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Reflections on Co-Teaching & Universal Design for Learning: Insights from Educators at Juniata Park Academy


Our Innovageous team has had the honor of working closely with teachers from JPA this year  who are committed to enhancing their inclusive practice through co-teaching and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Throughout the year, these educators have engaged in professional development, implemented new strategies, and been provided opportunities for teacher leadership roles in guiding their grade teams during PLCs. During our final meeting of the year, teachers embraced a collaborative mindset and engaged in a ‘show and tell’ of actions and ideas of how they have embraced and seen success with co-teaching and UDL.


Below are their insights and promising practices across six key areas: building strong relationships with co-teachers, using flexible strategies for co-planning with limited time, optimizing choice and autonomy in assignments, creating a strong physical environment for students, using visual aids for learning, and implementing personalized learning.


1. Building Strong Relationships with Your Co-Teacher

  • Trust & Respect: The foundation of a successful co-teaching relationship is mutual trust and respect. Teachers emphasized the importance of open communication and honesty. They aim to share their teaching philosophies and expectations up front, while being flexible and responsive to one another. Transparency in their communication helps build a solid partnership where both teachers feel valued and understood.

  • Shared Vision: Developing a shared vision for the classroom is crucial. Teachers spend time discussing their goals for the students and how they can achieve them together. This collaborative approach ensures that both teachers are aligned in their objectives and methods.

  • Regular Check-Ins: Consistent, formal and  informal check-ins help maintain a positive dynamic. Teachers set aside time during lunch, prep, at the first moments of class, or on their drive home to debrief and address any immediate concerns so that communication lines are open and allow for quick adjustments.


2. Flexible Strategies for Co-Planning with Limited Time

  • Efficient Use of Technology: Leveraging technology can make co-planning more efficient. Teachers shared digital tools like Google Docs. They create collaborative lesson plans and track our progress online through commenting and shared planning. This approach allows them to plan asynchronously and still stay coordinated.

  • Focused Meetings: When time is limited, focused planning meetings are essential. Teachers prioritize our discussions by tackling the most critical aspects of the lessons that need the most planning. This helps make the most of their time together and ensures that key elements are covered even in short periods of time. 

  • Divide & Conquer: Dividing tasks based on each teacher's strengths can streamline the planning process. Teachers split up the workload, with one teacher focusing on content creation and the other handling logistics. This division of labor ensures that both teachers can work more efficiently and effectively.


3. Optimizing Choice in Assignments

  • Variety of Formats: Providing students with options in how they complete assignments can enhance engagement. Teachers offer various formats, such as essays, videos, and creative projects. This allows students to choose the method that best suits their strengths and interests, while ensuring that they are able to demonstrate the targeted skills and knowledge. .

  • Scaffolded Choices: Offering scaffolded choices can support all learners. Teachers provide a range of options from simple to complex, ensuring that every student can find an entry point. Supportive resources such as anchor charts, sentence starters, and graphic organizers ensure everyone has the tools to succeed with different skill levels and learning styles.

  • Student Input: Incorporating student input in assignment design can boost ownership. Teachers ask students for their ideas on how they want to demonstrate their learning. This practice not only increases engagement but also empowers students to take control of their own learning. 


4. Creating Strong Physical Environments for Students

  • Flexible Seating: A flexible classroom setup can cater to diverse learning needs. Teachers implement various seating options, including floor desks, bean bags, and traditional chairs. Students can choose where they feel most comfortable and focused to learn.

  • Organized Spaces: Maintaining an organized classroom helps create an accessible environment. Teachers ensure that materials and resources are clearly labeled and within easy reach. This organization supports independence and accessibility for all students. 

  • Inclusive Design: Designing the classroom to be inclusive of all students is key. Teachers consider the needs of students when arranging the space, and pay specific attention to how the 5 senses are reflected in the design.  


5. Using Visual Aids

  • Interactive Displays: Utilizing interactive displays can enhance learning. Teachers use smart boards and digital presentations to make lessons more engaging. Visual aides on the walls promote further learning and understanding of concepts being taught. 

  • Anchor Charts: Creating anchor charts can provide ongoing support as a 2nd teacher. Teachers use anchor charts to highlight key concepts and strategies.  These charts serve as visual reminders that students can refer to throughout the lesson.

  • Graphic Organizers: Incorporating graphic organizers helps students structure their thinking. Teachers use Venn diagrams, mind maps, and flowcharts to help students organize their ideas.


6. Using Personalized Learning

  • Individual Learning Pathways: Developing individual learning pathways within personalized learning systems can address specific student needs. Teachers implement pathways based on each student's strengths, interests, and areas for growth. This personalized approach ensures that all students work on specific skills that are specific to their needs. 

  • Student-Driven Goals: Encouraging students to set their own learning goals can increase motivation. Teachers work with students to establish personal learning objectives and track their progress. This fosters a sense of ownership and accountability.


Collaboration with colleagues, such as the co-planning and co-teaching implemented by JPA teachers, is essential for Innovageous Schools that are human-centered and community focused. As a result of our work with JPA, we developed resources for Co-Teaching Models, as well as Co-Teaching Roles, that we are excited to share. 


The reflections of these teachers highlight the transformative actions and impact of co-teaching and Universal Design for Learning. By building strong relationships, employing flexible planning strategies, offering choice in assignments, creating inclusive environments, using visual aids, and implementing personalized learning, educators can create dynamic and supportive classrooms. As we continue to embrace these best practices, we move closer to ensuring that every student has the opportunity to thrive. 


Let’s keep sharing our experiences and learning from one another to further enrich our educational landscape! Interested in developing customized resources and implementing inclusive practices at your school? Schedule a time to chat with our Innovageous team at calendly.com/innovageous. 



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