Effective Co-Teaching Partnerships
*This post was originally written by Barbara Proctor, one of our previous colleagues at Stetson & Associates.
Frequently when I am working with teachers who are considering co-teaching or have been assigned to co-teach I am asked, “What does effective co-teaching look like and how do the teachers create effective partnerships?” Part of my job involves working with teachers providing technical assistance and support, providing staff development and program evaluations so I decided to begin informally collecting data from the successful partnerships I observed. And these are some of my observations. Co-teaching is like a marriage- it takes planning, work, commitment, laughter, candor, respect, truthfulness and continuous open communication. Unfortunately many teachers do not volunteer to co-teach but instead are told by their administrators the week before school that they will be co-teaching; thus the co-teaching feels more like an arranged marriage than a choice. How have teachers made these arrangements successful and beneficial for themselves and their students?
One of the first successful partnerships I observed was Paul Goodwin, a special ed teacher and his co-teaching partners at Camelot Elementary in North East ISD in San Antonio, Texas. When I observed Paul’s class I was unable to identify who was the special ed teacher or who was the general ed teacher as both teachers were involved in instruction, monitoring and working with all of the students equitably. When I asked Paul how he had nurtured such positive, respectful working relationships he replied that he had learned the general ed curriculum and volunteered to provide the instruction rather than waiting for the general ed teachers to “ask” him to do so. Because he and one of his colleagues did not have a common planning period the two of them agreed to meet before school to plan for their co-teaching period. The qualities these teachers had was a dedication to the students, a desire to help all the students in the class and were willing to “do what it takes” to help the students succeed.
Another effective co-teaching partnership I observed was at Royal Ridge Elementary in North East ISD.
Again I observed:
- both teachers involved in instruction,
- flexible grouping,
- students responding to both teachers and
- an inability to identify who the students were that were identified as requiring special education services as both teachers worked with all students and students were being successful academically and behaviorally.
I asked the teachers, Ms.Brandy Babida, the special ed teacher, and her two co-teaching fifth grade partners, Ms. Avitua and Mr. Baldizon, how they structured themselves for a successful co-teaching relationship, what the critical components of a collaborative relationship were and from the general ed teacher’s perspective what did the special ed teacher need to do and from the special ed teacher’s perspective what did the general ed teacher need to do. Here are their responses:
- They are “our” kids and we have worked hard to make this work. There has to be a willingness on both teachers’ parts to share responsibilities.
- We reflect upon what worked and what didn’t. We have open communication, trust one another, a willingness for work with each other.
- Brandy knows the content, the curriculum, what is being taught and teaching strategies. Teachers have to be brave enough to “step up”. You have to be proactive; Brandy doesn’t wait for an “invite”. She plans with us on a regular basis, sharing ideas and asking questions.
- The general ed teachers are willing to share the teaching roles and responsibilities with me. Everything we do now is collaboratively done. The teachers need to be open minded, have a similar belief system and expectations.
Additional recommendations include:
- Before the beginning of the school year share your belief system, teaching and behavior management strategies, planning style, non-negotiables. Access our Collaborative Teaching Resources page for resources to help you with these conversations (Teacher Working Style, Interpersonal Dynamics Discussion Tool, Roles and Responsibilities, etc.)
- Plan on a weekly basis- the planning time must be adhered to as good teaching doesn’t just happen- it is purposefully planned; reflect upon what went well in the lesson and why, discuss challenges and resolve ways to solve them.
- Resolve to have open candid conversation with one another; do not take comments personally. The purpose of co-teaching is to provide what is best for students; this takes frequent planning, conversations, adjustments, and trust of one another.
- Identify and clarify each other’s roles and responsibilities so you don’t duplicate efforts or assume the other person will complete the task.
- Solve issues that arise with each other privately.
- And finally have fun, be open to new strategies and ideas, enjoy the students and each other.