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December 1, 2015
Vol. 73
No. 4

Perspectives / What We Didn't Know When We Co-Taught

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      Years ago, a colleague and I, each of us with just a little teaching experience, decided to try an experiment. Teaching at a high school that encouraged teachers to innovate but had no resources for professional development, she, an American history teacher, and, I, a teacher of American lit, decided we would team teach the subjects we both loved—to a double class. Our thinking was that we would deepen our and our students' understanding of our subjects.
      What I remember of the disappointing experience was that she lectured about history while I listened, then I held discussions about literature while she watched. I don't think it ever occurred to us to do anything different—not even talk together about how the experiment was going for our very large group of students. Not exactly what the authors in this issue have in mind.
      This theme issue of Educational Leadership came about after we asked a group of educators about their current challenges, and they mentioned the intricacies of co-teaching. We broadened the topic to look at not only co-teaching with specialists—particularly, special needs educators (pp. 16, 42) and ELL educators—but also team teaching across content areas (pp. 68, 74), student teaching, and coaching (p. 36, 78). Our purpose was to explore the questions, What does the research on teaching together say? What are the best ways to practice it? Authors in this issue describe the protocols and practices that improve the chances for co-teaching to benefit both students and educators.
      Planning Is First. In Visible Learning for Teachers (Routledge, 2012), John Hattie notes, "The co-planning of lessons is the task that has one of the highest likelihoods of making a marked positive difference on student learning." Teresa Washut Heck and Nancy Bacharach say it another way: "If you don't co-plan, you won't co-teach." In their new model for student teaching, both the teacher candidate and the cooperating teacher are involved in every aspect of delivering instruction. In the first days of co-teaching, the cooperating teacher explains what lessons have been taught and the thinking behind each one. Thereafter, the two sit down a few times each week to plan the lessons they will co-teach, as well as the assessments they will co-design. Both teachers are so actively involved in presenting and interjecting information and asking and answering questions that students perceive no division of authority and regard both teachers as "real," the authors write. The new model has been so effective that their co-taught students have performed better in both math and language arts than students in more traditional student-teaching classrooms.
      If they want thoughtful implementation, administrators, too, must plan, Wendy Murawski writes. She outlines the kinds of professional development—on inclusion, collaboration, and co-teaching—that specific groups are likely to need.
      Make Communication Count. In the sidebars called "In My Experience" scattered throughout the issue, co-teachers use phrases like "couples therapy" and "state of the union meetings" to describe the kind of open, yet careful, communication they have found to be necessary. Two different personalities who are used to running their classrooms solo have to make time to address problems. See Marceta Reilly's "Saying What You Mean Without Being Mean" for ways to make sure your co-teacher hears your feedback.
      No Cloning, No Marginalization. Anne Beninghof challenges a common misconception about co-teaching: that no one should be able to tell who is the special education teacher and who is the regular teacher. She notes that co-teaching is a partnership. The specialist should be "doing something special," and each teacher should lead from strengths. Ochan Kusuma-Powell and William Powell, who help international schools become more inclusive, make another point: "Like adults, children will choose whom they learn from, partly on the basis of social status." Too often, special education teachers may feel like glorified teaching assistants. Instead, they must be leaders of adult learning as well as teachers of children, they write.
      Mindset Matters. Although we may wish that co-teaching and teacher collaboration, once instituted, will by themselves lead to improved learning and teaching, the reality is more nuanced, Bryan Goodwin writes. As with most things, the quality of the thing matters more than the thing itself. When it is working well, co-teaching has many benefits, including teacher growth, student growth, and risk taking that leads to innovation. An experiment, yes, but a successful one if carried out with a plan.

      Marge Scherer has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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      Co-Teaching: Making It Work
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