Whether you are new to co-teaching or have a few years under your belt, it’s a good idea to think about how you can make the most out of your co-teaching partnership.
Often co-teachers consist of a general educator and a special educator or other licensed professional in an inclusive classroom. This method is particularly effective when students have a variety of instructional needs, including students who are English language learners and students with disabilities. Other times, co-teachers bring different subject-area expertises to their shared classroom, like English and history, for example.
Here are five tips for making your coteaching partnership the best it can be:
Both teachers in a co-teaching relationship need to be able to trust each other, even if they have different teaching philosophies or backgrounds. It helps for co-teachers to have a relationship outside of the classroom so there is a strong foundation to build on.
Get to know each other’s strengths so you can lean on each other and make the most of your partnership. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that both teachers are there to support the students.
Start Strong with How You Present Yourselves to Students
Present yourselves to students and parents as equals from the moment you’re given your class list. Create a united front by using “we” instead of “I” and putting both teachers’ names on all class materials. Ariel Sacks, a co-teacher and NEA member from New York, said that as a lead teacher she makes a conscious effort to create openings for her supporting teacher to join class conversations. She said planning out loud or inviting your co-teacher into the conversation shows that both teachers have decision making power and demonstrates the strength of the partnership.
Planning time is crucial to a successful co-teaching relationship. Expect to meet with your co-teacher for at least one hour per week to make sure you are on the same page about curriculum and student progress. The more planning time you share with your co-teacher, the better.
If you don’t have a lot of common planning time, try using technology to communicate. Sacks suggests creating a shared, online working document for each unit or school year. When it’s not possible to plan with your co-teacher before handing out an assignment, make sure both teachers have access to the handout online, she adds. This will give your partner an opportunity to come up with and share modifications and tools.
Melissa Eddington, a co-teacher and NEA member from Ohio, suggests that if there’s no planning time built into the schedule, co-teachers can eat lunch together to talk through how things are going and plan for upcoming class meetings. Eddington and her co-teacher Jennifer Wolf also write notes to each other on a shared Google document.
Think About Which Co-Teaching Model to Use
There are several co-teaching models for planning and delivering instruction. In one, a lead teacher works with a supporting teacher. Alternately, both teachers may take on similar roles and responsibilities.
Don’t feel like you need to limit yourself to one configuration. Using a variety of models can help you achieve your lesson objectives and meet your students’ needs. Think about the purpose of each lesson and how much planning time you have. On days when you don’t have much time to co-plan, it may make sense to have one lead teacher and another supporting individual students.
When you have another adult in the room, teaching with you, it’s important to be flexible. Your co-teacher may have a different style or philosophy. Do your best to compromise and roll with the punches. Pay attention to what the students need and adjust as you go along.
“You can’t take yourself so seriously that you get upset when the lesson crashes and burns,” Wolf said. “Be able to roll with it.”
When co-teaching is done right, it enables every student to receive more attention, especially those who need it to meet their learning goals and succeed in an inclusion setting. It benefits students and teachers alike, she adds.