Collaboration… that’s a pretty tricky topic that can be difficult for so many teachers (special education and general education teachers alike). While they are few and far between, there are some teachers out there that think they know it all, and you best not be telling them what to do (and they typically do NOT know all). That can be so so hard. As a behavior teacher, I was not only responsible for my self-contained students, but I also served as a resource teacher, social skills teacher, and case manager for students with behavior plans in general education. It was a fairly unique role, but it allowed me the opportunity to collaborate with so many teachers, aides, administrators, and related service providers. So here are my top tips for collaborating with general education teachers and related service providers.
As a general note, I refer to teachers throughout these tips but it really applies to any staff member you might need to collaborate with.
6 Tips for Creating a Collaborative Atmosphere with Gen Ed Teachers
Acknowledge their Feelings
Teachers are human being with feelings and emotions of their own. While we shouldn’t ever take what students do personally, it does happen from time to time to even the best of the best. When a teacher starts to vent to you, the best thing you can do is to acknowledge it and ask them how you can help. Just like we do with our students, it is so important to validate how your colleagues are feeling. You can say things like, “That must be so frustrating to deal with, what can I do to help you?” Sometimes teachers just need to be heard.
Involve Them in the Creation of Plans
I have spent at times, 4-5 hours collaborating and discussing edits to an informal behavior plan for a student on my caseload. The teacher and I would sit together and define the behaviors, discuss methods of data collection, and figure out a plan that would be effective, but ALSO easy for the teacher to implement. Teachers are experts in their fields so when someone comes in telling them what to do and how to do it, it can create conflict. Let’s face it, no one likes that. For some reason, we (humans) take behavior personally and when there are behavior challenges, teachers can feel like failures. There is almost always better buy in when teachers have input in the plan and feel validated and heard (again, see #1.)
Model for Teachers What They Need to do.
I remember when I was in my third year teaching, a behavior specialist came to my behavior classroom and helped me to completely transform it. She modeled for me how to use the various components and areas of the classroom. She stayed with me until 6PM that night redoing the classroom. Another specialist was permanently assigned to our campus as a whole (we had 2 self-contained behavior units and an inclusion behavior program) and he was in the trenches with me. He didn’t hesitate to jump in when behavior started. He helped to model how to implement specific pieces of the program.
Let’s be real y’all, there is such a difference between reading something on a piece of paper and seeing it in action. Modeling can be a powerful tool. It can create a bond and show the teachers that they aren’t alone. It also gives teachers the opportunity to see the strategies in action and ask questions before THEY have to implement. You can give them opportunities to practice and receive feedback from you before they have to perform solo.
If you won’t do it, they won’t either.
This seems self-explanatory, but if it’s not something you would be willing or capable of doing, don’t put it in the IEP or BIP. Seriously…. Just don’t.
Reinforce them for doing the great things that they are already doing!
My favorite thing about my BCBA supervisor is that she would point out things that I was already doing in the classroom that was ABA based. She would share feedback with me and point out things that went well. When I did receive criticism or feedback it was shared in a way that was kind and compassionate and because she had given me reinforcement during other times, that criticism wasn’t as hard to take.
So why do I share that? You need to reinforce the teachers you work with for implementing the plan you have in place. Saying, “Thank you for doing XYZ, it really helped Johnny to understand that math concept” goes a long long way towards the relationship between you and your colleagues. If you see them handle a behavior situation like a champ, TELL THEM! They need to know they are doing good things too.
If there is a problem, ask them to sit down and talk with you about it.
I will never forget my first year teaching, a coworker thought that I was running the program incorrectly. She got the speech teacher involved as well as the paras in both of our classrooms. They all decided to have a meeting with me to tell me the things I was doing wrong. I went back to my classroom afterwards and cried. That meeting wasn’t helpful. When I look back, there were definitely areas that needed improvement, but the meeting only served to hurt me because it wasn’t collaborative or helpful.
It’s imperative to think about how you want to be told by your supervisors that you are implementing something wrong. I’m guessing it’s probably not what I experienced that first year. Instead of that meeting, the other teacher would have been better off asking to meet with me and asking me how I felt things were going. If she noticed something I needed to adjust, she could’ve suggested we work together to improve that area.
Something that I often see teachers struggle with is the implementation of accommodations. It can be so HARD to manage all of the different needs in a general education classroom. Instead of pointing it out and demanding they fix it, you could say, “I noticed the other day that Johnny was really struggling with that math concept in class. I also noticed he wasn’t using his multiplication chart. Do I need to reteach him how to use it?” This can be a way to not call out the teacher but find out if it’s a can’t do issue or a won’t do issue.
Creating a Collaborative Atmosphere is Really Just Being Kind.
My approach to collaboration really boils down to thinking about how I want to be treated by my colleagues and then do exactly that. I hope that these tips help you out!