly newsletter that includes teaching/learning and programming updates. Those newsletters are hosted on the website too. In a sense, the website serves as a year book of all we've done this year. We also welcome ideas, questions, and feedback from the teaching/learning team and respond accordingly.
Late this year or during the summer months, we'll meet to review all that we've done and next steps for next year. Overall, it has been a very successful year, a year of great teaming and teaching/learning success. If you have further ideas for our team, please share, as we are looking forward to developing this model in the months ahead.