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Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
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Lessons Learned from an Ideal Co-Teaching Situation

In the film, A Bronx Tale, the character Sonny tells his young protégé that good women, are like great fighters, they only come along every 10 years. In my experience, great co-teaching is a similarly rare phenomenon.

I had one, outstanding co-teaching situation, and it was one of the best times I have ever spent in the classroom. Within an academic year, my co-teacher and I learned to work positively and synergistically for the second-grade students in her classroom, so much so, that the school district evaluator labeled her room a “model classroom.” Reflecting on the experience, I wondered what caused this ideal co-teaching scenario—what were the “magic elements” that came together perfectly that school year. Using the National Education Association’s “Six Steps to Successful Co-Teaching” as a framework, I examined our actions and came to some revelations. I present my findings in the framework of the six steps.

1. Establish Rapport

For whatever reason, my co-teacher and I clicked right away. We were of similar age, both had children, had similar teaching philosophies and experience, and we learned quickly to trust each other. We enjoyed working together, and the students could pick up on this energy.

2. Identify Teaching Styles/Create A Cohesive Classroom

My colleague was a master of the basics. She was fantastic at setting learning objectives, modeling, guiding, providing extra support, and assessing outcomes. She planned with these components in mind naturally. On the other hand, from my years working with gifted students, I could bring creative learning to the process—help make the basic instruction even more engaging. I also could help extend lessons and provide enrichment for the many advanced and gifted children in the classroom. Our styles complimented each other.

3. Highlight Strengths/Weaknesses

While we never explicitly did this, instinctively we knew our teaching strengths and where we had to compensate. We leaned a bit on each other when we needed instructional advice and support.

4.Discuss Individual Education Plans/Regular Education Goals

We knew the needs of each student. We knew what struggling students needed to be successful. We knew which advanced students needed to be challenged. We differentiated lessons—content, processes, products—to accommodate the varied needs.

5. Formulate a Plan of Action/Act as a Unified Team

We planned together, a lot. She would draft the basic lesson, email or hand it to me, and I would go over it, looking to where we could improve, extend, and push students in a positive way with their learning. We shared resources and ideas from our past experiences as teachers. We went back over plans later to tweak them, to see what worked, and how the students responded. We approached each lesson from a unified front.

6. Take Risks and Grow

This is where we really excelled. I would suggest a non-traditional strategy (taken from gifted education best practices) and she was willing to try it with all students. For instance, we decided to let all students complete research projects and create PowerPoint presentations—not just gifted students. We also embedded Kaplan’s Depth and Complexity model into the classroom, challenging all students to think at deeper, more critical levels.

In the end, my colleague and I worked together for the betterment of the students. We trusted each other enough to allow our teaching styles and strengths to blend synergistically—to produce more together than we could alone. My advice would be to use the above steps as a guide to help you move towards the ideal co-teaching situation; who knows, maybe it happens more than every ten years.


Steve Haberlin is a graduate assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida and an educator with 10 years of experience.