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6 Tips for Collaborating with General Education Teachers

One of the major players in the education of students with disabilities are general education teachers.  General education teachers bring a lot to the table as far as knowledge around grade level curriculum and content.  Because of this, it is important that special education teachers utilize their knowledge and skills to support our students.


Barriers to collaboration can often include differing philosophies around special education, misunderstandings around roles and responsibilities, personality conflicts, a lack of communication, and an unwillingness to compromise.  Below are some of the strategies that I have utilized in the past that have resulted in a more positive collaboration between general and special educators:


1. Initiate Contact Early

At the beginning of each school year, it is important that you initiate contact with all of the general education teachers that you work with during your first week back. This will most likely occur organically through the activities and meetings that your school has scheduled, but you will want to make additional time to meet with the general education teachers of the students that you case manage or instruct.


If you are self-contained, it is still important that you establish a collaborative relationship with the general education teachers for the grades and contents that you teach. They will be a valuable resource in the future when you are trying to balance multiple subject areas and grade levels. The same would go for a resource teacher who services students across many grade levels and contents.

 2. Plan for Recurring Meetings

During this initial meeting, you should plan for a recurring collaborative meetings. Most schools have collaborative planning and team meeting times outlined in the master schedule. However, many time there are school and district level requirements that need to be met during these meetings. Because if this it is important to have additional time to really go deep into a discussion around student needs, IEPs, and lesson planning.


3. Be Ready to Learn

Even if you are a special education teacher who is dually certified (i.e. hold special education certification in addition to a content area, such as math), you probably do not have the depth of content knowledge that your general education counterpart does.


Many times general education teachers have been able to focus on fewer courses, grade level, etc. as opposed to special education teachers who balance multiple grade levels, course, etc. in addition to balancing case management duties. Because of this, you should be ready to learn from the general education teacher and gain a deeper understanding around the content during your meetings.


Even if the general education teacher that you are working with is new, they still may bring a different perspective or new ideas to the content that you share. By having this knowledge, you are then able to think through how to make the general curriculum accessible for all of your students.


4. Be Ready to Teach

You should also be ready to go into these meetings ready to share your knowledge and skills. As a special educator, you have deeper insight into your students’ strengths and weaknesses and a greater understanding around the IEP.


This is the time to share this knowledge, so that your students are successful when they are being instructed by this general education teacher. Even if you are a self-contained teacher, the strategies and modifications that you develop for your students, could also be incorporated by the general education who has students in their class who are struggling with the content.


5. Take Notes

Many districts may require you to keep notes from collaborative meetings for data collection purposes. Even if this is not a requirement within your district, I strongly encourage you to take good notes of what was discussed during your collaborative meetings.


This not only reminds you of the things that you discussed and any actions that you planned to take, but it also serves as documentation for IEP purposes, parent meetings, and meetings with administration. If the question is ever raised of whether you are collaborating in support of your students, you will have documentation readily available as support.


6. Always Keep the Student in Mind

Regardless of how positive of a collaboration that you aim for, there may be times where things get a little rocky. When this does occur, I think that is important to always keep in mind that we are working together in support of a student.


Keeping this in the forefront of my mind has helped me in navigating tense situations and in being the bigger person when it came to conflicts that have arisen from collaborative relationships. I always ask myself, “Would holding a grudge or ending this collaborative relationship impact the outcomes for the student that I am responsible for teaching?”.


When I think of it from that perspective, I know that I do not want to let my students down, so it gives me the strength to overcome personal conflicts with others who are vital to my students’ overall success.

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