Most educators find traditional education models easier to implement than other education models, as it is a reliable method that has been used for a long time. Traditional education is used by many school systems and helps administrators supervise consistent teaching methods.
However, having one teacher giving instruction and managing other classroom tasks may be detrimental to children’s learning outcomes in the long run. For example, a teacher working alone may find it difficult to provide personalized attention to children and address the individual needs of children with learning challenges.
This is where the co-teaching approach comes in—to create a collaborative teaching team and build an inclusive classroom environment that benefits all children and teachers. This guide discusses the importance of co-teaching models, the strategies to implement it in your classroom, and your role in this teaching approach.
What is co-teaching?
Co-teaching typically involves two teachers partnering to plan lessons and implement instruction and assessment for the entire class. This approach is common in inclusive classrooms where one general education teacher collaborates with a special education teacher. It’s essential to identify the children’s needs to determine the co-teacher pairing. Some programs require two general education teachers, while others require a general education teacher and a specialist. Specialists may include a speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, or English language teacher.
At a glance, co-teaching might simply look like two teachers in a classroom, but it’s more than that; it’s a partnership that requires open and professional communication, shared goals, teamwork, shared responsibilities, and accountability. In addition, teachers must focus on meeting the needs of all the children in their classroom.
In the late 1960s, parents drove a movement to have their children with special needs receive regular education without facing segregation from their peers. This drive resulted in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a law that grants children with disabilities in the U.S. equal access to education. One of the fundamental principles of IDEA is the least restrictive environment (LRE), which allows children with disabilities to learn in the same classrooms as their typically developing peers to the maximum extent appropriate. Co-teaching plays a vital role here, as one common LRE scenario involves children receiving instruction in the general education classroom with support from a special education teacher.
Benefits of co-teaching
Co-teaching is beneficial for children and teachers. Let’s discuss why this teaching approach is so important.
The following are some benefits of co-teaching for children:
Exposes children to different teaching styles and methods
Children learn differently, and co-teaching provides children with the opportunity to experience different teaching styles, increasing engagement and overall childhood development.
Encourages individualized support
Co-teaching lowers the teacher-to-child ratio, increasing the time and attention each child receives from a teacher. In addition, individualized support helps meet all the children’s needs.
Reduces stigma and improves social skills
Children with special needs learn alongside their typically developing peers instead of being removed from the classroom, which can be stigmatizing. Learning in an inclusive classroom increases social skills, peer relationships, and confidence.
Models teamwork and friendship
Children observe and imitate the behavior of influential people around them. For example, when they see teachers interact and collaborate with each other, children learn how to listen, solve problems, and support others.
Provides opportunities for immediate and accurate feedback
A teacher managing a large class alone may find it challenging to give feedback beyond “good job.” Children with more face-to-face time with teachers receive specific and valuable feedback regularly.
The following are benefits of co-teaching for teachers:
Promotes professional growth
Co-teaching exposes teachers to new teaching techniques and ways to interact with children, giving them renewed energy and excitement about classroom instruction. Specialists gain insight into general classroom instruction, and both teachers learn skills like planning, accommodating new instruction ideas, communicating, and collaborating.
Lowers teacher-to-child ratio
A low teacher-to-child ratio allows teachers to closely observe children’s academic progress and behavior. As a result, the relationships between teachers and children improve, and teaching is more effective.
Increases teacher support
With co-teaching, teachers can look to each other for support in achieving their teaching goals. Teaching partnerships may also lead to valuable friendships, which can boost morale at work.
Saves instructional time
Co-teaching helps teachers save time during instruction due to fewer interruptions. For example, if one teacher needs to step out urgently or handle a behavioral issue, the other can continue the lesson.
The co-teaching strategies you implement in your classroom will depend on your children’s needs. Let’s look at the six co-teaching models educators use:
One teach, one observe
In this setting, one teacher takes the role of instructor while the other teacher inconspicuously observes the class to gather data which helps them to:
- Inform future instruction and assessments
- Address challenging behavior
- Identify which children need specific help
This model is great for collecting information for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting or observing children’s engagement with the content, their peers, and the teacher.
One teach, one assist
In this model, also known as “one teach, one support,” one teacher takes the lead role in instruction while the other teacher walks around the class assisting children and monitoring behavior. It’s best to use this model when one teacher is more experienced and familiar with a specific topic than the other and when the teachers know that the children will need close supervision and individualized support.
With “one teach, one assist,” children get real-time assistance from the assisting teacher, while the instructing teacher is allowed to move forward with the lesson with minimal interruption. It’s an excellent model for newer teachers as they observe the more experienced teachers. It’s essential to articulate each teacher’s role so that both teachers feel equally included in the classroom.
Station teaching is a favorite for most teachers because it accommodates several different learning styles and allows teachers to use their skills effectively. In this model, the co-teacher divides the class into groups and sets up stations, or learning centers, in different areas of the classroom. You can have two teacher-led stations and one child-led station for independent work or collaboration. This model requires significant time for preparing lessons and gathering materials.
The children rotate through the stations, learning the same subject differently. For example, you may teach counting with manipulatives at one station and with a sensory bin activity at the other. Station teaching allows children to engage with the content independently as well as with the co-teachers. The teachers can tailor instruction to cater to each group’s needs. Having small groups allows the teachers to work closely with each child, increasing engagement and making it easy to check for understanding.
In this model, the teachers divide the children into two equally sized groups, each teaching the same information simultaneously in different sections of the room. Both teachers have an instructional role, so they must have equal content expertise.
Co-teachers typically execute this model by teaching the same content the same way to both groups. However, they can choose to teach the same content differently or teach different content and switch groups. Examples of parallel teaching may include:
- Both teachers leading instruction on the same concept or topic
- One teacher teaching the children math using manipulatives while the other uses technology or a chart
- One teacher leading the instruction verbally while the other builds an object with the children
Having the children in smaller groups allows those children who find the content challenging to be more engaged and ask questions. It also allows teachers to more easily ensure that each child understands the content. One challenge with this model is the possibility of distractions and noises from the other group.
In alternative teaching, one teacher instructs a larger group of children while the other teaches a smaller group. This model is helpful when a few children in the classroom require special attention and more specific instruction. The teacher instructing the small group delivers content to pre-teach, re-teach, or enrich a particular topic.
The small group may include children with learning disabilities, English language learners, or high-achievers needing extra challenges. You’ll need to collect data from the class to group the children appropriately. This model provides both teachers with an active instructional role. Additionally, struggling children get the support they need without being singled out.
Team teaching demonstrates the teachers’ ability to work together to get the job done. Both teachers engage in the instruction of the whole class at the same time. Teachers can use this model to facilitate a class meeting, introduce or conclude a lesson unit, or engage in community-building exercises.
This model may seem challenging initially, as it requires lots of planning and takes time and trust for the teachers to work well together. Additionally, some teachers might feel vulnerable having another teacher see how they handle instruction. However, team teaching allows teachers to give and receive feedback, which helps them improve where necessary. Additionally, it’s an important model for children and administrators to see in action, as it introduces complementary teaching styles and models a collaborative working relationship.
Co-teaching roles and responsibilities
The teaching pair must agree on who does what and when. Co-teaching works best when each teacher’s roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, including:
- Planning lessons
- Scheduling lessons
- Assessing the children
- Identifying required accommodations for all children
- Identifying required accommodations for children with special needs
- Preparing materials for children receiving special education services
- Determining appropriate curricular modifications as indicated by IEPs
- Communicating with families
Communicating with families lets you share important updates about their child’s progress and builds deeper relationships. With brightwheel’s communication feature you can simplify parent engagement with real-time and direct messaging all in one central app.
The roles and responsibilities in your co-teaching team will depend on your program and the children’s needs. Clearly defined roles prevent friction that comes from overstepping boundaries or unequally assigned responsibilities.
Implement collaborative teaching in your classroom
Co-teaching is like a marathon—not a race. Effective co-teaching takes time to cultivate, and while the beginning might be difficult, open communication and determination to meet your children’s needs will make it a smoother experience. You may not agree on everything but aim to respect each other and be flexible and open to other ideas. Remember to seek administrative support in case of any difficulties in the partnership that you can’t resolve. A positive working partnership will help you provide effective instruction in your classroom.