Supervising Co-Teaching: Moving Beyond a Staffing Arrangement

by Harolyn Katherman, Ed.D.

"Supervising co-teaching is like herding cats." This comment was recently made by an administrator as an expression of exasperation. His comment indicated that he realized more is required for successful co-teaching than simply assigning two teachers to a classroom. The comment also marked a new level of understanding of the many facets of this complex instructional practice (Wilson, 2005) that may be misunderstood when viewed as only an arrangement of teachers. Moving beyond co-teaching as a mere staffing arrangement to more productive co-teaching starts with a clear understanding of co-teaching among administrators and staff. In short, in order to implement and supervise co-teaching, teachers and administrators must know what it is, and what it is not.

The practice of co-teaching is evident when "two or more professionals jointly deliver substantive instruction to a diverse, or blended, group of students in a single physical space" (Cook & Friend, 1995, p. 1). Many educators nationwide view co-teaching as merely assigning two teachers to the same classroom at the same time (Friend & Cook, 2003). However, such arrangements of teachers who have had minimal training for co-teaching and minimal opportunities for co-planning resulted in limited benefits for students (Magiera & Zigmund, 2005). To maximize the potential of co-teaching, training for co-teaching, planning time, and active instruction by both teachers are critical. Both co-teachers must be prepared and substantively involved in planning and delivering instruction that is carefully designed to meet the needs of diverse learners. The practice of one teacher teaching while the other teacher assists is not considered effective co-teaching when used as the predominant arrangement in co-taught classes.

Friend and Cook (2003) emphasize that roles for co-teachers should vary in response to the instructional content and the needs of students. Teachers who were traditionally trained to work alone and have years of experience doing so cannot be expected to suddenly know how to co-teach. They need to understand the possible arrangements that can be used in co-teaching and have the opportunity to see examples from classrooms similar to their own. Once teams gain this understanding, they can select from arrangements such as station teaching, parallel teaching, alternative teaching, and interactive/team teaching based upon content and student needs. Co-teaching teams can be encouraged to vary their arrangements and be recognized for successfully doing so.

Educators at Granby High School in Norfolk Public Schools initiated a carefully planned co-teaching effort. The principal, Ted Daughtrey, asked general and special educators, his administrative team, and district special education personnel to join him in taking a closer look at how to serve students with disabilities in general education classes. Over several months, the principal led the task force through an analysis of their testing data, a review of possible collaborative teaching arrangements, and discussions of the needs of teachers in their new roles. Special and general educators made data-driven decisions on how they would provide support services for the upcoming year. They also recognized that their analysis of each year's data could result in changes as they focused on the needs of their students. As a result of their principal's leadership, the teachers in this school decided where more direct support, such as co-teaching, would be necessary and where less support, such as consultation, would be effective. Other opportunities for support were put into place, such as "double-dose" classes using content enhancement routines to reinforce learning in designated subject areas.

To ensure that co-teachers were able to prepare for joint instruction, the administrators committed to building co-planning time into the schedule. To promote the understanding of students with special needs, special educators offered opportunities for general educators to learn more about characteristics and instructional strategies for certain disabilities. And before the co-teaching teams began the school year, they met to discuss key questions, address individual styles, and begin co-planning. With all of his other responsibilities, this administrator committed to move beyond a simple staffing model. Ted Daughtrey led his teachers in designing the foundation for successful co-teaching.

Building co-planning time into the schedule and helping teachers to build a framework for their planning is essential. It is the author's experience over the past 15 years that, in classrooms where special educators have not co-planned with general educators, they are reduced to a reactive role. As such, they are able to contribute considerably less to learning than in classrooms where partners co-plan regularly.

In addition to the above measures, teachers and administrators need to have more information about co-teaching, including how both teachers can be actively involved in instruction and vary their roles to increase achievement. They need to have "user-friendly" formats for remaining focused on the most important components of co-teaching. Friend (2003) and Deiker (2005) have recommended that co-teaching teams use self-assessment to improve their practice. During the 2004-05 school year, the author helped develop a guiding document outlining practices to look for in co-taught classes. This instrument was revised based on work by Wilson (2005) regarding supervision of co-teaching and will be field tested during the 2005-06 school year. The document (see link below) focuses teachers and administrators on evidence of co-planning, the use of a variety of co-teaching arrangements, student recognition of both teachers as partners jointly delivering instruction, and differentiation of instruction. The format allows it to be used for self-assessment by co-teaching teams as well as a guide for observations by administrators in co-taught classrooms.

Clearly, successful co-teaching to meet today's standards must go beyond just a staffing assignment. Co-teaching must be supported by ongoing professional development opportunities, guiding documents for teachers and administrators, identification and implementation of key instructional practices in classrooms, regularly scheduled times for co-planning, coaching, and recognition of successes. Finally, we must repeatedly ask and answer the question, "Is what we are doing promoting success for our students?"

Co-Teaching Observation/Reflection Guiding Document [pdf]


Cook, L., & Friend, M. (1995). Co-teaching guidelines for creating effective practices. Focus on Exceptional Children, 28(2), 1-12.

Deiker, L. (2005, May). Inclusive practices for middle and high schools. Workbook presented at the 2005 Urban Collaborative Symposium, Boston, MA.

Friend, M., & Cook, L. (2003). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Magiera, K., & Zigmund, N. (2005). Co-teaching in middle school classrooms under routine conditions: Does the instructional experience differ for students with disabilities in co-taught and solo-taught classes? Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 20(2), 79-85.

Wilson, G. L. (2005). This doesn't look familiar! A supervisor's guide for observing co-teachers. Intervention in School and Clinic, 40(5), 271-275.

Date: November/December 2005