Lessons from the Co-Teaching Trenches

This year, I have the pleasure to work closely with a dedicated group of teachers from the Fall Mountain Regional High School (FMRHS) as they begin their journey as co-teachers in their classrooms. General Education teachers co-teach with Special Education teachers in groups where identified and general education students learn together to meet the Common Core State Standards for in the subject area.

It has been an amazing year that has been filled with challenges and successes for both students and teachers. Because I am in FMRHS coaching teachers at least twice a month, I have a bird’s eye view of the process of forming co-teaching teams. I’ve learned a number of lessons from this journey.

  • Work toward a relationship that is characterized by trust and respect.
    It is important for co-teachers to get to know each other both personally and professionally. co-teaching requires flexibility and this is easier when the team has spent time together getting to know each other on many levels. As the relationship develops, it becomes easier to develop trust that circumvents misunderstandings.

  • Deliberately work to discover each other’s strengths.
    Co-teachers should talk often about their passions as a teacher, their successes at reaching students, and what they try to achieve each and every day in the classroom. This gives co-teachers the opportunity to use their strengths and support their colleague in developing new skills.

  • Prior to the first day of teaching, negotiate just what the roles and responsibilities of each co-teacher will be
    Talking over the many details of co-teaching will set the stage for success. When will co-planning take place? How will the team develop classroom culture and respond to student successes and challenges? How will grading be accomplished? What will be the methods and frequency of communication with students and parents?

  • Know your students’ IEPs, 504 plans, and general education expectations.
    Cco-teaching partners should make it a priority to share their expertise in special education and content area openly and honestly. This experience has the potential to improve the teaching practices of both teachers. By having a strong understanding of the specific and general goals for students, co-teachers can effectively plan together to meet the needs of students.

  • Make co planning time a nonnegotiable.
    Teachers are pulled in many directions. If co-teaching is going to have a chance at being successful, planning together must be seen as a priority by the co-teachers, other teachers, guidance, and administration. Without regular and frequent co planning time, it can be difficult to develop as a cohesive team.

  • Act as a team.
    Present as a team. Both teachers should facilitate parent-teacher conferences, have their names on the report cards, and respond to all students’ needs.

  • Step out of your comfort zone.
    Co-teaching is an opportunity for teachers to try something new whether it be a new content area or a new instructional strategy. With co-teaching, there is a built in sounding board to reflect on how it went.

  • Expect support from administration.
    Whether the co-teaching was voluntary or a surprise opportunity, it is critical that frequent support is provided through instructional coaching and and opportunities to come together as co-teaching teams to talk about the experience, discover new strategies for success, to reflect, and yes, even to kvetch a bit in a safe and trusting environment.

  • Expect more of students than you ever dreamed possible.
    When students come together who have never had the opportunity to learn together, powerful learning can be the outcome in a well-designed co taught course. These co-taught courses have the potential of providing an environment of learning where all students can learn at high levels together.

  • Appreciate each other often.
    Co-teachers should try to find time to thank their partners generally or with a specific example often. Teachers’ days are so busy and it is important to take just a moment to show ‘gratitude to those we work with. Co-teachers at FMRHS talk frequently about the skills they have learned from one another. They see themselves as true partnerships that are responsible for ALL the student in their co taught class. Behavior challenges have been reduced, motivation of students has increased, and most students are achieving at higher levels. By joining two experts in education --  a special educator and a general educator -- teachers and student grow and learn in an environment that encourage personal and collective growth.

Commentary by Nan Parsons, EdD

Nan Parsons is UVEI's Associate Director for School Leadership and a member of the Program Faculty.  For other commentaries by Nan Parsons, see:
http://uvei.edu/blog/319-get-smart
http://uvei.edu/blog/325-more-than-dollars-and-cents
http://uvei.edu/blog/335-from-both-sides-of-the-table
http://uvei.edu/blog/336-most-likely-to-succeed
http://uvei.edu/blog/341-learning-from-the-finland-experience-part-1}
http://uvei.edu/blog/354-seek-first-to-understand
http://uvei.edu/blog/364-preparing-principals-to-lead