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Collaborate to Co-Teach

Updated: Mar 17, 2019

Collaborative teaching, also called co-teaching, is common in inclusion classes for students with special needs and for English learners (ELs). Models of collaborative teaching can exist in more classrooms in many forms as an education strategy. In Interactions: Collaboration Skills for School Professionals, co-teaching is designed to meet the educational needs of students with diverse learning options, no matter their academic level. Collaborative teaching offers greater teacher attention, individualized instruction, alternative teaching methods, and modeling of teamwork and shared responsibilities.

The various models of collaborative teaching include:

1. Team teaching: An example of this model might include a content-based class with a language component. An immersion class for ELs, such as history can include team teaching between the content (history) and English teacher. Both instructors are seen as equals, each one with their own focus area -content and language.

2. Station teaching: Teachers lead different aspects of a lesson, unit or project. In a science class, one teacher can facilitate a lab with a group of students, while another works on pre-lab activities. Rotating stations and responsibilities are recommended.

3. Parallel teaching: The class is divided in half, and each teacher teaches on the same topic, but in their own way or based on the needs of students per the assigned grouping. In a math class for instance, two math teachers might divide students based on their self-identified level of comprehension on the lesson; one teacher can work on foundations and differentiated instruction for students who don’t feel as comfortable with the lesson, while the other teacher works on further exploration and extension activities, still on the same topic. Again, sharing the different teaching roles is recommended.

4. Alternative teaching: In this model, one teacher teaches at large, and the other works with a small group of struggling students, students who missed a portion of instruction that need to get caught up, one-on-one instruction, or observation and data collection. In this model, paraprofessionals and classroom aids can serve as a great resource for student support as well.

There’s no one magic or perfect model, and there are advantages and challenges with them all. Teachers can choose and adapt the models that might work best for their student population. Today’s classrooms are faced with many needs including inclusion, evidence-based instruction, accountability, scaffolding, and continuous assessments and improvement. Meeting these various requirements can feel daunting, but it can be a collaborative process.

No matter what approach you choose to take for co-teaching, it’s important to reflect on the experience, including what went well, areas of needed improvement, and personal challenges and growth opportunities. The reflective process can lead to improved teaching, interaction and collaboration. Knowing when you are at your best can help to inspire others.

Below are a few tips for collaborative teaching:

1. Speak to an administrator about areas of support co-teaching can provide, and offer updates on the visible impacts this is having on students.

2. Discuss planning times and options with co-teacher(s). This might include a collaborative document and weekly face-to-face meetings given scheduling conflicts if planning periods do not coincide.

3. Discuss shared responsibility and shared control. Focus on the students and their needs, and not tenure or hierarchy. Frame the discussion around what the students’ needs are, the learning objectives, and how all teachers can play an equally important role.

4. Devise a plan for classroom management, differing teaching styles, and other philosophies where there may be disagreement. Encourage everyone to bring their full selves to the classroom, and always place students at the center of learning.

5. Decide on appropriate steps and action when disagreements and conflicts surface. It’s important to have a plan in place that can be revisited and enacted.

6. Reflect daily on yourself and your own teaching practice. Celebrate any accomplishments from the day, no matter how small. Gently embrace the setbacks. Focus on positive outcomes and how you/your co-teacher achieved them, knowing it may require daily renegotiation or revisions.

Tell us about your experiences with collaborative teaching. What challenges did you face? How did you overcome them? What advantages did you perceive from the process?

If you’re interested in collaborating to co-teach, contact Transform·Ed for more information or coaching offerings at

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