“Co-teaching is not a teaching assignment – co-teaching is a teaching experience.”
– Elizabeth Stein, Elevating Co-Teaching Through UDL
Co-teaching is the practice of pairing teachers together in a classroom to share the responsibilities of planning, instructing, and assessing students. In a co-teaching setting, the teachers are considered equally responsible and accountable for the classroom. Co-teaching is often implemented with general and special education teachers paired together as part of an initiative to create a more inclusive classroom.
Inclusion is “a belief system that embraces the reality that diverse individuals are included within a positive learning environment.” (Stein, 2016, p. 8) The movement towards inclusion has its roots in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law providing rights and protections for students with disabilities and ensures that students with disabilities have access to a free and public education (FAPE) in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE) to “the maximum extent that is appropriate” (Lee, n.d.; Morin, n.d.). An inclusion classroom is often chosen as the least restrictive environment since it allows students with special education needs to receive the support they require as part of their Individualized Education Program (IEP), build a stronger social connection with their peers, and benefit from the curriculum of the general education class.
Follow author and educator Katie Novak’s new blog series on her website here to learn more about the history of inclusive classrooms and education policy.
As you may have guessed, having two teachers leading a classroom opens up many opportunities for students as well as the teachers. Some of the benefits of co-teaching in an inclusion classroom include (Ferguson, Desjarlais, & Meyer, 2000):
- More opportunities for one on one interaction between students and teachers, leading to stronger relationships.
- Students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum as required by law, which includes the classroom community and activities they otherwise wouldn’t take part in.
- Students still have opportunities for specialized instruction when needed.
- All students can benefit from the additional supports, resources, and diversity in the classroom.
- Increased independence for students with disabilities.
- Stronger, more creative, lessons due to teachers sharing the planning process with each other.
- Teachers are able to support one another by complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses, building camaraderie and dividing the work load in the classroom.
How do co-teachers work together?
A co-teaching partnership can be put into practice using a variety of methods. Co-teaching is typically implemented using one of the following six models (Cook & Cook, 2004):
One Teach, One Observe
In this model, one teacher instructs while the other observes students to identify issues and assess their performance. This method allows the observing teacher to provide feedback on which content and activities are most effective for students, allowing the co-teaching pair to continually improve their practice and best meet the needs of all students in their classroom.
One Teach, One Drift
This approach is similar to the ‘One Teaches, One Observes’ model, but while one teacher is instructing the classroom, the second teacher provides additional assistance and support to students as needed.
With station teaching, the lesson is divided into segments as the teachers each instruct part of the lesson at independent stations or rotate between groups of students. This allows teachers to provide specialized support when delivering content in areas they may have more expertise in, or if their style better fits a certain part of a lesson.
In the parallel teaching model, the teachers divide the class into two groups and they instruct each group with the same content simultaneously. In this arrangement, the smaller groups allow closer supervision and more opportunities for interaction between the students and teacher.
In this method, one teacher handles a larger group, while the other teaches a small group who need specialized attention and additional supports.
Team teaching requires the strongest partnership, but can be one of the most fulfilling methods of co-teaching. With team teaching, the co-teachers share responsibility and deliver instruction at the same time as a “tag team”.
Implementing Co-Teaching Models
A co-teaching pair doesn’t necessarily use the same teaching model every day. The method chosen by the teachers is determined by their individual teaching styles, the unique needs of the classroom, and the lesson being taught. When the co-teachers are prepared to use various models and are comfortable sharing their classroom as equals, the experience for students can be seamless and effective.
Of course, there is an adjustment period for new co-teachers, and the teachers must be dedicated to making their partnership work. Co-teachers must manage varying levels of preparation for each model, differences in their knowledge and teaching styles, and the individual needs of students. In a future blog post, we’ll review methods for co-teachers to improve their partnership and resolve conflicts that preventing them from providing the most effective instruction in their classroom.
This post is the first in a series on co-teaching concepts, addressing issues in a co-teaching partnership, and applying Universal Design for Learning in a co-teaching setting. To learn how to successfully build and sustain a co-teaching partnership, check out our recently released handbook Elevating Co-Teaching Through UDL by Elizabeth Stein, or click here to subscribe to our mailing list for updates on future blog posts, webinars, and book releases!
Additional Co-Teaching resources:
You can find some additional resources with advice and background on co-teaching concepts at the following websites:
- Two Teachers In The Room blog by Elizabeth Stein
- Need to Know: Successful Co-Teaching, by Wendy Murawski, Ph.D.
- Collaborative Team Teaching: What You Need to Know, by Amanda Morin
- 6 Steps to Successful Co-Teaching, by Natalie Marston
- Collaborative Team Teaching: Challenges and Rewards, by Marisa Kaplan
Cook, L., & Friend, M. (2004, April 29). Co-Teaching: Principles, Practices, and Pragmatics. Participants Guide. Paper presented at New Mexico Public Education Department Quarterly Special Education Meeting, Albuquerque. Santa Fe, NM: New Mexico Public Education Department.
Ferguson, D., Desjarlais, A., & Meyer, G. (2000). Improving Education: The Promise of Inclusive Schooling [Brochure]. Newton, MA: National Institute for Urban School Improvement.
Lee, A. (n.d.). How IDEA Protects You and Your Child [Web log post]. Retrieved from Understood.org (accessed March 8, 2017).
Morin, A. (n.d.). Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): What You Need to Know [Web log post]. Retrieved from Understood.org (accessed March 8, 2017).
Stein, E. (2016). Elevating Co-Teaching Through UDL. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.