Implementing Co-teaching

How does co-teaching play out in the classroom? To the unfamiliar eye, co-taught lessons may look complicated with more than one teacher or activity going on at once or may appear as if one teacher is not pulling an equal weight. But to those who know what to look for, co-teaching is a smooth and flexible way for professionals to interface. In the best co-teaching classrooms, the daily lessons and activities flow much like a choreographed dance.

At the start of a co-teaching situation, the instructional partners need to exchange their views about classroom set-up, management, instructional styles, and information sharing. Early and regular communication can reduce “partner stress” and allow co-teaching to appear seamless to the students. With experience and familiarity, co-teachers often learn to anticipate how best to integrate themselves into each lesson and how to spread their attention across the students in order to differentiate support. Using a planning routine (pdf) helps co-teachers to develop and implement impactful lessons.

Respect, Collaboration & Communication

Co-teaching takes Respect, Collaboration and Communication in order to be effective. When implementing co-teaching, there should also be

  • Mutual recognition of each teacher's curriculum/instructional knowledge
  • Shared goals and responsibilities
  • Common planning (even a planning protocol (pdf))
  • Discussion and agreement on management
  • Willingness to share authority
  • Role shifts

(For detailed strategies and tips, visit Strategies for Co-teaching.)

Shifting Roles

Effective co-teachers both know the role they will play during lessons, periodically check in with each other, and move in and out of different teaching tasks, including leadership tasks, throughout the day. In the following video, a teacher, an instructional aid, and a student teacher are involved in station teaching. When it is time to make a transition, one of the co-teachers assumes leadership and directs the flow of the classroom.

Shifting Formats

Effective co-teachers will sometimes switch from one co-teaching format to another within the same lesson. An example of this is seen in the following video clip of an economics lesson in a high school social studies class. At first, one teacher supports the class by writing notes on the white board while the other co-teacher (a student teacher) directs the lesson. Later in the lesson, the co-teachers move into team teaching by sharing instruction in order to further student understanding of the concepts.