Jaime Groeller & Ivy Waite
In August 2012, at the beginning of our second year teaching together, Ivy and I took the plunge and started “team teaching.” We had seen a successful example just down the stairs from us (Park/Bailey) and modeled much of our initial approach on those ideas. Furthermore, we had been doing a lot of co-planning and co-implementing already during our first year together, 2011-2012, and wanted to fully integrate our practices and our classrooms for the 2012-2013 school year.
In our first year teaching together, we team taught to the extent that we planned all learning opportunities together, gladly using and exceeding our common planning periods. By the end of the year, we were planning until the very last minute before class began, confirming what we would be doing in the classroom, and trying to implement the same “activity” in our separate rooms. With just a wall between us, we were saying and doing the exact same thing, or so we thought. It was clear throughout that year, as we met and reflected on how our plans were being carried out, that we weren’t doing the exact same thing! How could we be? We were so different, despite the fact that we were both in the same year of our teaching practice and teaching the same “stuff” to our classes. Our past and our present continually inform our practice, as does our community of learners, and by implementing plans separately, they were being coloured by our individual personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. When in the “heat-of-the-moment” working with students, opportunities to deepen understanding or present new ideas would come up, and we would react to those separately, and often during reflections I would think “I wish I had done it that way!” I think most would agree that this is not a negative, as teachers must respond to the needs of their students, but more often than not, those teachable moments would have been beneficial to both classes. Furthermore, these moments would necessarily inform how we would carry on with the project in our individual class, often causing us to modify our collaboratively created plan. Once again, this is not “bad” but it furthered our quest to team teach more closely.
Another issue we believed could be alleviated with team teaching was concern amongst students and parents regarding minor differences between the pods, and that expectations differed between the two teachers because of differing due dates or learning activities. While neither of us believe there is a “right” way to teach anything, issues such as this strengthened our resolve to collaborate more closely, and The Scorpion Project 1.0 was a step towards a more integrated approach where we not only planned together, but also combined the classes for some instruction and activities.
We began planning for this team teaching adventure by exploring the space in which we and the students had to work. We both, luckily, had our own classroom, and these classrooms fit 25 junior high students comfortably. Neither, however, would be an ideal long-term solution for all 50. We brainstormed, together of course, on how we could create an area where all 50 could gather, but also allow for these spaces to be used by students in order to promote successful learning. Our initial plan, saved for posterity in a google doc, indicated that my classroom would be the space with tables where, when gathered together as a group of 50, students would be engaged in learning activities that involved the use of tabletops. Ivy’s classroom was the tabletop-free area, filled with mats and couches, an area where the 50 would engage in group discussions and other activities that did not require tabletops. It was a struggle to outfit both rooms as neither of these plans involved the 25 desks and chairs each classroom was allotted. In the end, neither of these classrooms materialized as we initially envisioned them.
Outside of the physical space, we envisioned a year of collaboration, not just cooperation. Our goal was not “tag-team” teaching: neither of us was interested in creating a unit in isolation and then sharing it with the other. We wanted to collaborate in the true sense of the word, rather than merely cooperate. In our minds this involved working together every step of the way including planning, implementing, assessing, and reflecting. We began this year with this mission in mind, and a question in our head: would we be able to make this a reality?