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Education | February 2013

Co-teaching: 9 keys to making it work for you

When it comes to co-teaching, which of these situations apply to you?

Two smiling teachers, one sitting holding up a cut-out letter shape and the other leaning over to inspect
With proper training and support, co-teaching can lead to greater success for everybody

__ I've co-taught with a student teacher
__ I've co-taught as a student teacher
__ I've co-taught with a general education teacher
__ I've co-taught with a special education teacher
__ I've co-taught with another education professional
__ I found out I would be co-teaching on the first day of school
__ I was given some advance notice that I would be co-teaching
__ I was given a choice of co-teaching partners
__ I was provided training in co-teaching best practices
__ I was given dedicated planning time with my co-teaching partner
__ My co-teaching efforts were/are well supported by my administration
__ We do not have co-teaching because of a lack of teachers or due to scheduling concerns

The likelihood is that you have some sort of experience with co-teaching, if only informally. What's less likely is that you've received the supports you need to be successful. Studies have shown that the three critical ingredients for successful co-teaching in inclusive classrooms are allowance for common planning, administrative support, and professional development.

The Co-Design Model

The authors of the new book Strategic Co-Teaching in Your School developed a successful collaborative model that incorporates these three ingredients, along with six additional elements. Richael Barger-Anderson, Robert S. Isherwood, and Joseph Merhaut, professors in the Department of Special Education at Slippery Rock University, shaped the Co-Design Model after extensive work and research in school systems over several years. The response by teachers to training on this model has been overwhelmingly positive, and school districts that use the model credit it with augmenting levels of inclusiveness in classrooms and raising achievement scores.

By providing support in the following 9 areas of the Co-Design Model, your school will give teachers an expanded repertoire of resources and equip them to try new ideas, promote best practices, and fine-tune activities to students' needs.

A new teacher's experience

Four years of attending classes and field experiences of working with students with varying abilities and teaching various subjects and grade levels ... now I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Student teaching! The first day of student teaching finally arrived as my body was overwhelmed with a variety of emotions. I was utterly excited to be teaching fourth-graders, nervous to enter an unfamiliar school in Las Vegas, Nevada, yet anxious to meet my host teacher and students. Monday morning, I ventured down to Room 19 to meet an upbeat, welcoming lady by the name of Mrs. Paxman ...

Read the rest of this firsthand account.

1. Leadership

No educational initiative can succeed without the support of effective leadership by school and district administrators. In the Co-Design Model, the leadership element addresses issues such as providing collaborative partners with common planning time and opportunities for professional development.

2. Assembly of Site

The physical set-up of the space in which instruction occurs should create a truly collaborative environment that promotes parity between partners. Whether the physical setting is a classroom, an auditorium, two classrooms split between two groups of students, or any other configuration, the arrangement of furniture and other items should send a clear signal that the setting is a shared environment.

3. Curriculum Knowledge

General education teachers and special education teachers bring different backgrounds, knowledge, and skill sets to the collaborative classroom. Each teacher's strengths, disciplines, and skills must be respected along with time provided for each teacher to learn the curriculum. The longer teachers partner on the same content, the more confident they become in all aspects of sharing a class assignment.

4. Co-instruction

This element goes beyond co-teaching to include dependable sharing of all classroom responsibilities. A mutual commitment to the process is critical; this commitment can be fostered through open communication of educational philosophies and beliefs. It is not necessary for partners to agree on all issues, but there must be a shared commitment to open dialogue, understanding, and openness to compromise. Maintaining consistency of partners from year to year typically helps to strengthen a collaborative relationship.

5. Classroom management

As soon as possible, the partners should discuss their classroom management preferences and reach agreement on rules, roles, responsibilities, and other important issues necessary for managing a shared classroom. For students who have IEPs that require a specific behavior plan, having two professionals in the classroom can be helpful in fulfilling IEP requirements. Other times, a teacher may choose to implement individual or classwide behavior systems even if this is not required in a specific IEP.

What role can technology play?

As schools continue to develop more inclusive classroom settings, it is essential that technology be used as part of daily classroom instruction. Many students with various types of disabilities (as well as their peers without disabilities who struggle with academic work) do not respond to the traditional "stand and deliver" style of instruction. Often, these students cannot cope neurologically with this type of instruction because they have receptive and expressive language problems and cannot process information when it is delivered solely in an auditory or lecture mode. The use of various types of technology in the classroom has the potential to remedy this problem because it may increase the engagement levels of students and address their preferred mode of learning.

Excerpted from Strategic Co-Teaching in Your School. Download the full chapter on technology.

6. Adaptations, Accommodations, and Modifications

Through open dialogue, partners will determine a division of labor for adaptations in the form of modifications to content or goals for individual students. The same is true for accommodations that improve access to the curriculum for students with disabilities and enable them to demonstrate their acquisition of knowledge (such as through the use of supplementary aids and services, as stipulated within an IEP or response to intervention (RTI) plan).

7. Assessment

Partners will agree on the types and frequency of assessments necessary to gather data on student progress that will enable them to make well-informed instructional decisions. Pre- and post-assessment techniques will be used to drive instructional planning.

8. Personality Types

Both different and shared personality types, when paired together in a shared teaching environment, can be successful. The better teachers understand personality types and characteristics, the better they will be at understanding why people do certain things or act in various ways. Understanding personality types also improves communication between partners.

9. Co-design Time

Time for common planning is often lacking in collaborative educational environments. The Co-Design Model encourages education professionals to be creative and think outside the box for ways to identify and find opportunities for common planning time.


The Co-Design Model offers a research-based approach to achieving a successful, collaborative, and inclusive program that meets the needs of all students. Potential benefits of using the model include a less restrictive environment for students with disabilities, higher levels of achievement for all students, increased student engagement, and greater access to highly qualified teachers in the content areas.

To learn more about the Co-Design Model, see Strategic Co-Teaching in Your School, or contact the Keystone Educational Consulting Group for professional development opportunities.

Adapted from Strategic Co-Teaching in Your School: Using the Co-Design Model.

Support for teachers in inclusive classrooms:

Strategic Co-Teaching in Your School: Using the Co-Design Model

How to Co-Teach: A Guide for General and Special Educators

Collaborative Teaming, Second Edition

The Special Educator's Toolkit: Everything You Need to Organize, Manage, and Monitor Your Classroom

Leadership Strategies for Successful Schoolwide Inclusion: The STAR Approach

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