Getting to Know You: Building Successful Co-Teaching Relationships

by Sue Land, M.Ed.

When you think of co-teaching relationships do the words So Happy Together by the Turtles pop into your head or do you hear I Can't Get NO Satisfaction by Jagger and Richards pounding in your brain? Just like the protagonist in the children's poem by Wadsworth, There Was Little Girl, co-teaching can be "very, very good" or it can be "horrid."

How can co-teaching partners develop positive and productive co-teaching relationships? Murawski and Dieker (2004) suggest five actions in preparing to co-teach along with questions to ask yourself or others:

  • Assess the current environment - What are the faculty's feelings regarding co-teaching and inclusion?

  • Move in slowly - Where do we start as new co-teachers? How do we determine our teaching rolls and responsibilities?

  • Involve an administrator - How will we plan for and support co-teaching?

  • Create a workable schedule - How will we schedule teachers and students in co-taught classes? When will we schedule co-planning?

  • Get to know your partner - How will we share our teaching strengths, styles, and skills?

Co-teachers benefit from honest and open discussions of teaching beliefs and philosophy, behavior management systems, classroom routines, lesson design, grading, and assessment practices. Teaching partners may want to use Questions for Co-Teachers to Consider by Walther-Thomas, Bryant, and Land (1996) to help facilitate sharing their teaching styles and preferences. Teachers might choose their top five questions to discuss prior to school beginning and, to expedite the process, jot down their thoughts prior to meeting. Examples of questions may include those on the following page:

  1. What are your classroom expectations? Positive consequences for following them? Negative consequences for not following them?

  2. How would you describe a typical lesson?

  3. How do you monitor and evaluate progress?

  4. How do you provide for varied student needs during a lesson?

  5. How will we build trust and maintain confidentiality in our classroom?

To continue the conversation, co-teachers benefit from regularly scheduled meeting times to reflect on their co-teaching experiences. Dieker (2006) maintains that "communication and evaluation are the keys to successful co-teaching relationships" (p. 1). These "co-teaching progress check-ups" should occur every 4-6 weeks and at the end of each grading period or semester. Topics for discussion may include:

  • A problem-solving process (What process do we use to identify and solve problems?)

  • Co-teaching successes (How do we measure co-teaching success?)

  • Student achievement (How do we measure student success?)

  • Testing and classroom accommodations (What process will we use to determine testing and classroom accommodations? What are reasonable and effective accommodations?)

  • Integration of IEP goals (How will we integrate students' IEP goals into our daily lessons?)

  • Co-teaching relationship (How and when will we assess our relationship?)

  • Professional development activities (What are our professional development needs and how will we access these activities?)

  • Differentiating instruction and assessment (What are ways to differentiate instruction and assessment for all students?)

For a more formal school-level evaluation, Wiggins and Damore (2006) recommend assessing six key elements of collaboration: positive attitude, team process, professional development, leadership, resources, and benefits. Using Wiggins and Damore's Elements of Collaboration Rubric and developmental levels (initial, emerging, effective) for each element, "a school can determine its strengths and target its energies and resources for improvement" (p. 49). Finally, an action plan can be developed to address areas for improvement, tasks, persons responsible, and completion date. More informally, co-teaching teams can use the six key elements of collaboration as points for conversation and self-evaluation.

As you begin the new school year, remember to take the time to S.H.A.R.E. - share your hopes, attitudes, responsibilities, and expectations with your co-teacher (Murawski, 2003). This sharing will enhance your co-teaching relationships and increase the likelihood of improved student outcomes.

References

Dieker, L. (2006). The co-teaching lesson plan book (3rd ed.). Whitefish Bay, WI: Knowledge by Design.

Murawski, W. (2003). Co-teaching in the inclusive classroom: Working together to help all your students find success (grades 6-12). Medina, WA: Institute for Educational Development.

Murawski, W., & Dieker, L. (2004). Tips and strategies for co-teaching at the secondary level. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 36(5), 52-58.

Walther-Thomas, C., Bryant, M., & Land, S. (1996). Planning for effective co-teaching: The key to successful inclusion. Remedial and Special Education, 17(4), 255-265.

Wiggins, K., & Damore, S. (2006). "Survivors" or "Friends"? A framework for assessing effective collaboration. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 38(5), 49-56.