When Jody Passanisi and Shara Peters first met through a mentoring program, they didn’t know that they had just met the one — their teaching life partner.
But it turned out that way.
Shara was finishing up the credentialing program at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, where Jody had also studied, when she was assigned to be Jody’s mentee. The Southern California-based pair teach middle school history.
They clicked, and for the next several years their students, schools and readers got something special out of it. They blog about their experiences sharing a classroom and even classes at http://21centuryedtech.blogspot.com and Middle Web, and tweet out their thoughts through the handle @21centuryteachr.
“We really want to convey information in a similar way,” Jody said. “We didn’t want to be the owners of the information. We wanted our students to be the seekers of knowledge.”
Those values, coupled with a strong work ethic, meant they were off and running with ideas and lessons plans.
Although they no longer co-teach, they still work together — bouncing ideas off one another, writing blog posts and leaning in to get advice and support.
The pairing has a lot of benefits for each, going well beyond the initial mentor-mentee relationship.
A Sounding Board
Having a teaching buddy allowed them to bounce ideas off of one another and brainstorm in a creative environment.
“I feel that our heads together seem to be better than separately,” Shara said.
That safe place to think together is huge, Jody said.
“I think sometimes that teachers are afraid to ask for help. But I don’t feel that way with Shara, because she knows these things I’m good at and appreciate those,” she said.
Filling in the Gaps
Even though Shara and Jody have similar values and teaching backgrounds, there are still differences. Filling those in — say including a class on outline instruction that one may have disliked — helps reach students of all learning types. It also makes for a stronger class.
In this case, Shara was the master planner while Jody was more of a generalist.
“We complemented each other so well,” Shara said.
When one was sick, the other knew her class would move forward as she would have wanted. Her students wouldn’t miss a beat.
“It was incredibly helpful,” Jody said. “I was never alone.”
Transparency and Modeling Conflict Resolution
Shara and Jody didn’t agree on everything, naturally, but they used their differences to show students there are many ways to learn. This transparency allowed the pair to model effective conflict resolution to their classes.
“Our classes used a lot of group work and collaboration,” Shara said. “We modeled that through our teaching.”
Tips for Teachers Looking to Team Up
Having someone to bounce ideas off of and help with concepts and planning can be a huge benefit. And knowing that another teacher has your back is priceless. But difficulties are bound to arise when trying to build a co-teaching relationship, whether it’s in the same building, or in another district or state.
Still, it is doable. Just keep these tips in mind:
Secure Administrative Support
Shara and Jody say they were lucky that their school supported their desire to co-teach. The district aligned their schedule so they had the same off periods and put their desks next to one another.
For teachers looking to partner with someone outside of the building, make sure administrators support the technology you’ll need — be it Skype, Twitter or Google Docs.
Recognize the Individual
As the less-experienced teacher of the two, Shara sometimes worried others didn’t see her as her own teacher with her own talents.
Make sure that administrators and peer recognize each individual teacher’s strengths. Working with someone else doesn’t mean leaning on them to do the work.
Don’t be Afraid to Fail
Shara knows she was lucky.
“I found my teaching soul mate right out of the gate,” she laughs.
Jody had worked with others and found that it took a while to find the right teacher to partner with. Even someone whose work and personality you admire may not be the right fit, and that’s OK.
“The first person you try to partner with may not be the right person,” she said. “But don’t give up.”
Even though they now live in different cities, Jody and Shara continue their partnership — through blogging and the projects they share with one another.
“It’s just great knowing she’s there,” Shara said.