The school cultures of elementary and secondary school are very different, as any teacher who has taught in both settings can attest to. Numerous studies have alluded to the fractured (alternatively “balkanized” or “siloed”) nature of secondary schools; the division of subjects into departments creates a natural separation of teachers (Brady, 2008) (Firestone & Louis, 1999) (Hargreaves & Macmillan, 1995)
These characteristics of high schools suggest that collaboration both between departments and across roles in secondary schools is likely to be more difficult and to occur less frequently than in elementary schools. Considering the power of collaboration for student success, this may be a problem for students with exceptionalities. One product of collaboration, co-teaching, is often described as the most effective method of inclusive education (Friend & Cook, 2007) (Murwaski & Swanson, 2001).
Research is promising on the effectiveness of collaboration in secondary schools, especially co-teaching. Teachers who use a strategy of co-teaching have reported positive student outcomes, noting that they’ve seen “such growth for the students [with learning disabilities] … They seem to enjoy and acquire so much more with the hands-on activities, the attention they can get from each of us, and what I think of as ‘double teaching.’ If I’m teaching something a certain way, my co-teacher can explain it and show it in a different way and connect with the kids that I didn’t reach” (Cramer et al., 2010, p.67)
While co-teaching takes place between two teachers in a single classroom, Conzemius and O’Neill (2014) recommend taking a school-wide approach to collaboration, through what they call SMART school teams. They suggest moving away from informal collaboration, such as two teachers meeting over lunch to discuss a class exercise, because “a collaborative effort that is focused on more complex or long-range tasks is more likely to be successful if the collaboration is formalized or has a clearly defined structure” (Conzemius & O'Neill, 2014, p. 27)
For students identified as exceptional, these meetings would encompass the students’ entire education, rather than a single class or lesson. They are similar in style to an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) meeting or an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting, although SMART teams would meet more often during the school year.