Collaborative Leadership: Setting Expectations for Student Achievement in Co-Taught Classes

by Mary Murray Stowe, M.Ed., and Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.

Co-teaching is becoming a common service delivery model as schools seek to support students with disabilities in general education settings (Friend & Cook, 2007). School leaders play an important role in helping to ensure that co-teaching meets the instructional needs of students with disabilities. Administrators are encouraged to consider the following elements as they communicate their expectations for student achievement and growth in co-taught classes.

A Schoolwide Focus on Achievement for All Students

Maintaining focus is one trait of effective school leaders (Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005). Indeed, "staying focused on student achievement, encouraging and supporting teachers' efforts, and providing the assistance that teachers need moves the work toward the goal" (Knoll, 2002, p. 3). By placing co-teaching within the larger context of supporting student achievement for all learners at the school, administrators emphasize that co-teaching is simply one method the school uses to support the learning of all students.

Effective Co-Teaching

Effective co-teaching consists of "two professionals (who) plan and use unique and high-involvement instructional strategies to engage all students in ways that are not possible when only one teacher is present" (Friend & Cook, 2007, p. 116). It is important for administrators to clearly communicate to co-teachers that differentiating instruction and using effective instructional practices in co-taught classes is essential if all student learning needs are to be met.

Measuring Results

Once school leaders have determined that co-teaching is being effectively implemented in the classroom, they can determine how well the needs of students with disabilities are being met in the class. The following questions, adapted from Friend (2007), can guide administrators in evaluating the impact of co-teaching on student achievement:

  • How have individual achievement data for students with disabilities been influenced by the implementation of a co-teaching model? (e.g., compare a student's longitudinal achievement data in a core content area delivered in a non-co-teaching situation to that of a co-teaching situation)

  • How do achievement data for students with disabilities compare with the achievement data for peers without disabilities at the school?

  • How do achievement data for students with disabilities compare with the achievement data for peers without disabilities at comparable schools?

Cultivating a schoolwide focus on student achievement, implementing co-teaching with fidelity, and regularly monitoring results will increase the likelihood that students with disabilities see academic gains as a result of being in a co-taught class.

For additional information on co-teaching visit, and For differentiated lesson plans correlated to Virginia's Standards of Learning, go to Select your region on the map and then click on SOL Enhanced at the top of the page.


Friend, M. (2007). Collaborating for school success. Training material presented at VASSP/VFEL in collaboration with Virginia Department of Education and the College of William and Mary workshop, Williamsburg, VA.

Friend, M., & Cook, L. (2007). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Knoll, M. K. (2002). Administrator's guide to student achievement & higher test scores. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development; Aurora, CO: Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning.

Date: September/October 2008