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Best Practices in Co-Teaching

Monday, August 24, 2015 -- Scott Sterling

Co-teaching is becoming more and more common in K–12 classrooms. As more students work under Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), they require more support. Co-teaching is an effective way of making sure that those students receive the attention they need without taking time away from other students in the class.

Co-teaching is only successful, though, when it is a true partnership. Make sure that you and your co-teacher have an effective working relationship by following these common-sense guidelines.

Before class

  • First, co-teachers need to connect as people before they even open the door to the classroom. Teachers can be very protective of “their students”, and sharing them takes a lot of trust. A significant amount of time should be spent establishing a working rapport.
  • Second, co-teachers need to honestly assess their personal strengths and weaknesses to see where they mesh and where they might conflict. Then, they should try to formulate a clear picture of what day-to-day life will be like in the classroom.
  • Finally, all lesson planning and goal setting for students should be done together. Time needs to be set aside at regular intervals (at least weekly) for co-teachers to connect and ensure that they are both on the same page. If that schedule isn’t possible, try using online shared documents (like Google Docs) to collaborate on a regular basis.

During class

  • If co-teachers have compared their strengths and weaknesses ahead of time, work during class should flow nicely. When one of the teachers comes up against a weakness in his or her craft, the other can be there as a safety net.
  • Ignore the temptation of segregating students based on whether or not they have an IEP. Both teachers should be able to work with each student in the shared classroom. Besides, the goal of mainstreaming IEP students is for them to experience a more diverse classroom environment.
  • If miscommunications do happen between co-teachers, it’s important for the teachers to model effective communication practices for the students. They should talk out their differences rationally to come up with a solution.

After class

  • Debriefing is very important when co-teaching. It’s the only way to assess how the lesson—and the working dynamic between the teachers—went.
  • The to-do list for the next lesson or week should be split up evenly. Any follow-ups with students or parents should be shared. If there are chores to be done (copying, setting up equipment, etc.), they should also be pooled.

Co-teaching can be a very effective strategy, especially in classrooms with students of widely varying abilities. However, the operative syllable in the word is “co.” Both teachers need to approach the situation ready to openly communicate and collaborate for the betterment of all the students in their classroom.

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