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July 1, 2020
Vol. 62
No. 7

Co-Teaching Strategies: Dos, Don'ts, and Do Betters

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Instructional Strategies
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Co-teaching, wherein two professional educators co-plan, co-instruct, and co-assess, can be daunting. It requires far more than putting two adults in a classroom with students, whether that classroom is brick and mortar or virtual. We offer strategies to help novice and veteran co-teaching teams avoid pitfalls, embrace actions that make a difference, and take steps to promote positive outcomes.

Do

  • Get to know each other. Taking the time to learn each other's strengths, preferences, interests, and even pet peeves makes co-teaching easier.
  • Establish roles and responsibilities. Communicate about how you will share the workload while still ensuring that rigorous content and specially designed instruction are provided.
  • Work out substantive differences in private conversations that highlight the solution, not the disagreement.
  • Give each other space, both physical space (e.g., desk, filing cabinet) and mental space (time to digest, rethink, prioritize).

Don't

  • Leave your partner out of planning. The whole point of co-teaching is to embed two frames of reference into the instruction to help meet diverse needs.
  • Teach to the middle. This excludes the majority. Instead, proactively use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, which help more students access the learning with multiple engagement, action and expression, and representation. More on UDL is available at CAST.
  • Blame the schedule. Time is tight, but creative co-teachers find ways to co-plan. Can't meet face to face? Share resources; video chat; leave messages; get professional development; and coach and communicate with each other, administrators, colleagues, and support staff with texts, phone calls, interactive Google docs, tracking tools, apps, and even emojis.
  • Get lost in the curriculum. When teachers moved to remote learning, most realized that they would need to jettison superfluous content and stick to the most crucial concepts. Don't lament not having enough time to do it all; instead, select the most important content. Be certain to slate times for enrichment, repetition, and more practice based on prior knowledge and demonstrated understandings.
  • Fret about not knowing all the content. Special educators should bring themselves up to speed on the content but leave the expertise to the general educator. By bringing in strategies for accessing and retaining concepts and demonstrating skills, special educators support all students. Both teachers need to realize that learning is evolutionary. Support each other, and your students, to learn and grow.

Do Better

  • Infuse high-leverage practices. Every aspect of co-teaching should emphasize HLPs.
  • Co-plan at the mega, macro, and micro levels. Mega-level planning involves the overall plans for the school year (concepts, units, books/chapters). Macro-planning occurs every quarter, unit, or chapter. Micro-planning is the day-to-day planning and will be more manageable if the mega- and macro-planning has occurred.
  • Consider your responses. Take time to reflect on what your co-teacher does, how you respond to it, and the results of your actions. Is there a different way to respond that would communicate your feelings and get a better outcome?
  • Record and share anecdotal notes. Use an agreed-upon format to take notes during planning and instruction that you can share with one another. Be sure the form includes information not only on students, but also on the teacher actions that may enhance or detract from learning.
  • Use strategies that provide high-quality core instruction to all learners. Access resources that help reframe thinking about what students may be able to do.
  • Continue learning. Think how you will implement the co-teaching "do betters" as a team. Craft ways to collaboratively be lifelong learners who reflectively appreciate and expand their compatibility, parity, and effectiveness.

Wendy Murawski is the executive director and Eisner Endowed Chair for the Center for Teaching and Learning at California State University, Northridge. A former special education and high school German teacher, she is passionate about inclusive education. Her research on co-teaching is widely published and has garnered both research and publication awards. She is the author or coauthor of 13 books on education, as well as coteaching software.

Murawski is the past president of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children and the CEO and president of 2 TEACH LLC, an educational consulting company. She is a frequently requested keynote speaker and has presented in North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa on topics related to inclusive education.

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