Inclusivity and Equity in the Classroom

At the beginning of this school year, Haywood County Schools (HCS) partnered with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) to implement and execute an effective co-instruction model in order to provide equity and inclusivity for all students in the classroom.  The model is currently being used in specific classes in Pre-K through 6th grade.  The initial work was highlighted in this piece last fall. 

Last week, NIET reconvened with teachers who were teaching in co-instruction classrooms in order to hear how the model was progressing, as well as hear how students were benefiting from the model.  

NIET representative, Lydia Stevenson, met with teachers at Anderson Early Childhood Center, Haywood Elementary School, East Side Elementary School, and Sunny Hill Intermediate School to hear how co-instruction practices were supporting students.  

At the beginning of each session, teachers were given descriptions of what co-instruction is and how it can help all students.  They were asked to underline three words (or phrases) that grabbed their attention or seemed to relate to what their experience has been in a co-instruction classroom.  Some words and phrases that were listed are below:

  • Strengths, confidence, communicating
  • All, growth, collect and analyze data
  • Growing, confident, comfortable
  • Grow, confidence, engagement
  • Bonds, plan, succeed
  • Strength, individualize, intentional
  • Enhance, supported, all students
  • Student ownership, engagement, growing
  • Long term goals, relationships, planning
  • teacher, concentrate, involved
  • Positive, strengthen, believe
  • Planning, engage, culture
  • Correcting, monitoring, bonded
  • Beneficial, support, peers, individualized
  • Share the load, trust, accountable

Teachers at Haywood Elementary School have seen how co-instruction offers several options of instruction while providing total learning inclusivity among all of their students.  

“I like seeing all the different models of co-teaching.  My co-teacher and I feed off each other really well.  It really helps to have a fully inclusive classroom.  There’s no difference in students or their access to high quality instruction,” said Susan Evans.  

Lizzie Cook credits co-instruction with her students’ willingness to engage in partner work with their classmates because they see their teachers working in tandem.

“Students see the relationship that we have as instructors in the classroom and it encourages them to partner with their peers and help their peers, too.  They feel comfortable in owning their individual learning and comfortable enough to get up and help a classmate with their learning, too,”  she said.

HES assistant principal Elizabeth Lovelace believes that co-instruction can also foster a sense of school wide equity.  

“As administrators, we want all adults to feel valued equally and not seen as just a teacher’s assistant or extra help.  We want our students to see every adult as an instructor and every adult as a teacher for every student collectively,” she said.

Teachers at Anderson Early Childhood Center have also experienced the benefits of co-instruction in their classrooms.  

“We want to provide the best instruction for each child in our classroom – individualized and effective and the absolute best instruction we can give our kids.  And this type of teaching enables us to do that,” said AECC teacher Cindy Currie.

AECC teacher Rebecca Briley echoed that thought and believes it is important for students to have various ways to learn during instruction.

“The ultimate goal for this is for the students and their growth in all areas.  A lot of our conversations focus around the students and their needs.  Through what we’re doing, a goal for us would be to teach together in a way where both adults are seen as THE teacher.  When we work together in that way, we’re able to reach ALL kids,” she said.

A common theme among all teachers is that their students receive instruction in a way that meets the individualized needs of the student.  Co-instruction allows students to learn the same information in ways that support their specific learning needs, and that is what educational equity is at its core.  

Sunny Hill co-instructor Tyrone Hines sees the advantages of co-teaching everyday in the classroom.  He understands the importance of the support that each teacher lends the other.

“We both carry the load in the classroom.  She may teach; I may assist.  I may teach; she may assist.  It’s good for the students to hear different voices and different perspectives,” he said.

In the end, co-instruction provides inclusivity and equity in the classroom; it allows for students to be able to receive instruction in the most effective way possible.  HCS Instructional Specialist Denise Pearson has seen firsthand the benefits of the co-instruction model in Haywood County.

Our classrooms are fully inclusive because of co-instruction.  All of our students are members of the classroom and not subsets,” she said.