Now that we’ve established a basic understanding of collaboration in the previous articles (what is collaboration and the Collaboration Continuum) we’ll now move into the good stuff: the strategies. In this article, we’ll learn more about informal co-planning and how to make the most of out the shortest meetings.

Informal Co-Planning - creating a positive relationship for teacher collaboration, ELL strategies

Sometimes, teachers just need a little reminder, a small nudge, an affirmation, or a quick check-in on their work with ELs.   Maybe there are only a few ELs in the class (only 1-3 students), and they have a strong command of social language with improving mastery of academic English. All the collaboration they really need is a short, informal meeting. And that’s the definition of Informal Co-Planning: brief, collaborative planning that requires minimal time.

Two particular phrases can help remind you to establish a positive relationship when collaborating. Instead of saying “yes” or “no”, say “yes, and” or “what if.”

Informal Co-Planning: A “Yes, And” Philosophy

Many acting students are taught an improvisation strategy known as “yes, and”. Every time one person suggests something in the story, the other person has to say “yes, and” and continue the story. You’re not allowed to shoot ideas down – just go with the flow. You can use this “yes, and” technique while co-planning with teachers to help develop a positive relationship.

Our role is to expand ideas during co-planning.Twitter

When a content teacher makes a suggestion during co-planning, instead of rejecting the idea, frame your response in a positive way that adds to instead of subtracts from their ideas.  By using an additive approach to collaboration, we find ways to support what’s happening instead of dismissing current practices.

Case Study: 6th Grade Math

I don’t have a formal planning schedule with Ms. E, the 6th grade math teacher. However, she has a high awareness of ELs’ needs, so she sometimes seeks to informally co-plan.

One day, Ms. E and I were walking towards our classes when she asked me about scaffolding word problems.  ELs often find them challenging because word problems require close-reading.  Ms. E wanted to use images for each math problem.  I thought this was a great idea and recommended using the “One data point per sentence” strategy along with each image.

I explained that word problems are written in highly complex language because they condense several data points into each sentence.   This 8th grade math problem  from Analyze Math below shows the difficulties clearly:

In a group of 120 people, 90 have an age of more 30 years, and the others have an age of less than 20 years. If a person is selected at random from this group, what is the probability the person’s age is less than 20?

I explained that if Ms. Ellie restructured the word problem so that only one data point was given per sentence, ELs would have a greater chance of understanding the word problem.  For example:

  • There’s a group of 120 people.
  • Ninety people are older than 30 years old.  
  • The rest of the group are younger than 20 years old.  
  • Pick a person randomly from this group.
  • What is the probability that this person’s age is less than 20?

This anecdote demonstrates how the yes, and” philosophy can be used to provide a quick suggestion that adds to a teacher’s already sound instructional practice.  Since I could tell that Ms. Ellie didn’t want to schedule a time to meet, I was able to select the kind of support that matched her need.  Our interaction not only gave Ms. Ellie a concrete, easily-implemented strategy, it also helped establish a positive rapport between me and Ms. Ellie.  She knows that she can come seek support anytime it’s needed and that when she asks for suggestions, she’ll be received with respect.

Informal Co-Planning: A “What If…” Philosophy

You can’t always use “yes, and” in every situation. Sometimes, you do have to say “No,” but how you say it can make a big difference.

In the past, when I disagreed with a content teacher’s approach, I used to have a “but, no” and “you should” philosophy when providing suggestion. Not surprisingly, this made collaboration about as pleasant as hugging a porcupine.

Thankfully, during the #coteachchat on Twitter hosted by EL-guru, Andrea Honigsfeld, she suggested using the “What if…” philosophy instead of saying “No.” This sentence starter builds rapport because it’s an additive model of co-planning.  Instead of outright rejecting a contribution from the content teacher, ELTs can provide alternative suggestions that are more EL-friendly.

There are times during co-planning when I’m fighting back a cringe upon hearing a suggestion from a content teacher like “Just let the ELs copy the definitions from the Powerpoint.”  In these moments of internal anguish and restraint, I hide my burning desire to scream “but, no” within the “What if…” philosophy because it offers an alternative approach without destroying the professional relationship.

Case Study: Secondary School Science

I wrote about the experience of disagreeing with another teacher’s approach in an earlier post entitled ”Talk, Read, Talk, Write: Creating a Language-Rich Classroom”.   I described how a well-intended science teacher wanted to lecture students for the majority of a 90-minutes period to deliver content.  And I had to decide on the best approach to package my advice without offending him.  

I’m not sure if I used “What if…” to frame my suggestion, but I did link to Nancy Motley’s Talk, Read, Talk Write (TRTW) approach in an email.  When there was a break in our co-teaching that morning, he said that he received my email but hadn’t looked into it in detail.  After I briefly described the TRTW approach to him, he expressed interest in planning a lesson using this model during our next co-planning session.

Talk-read-talk-right diagram - how to differentiate structure based on EL level

I felt like we had just made some real gains in our working relationship because of his receptivity to this suggestion.  That willingness only came about, however, due to the What if…” philosophy.  Instead of belittling his ineffective instructional practice, I simply avoided making a value judgment about it and offered an alternative.


I have found that Informal Co-planning – though quick and less substantial – is often the seed that grows into more extensive collaboration on future projects.  It can help you realize too that every collaborative experience is a chance to tend and grow your professional relationships.  
Some interactions open the door for more dynamic co-planning with content teachers, while other exchanges cause the flooring to crack and crumble beneath our feet. But Yes, and” and What if…” are the guardrails that guide our ride no matter how long we’re on the road.

Next Post

I’ll continue to talk about the co-planning side of the Collaboration Continuum in more depth in next week’s blog.  I’ll be skipping the post on One-Off Collaboration, though, because I wrote about it in an article entitled, One-Off Collaboration: How To Win Friends and Collaborate with Content Teachers”.

Instead, I’ll be focusing on Temporary Collaboration and will share an example to demonstrate how to best use it.

Have you been able to turn around difficult or negative co-planning experiences using philosophies like these? I’d love to hear your strategies in the comments!