This article was contributed by Gwen Baquiran, director of special education with the Hollister School District.
“Something very magical happens in those classrooms where skilled and caring adults who celebrate diversity are committed to truly inclusive teaching and learning.”
—A.Richardson-Gibbs and M.Klein
Ms. Kira Wiman and Mrs. Leila Clifford are experiencing this “magic” in their classroom as they started their journey in co-teaching last August. The road to inclusion through co-teaching was not an easy one especially in a virtual classroom, however like all the co-teachers in the district, they continue to persevere to break down barriers to learning.
Both teachers share how co-teaching helps them as educators, how it increases the students with disabilities’ access to the general education curriculum while providing additional support to general educations students who need extra help. According to Ms. Wiman, “Co-teaching has helped me in so many ways. Leila continues to guide me through accommodations and modifications, while walking me through what is going to be best as a scaffold for our students. I continue to learn about the best ways to look and capture data.” She also shared that co-teaching has allowed them to work in smaller groups, provide very specific instructions and reach students more often. The teachers continue to strengthen their partnership by closely working together, trusting each other and not micromanaging, and being honest with each other. Their goal is not perfection but truly working together as a team to provide what’s best for all students.
The site administrators at Ladd Lane shared that co-teaching has been a great success with their sixth graders because they are all being supported “by not only one amazing teacher but two.” Mrs. Ostoja (LL Principal) and Mrs. Mahler (LL Assistant Principal) are extremely impressed with Ms. Wiman and Mrs. Clifford’s commitment to co-teaching.
HSD strives to provide “high academic achievement for all students through purposeful strategies to improve teaching, learning and interventions” as specified in its Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). One of the action plans include building inclusive classrooms through co-teaching. Cook and Friend (1995) defined co-teaching as “two or more professionals delivering substantive instruction to a diverse, or blended, group of students.” Calaveras, Cerra Vista, HDLA, Ladd Lane, Sunnyslope, Maze and Rancho have co-teaching classes in sixth grade this school year.
To ensure that our staff and students receive meaningful guidance, support and resources, HSD partnered with Supporting Inclusive Practices (SIP). SIP is a project funded by the California Department of Education, Special Education Division to support school districts in their “commitment to moving towards a model of inclusion.” Kevin Schaefer, director of program supports, and Janelle Mercado, project coordinator, work closely with HSD. Administrators and teachers receive ongoing support like monthly workshops presented by Janelle Mercado and Mai Cruz, SPED coordinator. The support also includes a dedicated resource padlet and Google Classroom, and regular leadership meetings. Last November, Nine HSD staff members (four teachers and five administrators) also attended the SIP-sponsored workshop series on Equity by Design led by Katie Novack, leading expert on Universal Design for Learning implementation.