Some Sanity-Saving Tips about Collaboration in the Self-Contained Classroom

As you may or may not know, planning and preparing for a self-contained classroom can be a bit much. Between phonics, grammar, comprehension, writing, vocabulary, math, science, social studies, and guided reading plans PLUS all of the manipulatives and station work you have to create, it is exhausting and will take over your life if you let it. BUT I have good news…team collaboration can restore your sanity. I joined the 1st grade team at Treadwell Elementary in 2016 and we LOVE working together. I’m going to share how we collaborate, but there are a couple of things that I feel I need to say before explaining how our team works together:


  1. You HAVE to trust your team members before you begin collaborating.
  2. You HAVE to do your share of the work or everyone will hate you.
  3. Collaborating looks different on every team in every school, every year.


The first thing my team did was create a Google Drive for our grade level (see pic below). EVERYTHING we buy or receive goes on the drive. It is organized by subject and skill. There are a million folders, but it makes sense and is easily accessible by all. Our entire grade level is on the drive as well as our ESL teacher, librarian, principal and PLC coach. They check our lesson plans right in the drive, no emailing or drop box for us!


During the 2016-2017 school year, each teacher took a subject to plan…ELA, Math, Science, and Social Studies. We uploaded the plans to the drive, including PowerPoint presentations, Smart Notebook slides, worksheets, videos, etc. Each teacher only prepared one subject (TIME SAVER), but we had access to everything and could learn each plan for ourselves. Obviously, we all want the best possible instruction for our students, but creating solid lesson plans requires time. We learned that if we focused on one area and shared, then we  had solid lesson plans for EVERY subject and still had time to have a life outside of school.


The 2017-2018 school year looks a little different because of curriculum changes. At the end of summer, we came together for math and bought a huge Smart Notebook presentation that follows the Engage NY curriculum perfectly. So now we spend our collaboration time annotating lessons in our manuals and creating manipulatives. For ELA, we still have one person writing the foundational skills plans and another writing the meaning-based plans. While one person is writing, others are offering suggestions, and looking up activities, worksheets, and videos. Science and social studies are now incorporated into the meaning-based plans.


Again, collaborating is not perfect, it requires a ton of communicating, and it looks different at every school, but it is so worth it for you and your students.


It would be a shame if I wrote this blog and didn’t give a major shout out to my mentor, Becca Bowers, and the incredible 3rd grade team at Kingsbury Elementary who taught me a lot about collaborating with your grade level. As they helped me and my team, I hope that you and your team can gain some tidbits of inspiration and some sanity-saving tips.

– Kristen Shoulders