The following post was created in conjunction with my teaching partner, Shelagh Saunders. Over the last school year we had the opportunity to facilitate workshops and presentations about our approach to teaching. So often, the topic of our own partnership was the main focus of questions we received from educators in the field. It certainly is a big topic, as a partnership can often make or break the experience. With this in mind, we prepared the following post that details our approach and beliefs regarding working as co-educators in a Kindergarten classroom.
“The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” – Robert John Meehan
A Kindergarten classroom, by nature, is a very busy place. In our classrooms we encounter curious and capable students who come to us with a wide variety of unique needs, interests, and personalities. As these students explore the classroom environment, they engage in intentional play and inquiry spurred by their interests. Their learning presents itself throughout the room in a variety of forms, which can then by captured and documented by educators and students alike. On any given day, in any given classroom, students are engaged in whole group, small group, and individualized learning. Along with facilitating and provoking this learning, educators also communicate with parents and families, document, assess, plan, implement, extend learning and provide a loving and safe environment for the students to thrive in. Given the magnitude of the aforementioned responsibilities, the need to function as a team of educators presents itself as crucial. Yes, Kindergarten is a busy place, but ensuring that both educators in the room are working together with a common goal in mind is a way to ensure that all areas of our program are being met. Nobody can do it alone.
This partnership can feel challenging at times and potentially be a roadblock to fully implementing a successful program. For us, we strongly believe that a Full Day Kindergarten program is strengthened by the fact that we have multiple educators in the room. Shifting towards this belief with an asset-based perspective at the core of what we do has helped us implement a program that allows each of us to share our vision for a learning community. Teaching as a team allows us to utilize each other’s knowledge, skills, and strengths and provides students with a program that is reflective of multiple philosophes and points of view. Even when we have differing views (and yes, it sometimes does happen!), we choose to look at these moments as chances to grow, learn, and broaden our own individual perspectives. If we present ourselves as a united team, we are more likely to be viewed that way by students, families, and co-workers.
We’ve identified four main aspects of our approach to team-teaching that we believe have been instrumental in establishing an ongoing positive working relationship:
- Sense of Humour
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Beyond our overarching philosophy on partnership, we’ve also identified some specific ways we’ve worked to establish a productive and positive working relationship:
n treat partner with courtesy and kindness
n encourage partner to express ideas and opinions
n listen to what each other has to say before expressing your viewpoint
n share each other’s strengths and use them in action
n make time to get to know each other
n share responsibilities
n consider your use of language (i.e. what message is being sent if partners are referred to as “assistants”? On the contrary, what message is being sent if we refer to ourselves as “co-educators”? Is it important to distinguish who is the ECE and who is the OCT, or can a common title be used?)
The critical importance of working as a team is explicitly referenced in The Kindergarten Program (2016, Ontario), which states:
Approaching the monumental task of being a Kindergarten educator through the concept of maximizing the team approach and honouring each other’s unique knowledge and experience allows us to cover more bases in our classroom community. However, we know relationships can be tough. We ourselves have had moments of disagreement (as is normal in any partnership), but by maintaining communication, respect, flexibility, trust, and a sense of humour – we have been able to ensure that these potential obstacles became learning opportunities.
A word from Shelagh: From the start we sat down together and shared our strengths with each other. This allowed us to highlight our own areas for growth and where we could compliment each other in providing a well-rounded and rich Kindergarten program. We’ve worked hard to remove any pre-conceived notions of “who’s in charge” and that’s allowed us to come together and look at ourselves as partners who are open-minded about the skill sets and voice we each bring to the table. It’s a compliment when another educator comes into the room and they can’t distinguish between the OCT and the ECE because that to me is saying that we are truly a partnership.
A word from Joel: When partnership feels like a struggle, it’s so important to remember that being in a partnership simply makes your day easier! From sharing a story or a laugh, to sharing the task of setting up play based learning centres, this is a journey we share. Not only does working as a team lessen our individual loads with regards to facilitation, but it also honours the wealth of knowledge in childhood development that ECEs bring to the table. Our partners are not “assistants”. They are individuals who bring their own skills, knowledge, and passion to the classroom to enrich learning. Not only can students learn from them, but so can we.