Co-teaching occurs when two instructional professionals work with the same group of students, in the same classroom, at the same time. Co-teaching may occur for a number of reasons. Sometimes, teachers in different disciplines work together to integrate their discipline knowledge in one seamless course. Imagine Hislish, a combination of History and English or Biath, a combination of biological science and math. Elementary teachers may combine two grades forming, for example, a first/second combination. As well, special and general educator may work together in a single classroom. The general educator brings expertise in the general education content and curriculum, while the special educator brings expertise in the individualized needs of students with disabilities and how to make the curriculum accessible through accommodations and modifications. Both teachers work together to meet the academic needs of all students in the classroom. With co-teaching, teachers consistently report improvements for all students in the classroom, creating a generally improved learning environment. With all these variants on co-teaching, it is clear that co-teaching requires a specific set of skills beyond discipline specific knowledge.
Why Schools Are Adopting Co-Teaching
The passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its enhancements in 1997, along with the No Child Left Behind Act, created a regulatory framework that led to wide adoption of co-teaching models. These changes worked toward including students with disabilities in the general education classroom and emphasized the necessity of having special education students meet general education academic requirements. In order to meet both of these goals, more and more school districts utilize the co-teaching model.
How Does Co-Teaching Work?
There are many ways to approach co-teaching, but the most common elements to a successful co-taught classroom include:
- Shared planning time
- Shared instruction time
- Equality between instructors
Shared planning time means that both teachers are involved in lesson plan development and discuss the delivery of content. Instructors will trade off the lead, giving both students with disabilities and general education students an opportunity to learn information using different instructional models. As equals in the classroom, no teacher is relegated to being in an assistant role. There is no lead teacher, there are only two teachers working toward a common goal.
Co-teaching can be a very successful way of including students with disabilities in general education classrooms. This can contribute to positive emotional development, social skill acquisition, and academic achievement. As well, co-teaching can be a successful strategy for (a) mentoring new teachers and (b) creating interdisciplinary, problem based learning, The key to success often starts with teacher education so that the co-teaching pair of teachers learn the skills necessary for successful co-teaching. Administrative support, consistent reporting and collaboration make up the backbone of any successful co-teaching program.