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Co-Teaching Tips

EducationWorld is committed to bringing educators the practical tools they need to make good decisions, engage in effective leadership and implement strategies that work. To further this commitment, we have formed a content partnership with Stenhouse Publishers. EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts as part of this collaboration. Check back frequently as we feature additional excerpts from Stenhouse titles.

The following excerpt comes from From Literature Circles to Blogs: Activities for engaging professional learning communities, by Susan Church and Margaret Swain (Stenhouse Publishers, 2009). The book retails for $21 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.

Co-teaching is often a natural extension of strong professional learning communities. This excerpt outlines three effective co-teaching models and important questions to consider when planning productive partnerships. Read two more excerpts from this book: Building Trust in Collaborative Learning Groups and Better Book Study Groups.

Any teacher who has had the experience of teaching with another colleague knows that it can be a source of great mutual support, shared expertise, and positive energy. Research shows that co-teaching leads to a more positive work climate, increased teacher job satisfaction, improved communication with parents/guardians, and enhanced student achievement. Co-teaching can also be a teacher’s worst nightmare if partners are not well matched or if insufficient attention has been paid to the details of how the teaming will work. With a team larger than two, there is an even greater need for clear parameters.

When co-teaching evolves as a result of the ongoing interactions of a professional learning community, it is likely that team members will have worked together long enough to have a strong basis from which to develop well-functioning co-teaching arrangements. This type of collaboration moves the work of the professional learning community directly into the classroom and has the potential to exert a powerful impact on school culture and on student learning.

There are a number of effective co-teaching models, including the following:

About Stenhouse Publishers

Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.

  • Two or more teachers in the classroom share the instructional tasks.
    One teacher might lead a brief mini-lesson while the other develops a concept map of the content on the board or on chart paper. As students work in small groups, one teacher might provide direct instruction to students who need extra support while the other circulates and interacts with the other groups.
  • Two or more teachers teach subgroups of a larger class.
    This is a variation on the first arrangement. It differs in that the teachers plan together and they may bring the students together for large group activities such as presentations or demonstrations, but each teacher assumes responsibility for a different group of students.
  • Team members plan together but each member teaches specialized skills to the whole group.
    This model is sometimes used when several classes of students are taking the same subject and teachers can take advantage of their areas of expertise by having each one teach a portion of the curriculum to all the classes. Note, however, that this model can lead to a fragmented curriculum and discontinuity for the students if teachers do not plan carefully and communicate well with each other. When teachers work across disciplines, this kind of teaming can highlight for students the interrelationships between subjects, for example, math and science or social studies and English language arts.

Co-teaching requires teachers to relinquish sole ownership of their classrooms, to share responsibility for students, and to change their teaching practices. Teachers who would like to work together need to discuss and make decisions about teaching philosophy and style; working relationships; curriculum, instruction, and assessment; classroom organization and management; the physical environment; communication with administration and parents/guardians; and relationships with students. The outline below provides a framework for working through the discussion and decision making required for effective co-teaching.

Planning for Co-teaching: Questions to Consider

Teaching Philosophy and Style

  • How does each one of us view our roles as teachers?
  • What does each of us believe about learning?
  • What strengths does each of us bring? What would each of us like to do better?
  • What does each of us like best about teaching? What is most frustrating or difficult?
  • How does each of us prefer to plan?

Working Relationships

  • What out-of-school factors (e.g., child care, course work, other family issues, etc.) might influence schedules?
  • What commitment to work outside of school hours will we make?
  • What do we have in common? How do we differ from each other?
  • How often and when will we meet to plan?
  • How will we resolve differences of opinion?

Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

  • What format for curricular planning will we use?
  • What teaching strategies will we use?
  • What will each of us teach? What will we do jointly?
  • What resources will we use?
  • What forms of assessment will we use?
  • How will we keep records of students’ progress?

Sharing the Teaching Load

When teachers contemplate moving from their customary, and often comfortable, individual work patterns toward collaborative teaching, they often express concerns about having to spend more time in planning and preparation as a result of working with peers compared to when they worked in isolation. In reality, there are always challenges in finding time to meet on a regular basis. Also, as teachers learn to work together, there can be growing pains related to reconciling different perspectives and teaching styles. With experience, however, collaborative work groups can become very efficient in how they use time and in how creatively they channel their diverse knowledge, skills, and interests to the benefit of everyone. Collaboration can result in a lightening of the teaching load for individual teachers as they share responsibilities across the group. Moreover, the energy, enthusiasm, and synergy that result from collective efforts can help teachers remain engaged and excited about teaching.

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