co-teaching Defined

The general definition of co-teaching involves two equally-qualified individuals who may or may not have the same area of expertise jointly delivering instruction to a group of students. A common example of co-teaching today is played out in many inclusion classrooms where a General Education teacher and a Special Education teacher share responsibility for classroom management and instruction. Given this definition and example,it is reasonable to question how this type of instructional delivery can apply to an experienced licensed teacher and a novice student teacher. The key is to positively reframe the concept of co-teaching as the involvement of two trained individuals jointly working with a group of students in a common space toward shared goals. Under this latter description, there is no longer a focus on "equally qualified," and even though cooperating teachers must by virtue of the role take leadership, co-teaching can enhance the effectiveness and the efficiency of the instructional delivery for the entire class.

For an instructional arrangement to be considered a co-teaching format, both partners must participate fully in the instruction. Full participation does not mean doing the same thing all the time: it does mean that each "teacher's" role is coordinated to contribute to the effectiveness of the lesson. When co-teaching with a student teacher, however, the student teacher is still there to learn from the cooperating teacher, keeping in mind that student teachers are trained and have something to offer throughout the placement. The challenge is to balance the roles of the co-teachers in a way that enhances the student teacher's professional readiness.

A word of caution

As a result of NCLB, IDEA (2004), and RTI, co-teaching is one of the fastest growing inclusive teaching practices, but despite the increase in co-teaching in our schools, it is an option that is often poorly implemented. For instance, we often see classrooms with one teacher playing a very diminished role that can lead to issues of authority and "ownership" often confusing students in the class. To prevent this, lessons using a co-teaching delivery system must be carefully planned and executed with both teachers defining and establishing their supporting responsibilities for the students. When applied to working with a student teacher, co-teaching is an approach to developing a shared professional space that allows the pre-service teacher to practice teaching skills throughout the placement.

Implementing co-teaching with student teachers

Co-teaching is being discussed and implemented in an increasing number of pre-service field placements as a way to:

  • Enhance instructional support for children in the classroom
  • Maximize the time the student teacher spends in the clinical setting
  • Energize classroom teachers through supportive adult relationships with their co-teaching student teachers
  • Increase adult attention to students; co-taught lessons can reduce the teacher-to-student ratio
  • Heighten teachers' awareness of instructional strategies and their impact through ongoing conversations about planning and lesson implementation.


Factors that influence co-teaching success:

  • Dispositions that lead to "chemistry" between the cooperating teacher and the student teacher
  • Willingness to share and learn with and from each other
  • Compatible or complementary teaching philosophies
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Similar energy level and enthusiasm for teaching
  • Content being taught (e.g., Is the student teacher prepared to teach economics rather than American history?)
  • Length of the placement (e.g., Is there enough time to move from observation/support into a co-teaching delivery?)
  • Time during the day for partners to co-plan and co-reflect on lessons
  • Administrative support for shared planning and execution of curriculum

Students raising hands