Tips for Building Successful Partnerships Between Special Education and Mainstream Teachers

By Benjamin Farrey-Latz, author of I Can Learn Social Skills! Poems About Getting Along, Being a Good Friend, and Growing Up, and Amara Danielson

Tips for Building Successful Partnerships Between Special Education and Mainstream TeachersTeachers work with many individuals to support their students. Special education teachers and general education or mainstream teachers often share students throughout the day. A strong relationship between special and general education teachers is essential to helping students succeed.

We are special education teacher Benjamin Farrey-Latz and fifth-grade teacher Amara Danielson. We have had a great working relationship and have compiled a list of tips for a successful partnership between a special ed. and a general ed. teacher.

Meetings

  • Before school starts, meet together so the special education teacher can give advice and instruction on how the general education teacher can support the student(s). Discuss IEP goals and objectives, adaptations and accommodations, and information on behavior plans if applicable.
  • The special education teacher should provide a copy of each student’s IEP at a Glance. This gives the other teacher information about goals, objectives, and accommodations. For general ed. teachers, it’s important to pay close attention to accommodations that apply in their settings. These may include a separate room for testing, seating near the teacher or board, short breaks during the day, and so on.
  • Discuss schedules for students together to determine the best times to pull a student out of the general education classroom for special education services. Because each teacher’s schedule can be complex, this can be a complex process, and it’s important to remember that the schedule probably won’t be perfect.
  • Throughout the year, meet for check-ins/updates—communication is key! Formal and planned meetings are best, but informal and as-needed meetings are also important. For example, an unscheduled meeting might be helpful if the student is showing changes in behavior or performance in class. Meetings are essential for problem-solving and ensuring consistency between teachers.
  • Take the time for co-planning so that instruction is relevant, connected, and fluid for your shared students.

Check-In Sheets for Students

  • These provide specific documentation and communication between adults (home and other teachers). They contain information about daily or weekly progress on goals and behaviors in each setting.
  • Check-in sheets can be fairly simple, with a box for each part of the day and a mark (such as a smiley face, a straight face, or a frown) for how the student did during that part of the day. Or they might just require a check mark or an X to show whether tasks were completed.
  • Teachers can also write short comments about specific behaviors.

Observations/Coaching

  • The special education teacher can observe the student in the general education classroom and then meet with the general ed. teacher to discuss what went well and what could go better to support the student in the mainstream classroom. This is an opportunity to look at a student’s academic, social, communication, and behavior progress in this setting.
  • The general education teacher can observe the special ed. teacher interacting with students in order to learn skills and strategies. Consider meeting afterward to discuss the strategies and how the general ed. teacher can implement them in the classroom.

Emails

  • Teachers can write emails to each other with updates on daily activities, issues that come up, and positives they want to relay (if these are not already included in check-in sheets).
  • Classroom teachers can also email special ed. teachers to share updates on parent communication. However, be careful about confidentiality. It is better to discuss personal information in person without other people around.
  • Notify each other of field trips and special events in the classroom. Teachers often forget to do this, but it is very helpful if everyone knows about trips and events.

Co-Teaching

  • Co-teaching is beneficial for student engagement, behavior management, inclusion, and providing differentiation.
  • Co-teaching encourages students to build more relationships and helps them see all teachers as their teacher. This makes sure no one is singled out.
  • Many different co-teaching models are successful! Some examples that we found beneficial are as follows:
    • One teacher leads the class while the other supports students as needed. Depending on the needs of the students, special education teachers may need to focus particularly on their students in special ed., or they may move around the room supporting all students so special ed. students don’t feel singled out. This is completely individual and based on the needs of students.
    • Each teacher takes a small group to work on the same materials or differentiated materials to give all students more support. We found this approach especially helpful when we were doing reader’s theater. Each teacher acted as the “director” of a different play, and at the end of the week, groups performed for each other.
    • Team teaching, or taking turns lead teaching the same lesson, is also a great approach. This style of teaching is engaging for students and encourages them to see all teachers who enter the room as their teacher.
  • These models are just a few examples. Try out different models and determine which work best for you.

Friendly Relationship! 🙂

  • This provides a model for students of a positive relationship.
  • Strong communication is a key to maintaining a friendly relationship.
  • It is important to understand that things will get messed up or forgotten. For example, sometimes one teacher will forget to let the other teacher know about an upcoming event, test, or field trip. Remember that we are all busy, and most teachers are not intentionally trying to make things more difficult for one another. Forgiving and moving on is important. A mistake may even help you put a plan in place to make sure similar issues don’t happen again. A shared calendar can help with this.

Different personalities can make working relationships easier or harder in any field. As teachers, we can be models for our students of making working relationships strong and positive.

Benjamin Farrey-Latz is a special education teacher at Jefferson Community School (grades 2–6) in the Minneapolis School District. He has worked in education since 1996 in private, public, and charter schools as both a general and special education teacher. After working several years at the elementary level, Benjamin completed his master’s degree at the University of Minnesota. His thesis focused on methods of teaching social skills to children with special needs. He is the author of I Can Learn Social Skills! Poems About Getting Along, Being a Good Friend, and Growing Up.

Amara Danielson Amara Danielson has been teaching since 2015. She taught in Minneapolis at Jefferson Community School (fifth grade) for three years and recently made a transition to the Des Moines Public School District. She enjoys working with upper elementary students and hopes to start a master’s program at Drake University for culturally relevant teaching and leadership this winter.

 

I Can Learn Social Skills! Benjamin is the author of I Can Learn Social Skills! Poems About Getting Along, Being a Good Friend, and Growing Up.


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