Why co-teaching is at the heart of my math coaching practice

After 14 years as a General and Inclusion Education elementary teacher and four years as a Project-Based Learning Lab instructor, now I am in my fourth year as a K-5 Instructional Math coach. With 22 years under my belt, my passion for supporting teachers as they move “math mountains” for every scholar is my jam!

One of the pillars of my math coaching practice is my belief that the best coaching happens in the moment. In teaching, we have those opportunities for “just in time” direct instruction with students: When a student expresses a misconception, we jump right in and clear it up so the student’s learning can continue moving forward. This concept shapes the way I approach coaching as well, and it’s why I try to co-teach with every educator I coach.

Co-teaching poses two particular opportunities: It helps me identify areas where I need to learn more about the teacher’s practice to inform our coaching cycles, and it also creates opportunities for immediate learning and feedback. The teachers get to see me piggyback off something they’re doing, add something to their instruction, or pivot to respond to student misconceptions. In other words, I can step in and model a best practice or innovative strategy in a tricky moment and help the teacher see new ways to harness the potential of each situation. Working collaboratively, the teachers and I can experience what I call “quick wins” or “quick fixes,” which allow us to propel forward while those “just in time” directives enable students to keep learning.

How I Approach the Co-Teaching Process

In Georgia, we recently adopted new math standards, and the learning curve made some teachers feel unsteady giving directions, posing new questions, and pushing students’ thinking deeper. Since I have some skills under my belt, I knew I could model effective practices right in the moment so that the teachers could see and hear me working with the new standards in front of students rather than sit in a meeting and discuss hypotheticals. I decided to use this as an opportunity for co-teaching.

1. I schedule time for co-teaching sessions

I invited teachers to sign up for co-teaching sessions, and then we scheduled time to debrief. During the co-teaching sessions, I used the Lead & Assist model, where the classroom teacher led instruction and I served in an assistant role during math instruction. At a certain point, if the teacher felt stuck and I had an alternate method or idea, they turned to me to tag me in, and I took it from there until I tagged them back in! It was a dance of sorts. 

Afterward, in a short debrief, we discussed the session. I like to use a feedback protocol I used to use with my students called “Spread the N.E.W.S” where the teachers share something they NOTICED, something they ENJOYED and something they WONDERED, and we both shared something we would SUGGEST for our time moving forward. They would often ask questions about other challenging moments they had faced and how I would respond. I asked them to pick an area in which they would appreciate more collaboration. We ended with an action item or next step to keep them in the work and propel our collaboration forward.

2. I build trust to gain feedback

Observing teachers and giving real-time feedback without being intrusive or making the teacher feel uncomfortable can be challenging, so I start by investing in trust-building before arranging sessions like these. I want teachers to know I’m here to work alongside them. I’m in the trenches with them, and I just have some additional experience and tools to offer. Our relationship-building conversations in initial meetings lay the groundwork for meaningful partnerships. Rita Pierson, a renowned educator that I follow, once said, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” I feel the same way about adult learning, in addition to the word “trust.” 

After seeing thousands of students over the years, working with adults to hone their math pedagogy feels so rewarding. It’s amazing what we can achieve when we trust each other and the process as well as work cooperatively. This helps to get all of our wheels spinning together in service of driving better math outcomes for our students.