The Third Teacher: Mindful Classroom Design at the Rise School

First we shape our buildings. Thereafter they shape our lives.

-Winston Churchill

abc beads basket

In the Reggio Emilia approach to education classroom design is considered the Third Teacher (the first 2 are instructors and peers). Here at Teaching2gether we agree wholeheartedly. Teachers convey critical messages to their students by way of the prepared environment.

When we label materials with pictures and text we provide access for all our students: readers, non-readers, English Language Learners and any visitor to the classroom.  When we post a schedule on the board it calms our students with attention-based disabilities, provides modeling for children with executive functioning needs, gives the class a sense of where we’re headed in our day, and holds teachers accountable to stay on task. When we provide differentiated materials we allow students to make conscious decisions about what helps them learn.

Continue reading

Speech Therapy: The Roots of Self-Advocacy

Ms. Hughes uses a portable whiteboard to create on-the-spot visuals and to ensure  repeated, varied exposure to concepts.

Ms. Hughes uses portable whiteboards to create on-the-spot visuals and to ensure repeated, varied exposure to concepts in any setting.

At Teaching2Gether, we do a lot of thinking about the purpose and nature of inclusion and collaboration.  We know the two go hand in hand, but we also have started to think broadly about who the collaborators can be when it comes to creating an inclusive classroom. Continue reading

SXSWedu update coming soon but in the meantime..


“Fair isn’t equal. It’s giving everyone what they need.”

We are coming off a whirlwind week of exploring new apps, meeting visionary teachers and “edupreneurs” and listening to fascinating speakers at the #edtech conference, SXSWedu. It was truly exhilarating to consider how technology will make our classrooms ever more inclusive. We can’t wait to share our new knowledge with you – just as soon as we look through all our notes and get our thoughts in order! You can read some of our real time revelations if you check out our twitter feed. In the meantime we wanted to share this great article on creating a good old fashioned classroom environment where everyone can learn together, from this excellent website and resource, Think Inclusive:

5 Strategies For Structuring An Inclusive Classroom Environment

Check it out and check back soon for more high-tech ways to get inclusive!

LD identification over time

Thanks to Matt Holloway over at the blog, What’s So Specialwe just read this fascinating report on the State of Learning Disabilities in the U.S. in 2014, published by the NCLD. Among many interesting findings, in regards to the Common Core they report that many challenges lie ahead (surprise surprise!). Here is what they recommend: (more…)

Going to SXSWedu? See you there!

South by Southwest edu


We are thrilled to be joining the many distinguished educators, entrepreneurs and visionaries at this year’s South by Southwest education and technology conference, SXSWedu, in our home town of Austin Texas, from March 2-6. If anyone is going to be there and wants to connect, let us know. It looks like it will be an amazing few days with speakers like Diane Ravitch and Wendy Davis, among many many others. We are looking forward to meeting fascinating people, exchanging new ideas, and sharing them with you!

All Hands on Deck


These teachers from P.S. 124 in NYC use Stations daily in order to work with every child. They lead two stations while the other two groups are independent.

You joined the teaching profession to help kids, right? Not for the summers off, the “shorter” working hours (ha!), and definitely not for the pay. You want the very best for ALL your kids, just like the rest of us. However, it’s really really hard to meet all those needs in your classroom by yourself every day. Most teachers go home at the end of the day thinking “If I could have just done _______ for that one kid…”

The good news is you’re really not alone in that endeavor. Continue reading

Intro to the Co-Teaching Models: The Big Picture.

*Administrators and teachers: Download a printable version of this guide to share with your co-teaching staff or teammates here: Intro to Co-Teaching Approaches: The Big Picture

When people hear the term “Co-Teaching” they tend to picture two teachers standing at the front of the classroom, finishing the others’ sentences in a sort of instructional duet. This misguided concept of co-teaching may be one of the reasons many people decide that it’s just not for them. It’s extremely challenging to work in tandem with another adult, especially if you don’t have the time to plan a lesson down to the last detail. Just think about it: you wouldn’t perform a two person show without crafting your script and rehearsing it until you got the timing just right, would you? Neither would we.

Co-teaching like this (or Team Teaching) can certainly be effective at times, but it is not the only way to collaborate. So, what should two teachers be doing when they want to work together? Well, we’re glad you asked. There is so much to say about the infinite ways we can co-teach, but to get us started we are providing a quick visual introduction to the 6 most effective options for partnering with another adult. Continue reading

Lessons from Co-Teaching

Co-teaching can lead to lasting friendships based in shared values and experiences. (including happy hour!)

Hannah and her former co-teacher Mansi in Brooklyn, NY. Co-teaching can lead to lasting friendships based in shared values and experiences. (including happy hour!)

I feel lucky to say that the past 5 years spent in the classroom have been spent along side a coach, mentor, role model, confidant and friend. Oh, and a co-teacher.

The often-heard comparison to co-teaching is that it’s “like a marriage.” Given the day and age this is clearly a weighty analogy, but the things that make a successful teaching partnership are the same as those of any relationship: commitment and communication.

Well, isn’t that nice. This may be true, but the difference is that while many people are lucky enough to have the opportunity to “test the waters” of their relationship, many co-teachers are thrown in to a classroom together, given a few days to get settled, and are told, “good luck! Have a great year!”

So, never mind that old analogy.  Keeping in mind the tenets of commitment and communication, here’s what we’ve learned about making it work in a co-teaching relationship.

1. Find out the best way the two of you communicate and use it. Does he prefer texts? Will she answer emails quickly but would prefer to keep phone usage personal? Either is great, but as a co-teacher, you probably will need to get used to a little outside of the school day communication.

2. With that in mind, be respectful. Show up on time to work, run a sick or personal day by your co-teacher before the day of, even if you get a sub. Do at least your fair share of work, and sometimes do more. Refrain from texting in the middle of the night or sending an urgent email Sunday evening.

3. Back each other up. Many co-teaching relationships fail because of a good-cop/bad cop situation in the classroom. If you don’t agree with how something was handled, address the issue after class.  (But be sure to address it!  We will cover how to have those conversations later.)

4. Ask questions. This is the counter to the control-freak nature so many of us have hard-wired, but it still allows us to have our opinions heard. “What do you like to do for a morning routine?” “How do you record assessment data?” “Do you like to work through lunch?” “What does a hard-working classroom look and sound like to you?” Practice.

5. Get with it.  Learn how to use Google Docs, Drive, and Dropbox. Be sure you know how to make an Excel spreadsheet and a table in Word. (Even if your school provides some planning program or you are addicted to your spiral planner.) Spiral planners don’t allow you to update in real time together when you’re apart, and most school-provided programs are too clunky to successfully share files. These things were made for the professional world we live in, and we are professionals!

6. Get emotional. Yes, the first time your co-teacher lets you down, you’ll get upset. You might cry or get mad. This is okay! Work through it, figure out what happened, and take steps to make it better for both of you. It will get better.

7. Learn when to let things go. Heard that one before, teacher? Enough said.

8. Learn how to apologize. You will also make mistakes and have bad days. Many of us spend a lot of time teaching our kids to own up and make things better, so try it yourself.

9. Get personal. Get to know this person you will spend more hours with than your friends, family, and dog per week. Do something social every once in a while, get them a birthday present. (Or at least a cupcake.) This builds the team feeling which will resound in ways that will surprise you.

10. Learn every day. Be a reflective practitioner and encourage your co-teacher to do the same. Give yourself and your co-teacher the same kind of compassionate coaching you give your kids, and look forward to tomorrow when you can do even better.

This person is not here to judge you or make your life worse. This person is only here to work with you to make the very best environment for the kids in your class, all of whom need your help meeting their varying and specific needs. That’s a big job and guess what, you’re a team, working together to help them! Phew, isn’t that great? You’re not alone anymore. When you keep that in mind and try to do just a little better each day, learning from Monday to make a better Tuesday, then a successful co-teaching experience is not too far away.

Collaboration Toolbox

You’ll find examples of little visuals like this to use in your classroom to build community and independence.
Visual created by Natalie Dean,
3rd grade teacher, Brookline, MA

When we begin to work closely with at least one other adult in the room, we have to communicate and agree on just about every little detail of our day.  All of a sudden we have to think about brand new questions like: Who is going to be in charge of which lessons?  What should transitions look like? Do we both have to take conference notes? Should we use Station Teaching? What IS Station Teaching?  Where did that kid go?  

As long-time co-teachers we have developed lots of theoretical ideas about working together to create successful inclusive classrooms, which you can read on our main page. But we also want to provide the much-needed nitty-gritty tips on how to make your classroom function effectively with two adults, service providers coming and going, and about a thousand different kids’ needs.

Our advice is spend time at the beginning (or now, right after winter break) to answer these questions by putting in place a few simple systems to foster teacher cooperation and student independence in your classroom. Enter, the newest section of our blog, the Collaboration Toolbox. Here we will provide real-world examples (Pictures! Printables!) of effective and efficient ways to make your classroom flow smoothly, including:

  • detailed explanations of several co-teaching models
  • samples of great visual supports from real classrooms
  • handy co-planning tools
  • tried-and-true adaptive materials
  • other goodies

The honest truth is that it takes more legwork and a bit more laminating to set up a successfully co-taught classroom, but in the end, we think it’s worth it.

“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my own ship.”

-Louisa May Alcott

Make that a “we,” Louisa, and we’re on board.  You can start today by checking out the Collaboration Toolbox!


Using our Words

Preparing lessons based in strengths helps students (and teachers) feel successful.

Preparing lessons based in strengths helps students (and teachers) feel successful.  This is a laminated tool you can use over and over.

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” ― Maya AngelouI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

As modern teachers, we watch what we say all the time, at least in front of the kids.  At this point, most teachers are sure  to add a positive spin to their classroom management.  Our class rules are mostly written without the words “no” or “don’t”.  We diligently follow up our redirections with compliments, and we are careful to ask for “do overs” and “personal space” instead of the crass alternatives we have swimming in our heads.

However, what you say about the kids, and more importantly how you say it, can count just as much as what you say to the kids.

Listening to a teacher put a kid down when the classroom or office doors are closed can feel pretty bad on the receiving end.  Your co-teacher, grade level colleague, and maybe even your principal might commiserate, but the conversation usually ends there. Most of us are guilty of this at some point and will even admit that a good vent session can be necessary at times, but they don’t really ever change much of anything. The moment you begin to fault the kid, (“he doesn’t try hard enough, she is such a bad reader”) or worse, label the child (“he’s so ADHD, she can’t read because she’s Dyslexic”) you are only hurting yourself and your chances of helping that student meet your expectations. A simple shift in your language can make a huge difference in your classroom and your working relationships. Instead of complaints, try describing behaviors.  Instead of relying on labels, work from the child’s individual goals and services.  By making this change, you are opening yourself up to a more of a collaborative dialogue.  If I said, “He’s so ADHD,” there’s not a whole lot of sound advice you can give me.  But if I said, “He’s having a hard time initiating and completing work,” I’m sure you are already thinking of a handful of strategies I could try.  Not to mention, saying, “He’s so ADHD” might make for an awkward parent teacher conference.  But saying and asking,”He’s having a hard time getting to work.  Do you see the same thing a home?” will open up a constructive conversation.  In fact, you might even be able to loop the actual student in to the conversation, teaching him skills of reflection, goal setting, and problem solving and in the end, you end up building up confidence instead of shame. My two favorite parts about teaching in an inclusive, progressive classroom is that we can finally appreciate each child, and we can finally work together to build classroom and school cultures that honor individuality.  When we shift our ideas and language about kids, strengths can become foundations for success, and challenges become goals.

This was a lot of talk about talk.  We’d like to know, have you ever found power in words?