Nat Hansuvadha, Ph.D
California State University, Long Beach
My two Monarch teammates and I made a goal: improve collaboration between special and general education faculty and programs across one year. Given the institutionalized culture of “silo” departments and faculty in the college of education, we were initially unsure of the plausibility of this outcome. Fortunately, our dean and department chairs shared our vision and provided the infrastructure, professional development, financial and material resources and most importantly, moral support to see our goal realized.
One major accomplishment of our collaborative efforts has been the implementation of an innovative team-teaching model infused with the existing clinical urban teacher preparation model, UTEACH. For the first time, four instructors from three different departments in the college (with discipline-specific expertise) enthusiastically agreed to transform three methods courses: reading, language arts, and social studies. These three courses were blended into one integrated curriculum and teaching delivery model to benefit nearly 60 elementary general education student teachers. As the only special education professor on this team, my role was to incorporate evidence-based practices of teaching students with disabilities into the redesigned methods courses.
With this exciting yet daunting enterprise ahead of us, the four of us began planning together in the summer of 2011. Typical of many collaborative endeavors, at first, my UTEACH colleagues and I were suspicious of one another and territorial regarding our subject matter. Considering that no one knew each other well, participants feared sacrificing the quality and coverage of their subject matter in the redesigned methods courses. As a result, the initial meetings were dense and lengthy. Efforts to negotiate and reach consensus on curricula, scheduling, and assignment expectations were labored. Four different personalities using four different communication and teaching styles required that each of us humbly restrain our egos while learning to trust one another.
In honor of teamwork, however, each of us gradually learned to recognize interaction patterns that were perceived as intolerant and replacing these behaviors by using open and effective communication strategies. Another team-building strategy we used was reflection. From the first day of classes, we continuously reflected on our successes and mishaps. We also made a commitment to be flexible. We edited the syllabi and fine-tuned the teaching schedule throughout the semester. Each instructor had equitable course ownership and decision-making power. Finally, in order to present the entire course material in an efficient and unified manner, we overlapped assignments, used similar texts across courses, and team-taught often.
As the instructor with the least amount of teaching experience, I benefited tremendously from observing my colleagues teach. Whether it was parallel co-teaching or one teach and one assist, I learned that there was no replacement for the talent, confidence, and wisdom that comes from years of classroom teaching. At the same time, I believe my colleagues’ insight regarding emerging issues and evidence-based practices in special education was valuable for them as they collaborated with me and observed me teach. More importantly, our team felt that our student teachers profited the most from receiving integrated special and general education content as they translated the skills and knowledge into their classrooms.
Over a year ago, a few general and special educators began our collaborative journey. We learned that individual efforts alone could not make this journey a success. It took a team: College/Administration, Faculty/Staff, and Students. For example, at the same time the UTEACH instructors and I were team-teaching in fall, several teacher education (TED) faculty were implementing IRIS modules into their general education courses for the first time. Additionally, these faculty members added new course readings specific to inclusive practices for students with disabilities into their courses. The IRIS modules and textbooks were presented to and shared with faculty during a series of professional development workshops in spring 2011 and were funded by the college of education.
Looking ahead, my UTEACH colleagues and I are motivated to ensure that next year’s team teaching experience will be even better. Furthermore, I believe that collaboration between general and special educators has created a more educated faculty in our college. Our collective expertise will benefit teacher candidates who, in turn, will become more knowledgeable, skilled, and motivated to teach students with disabilities in general education settings.
I am especially grateful to Monarch for their exceptional and generous leadership and guidance throughout our journey.