Co-Teaching: An Effective Approach for Inclusive Education

by Donni Stickney, M.Ed.

Many teachers are excited about engaging in co-teaching to deliver special education services to their students with disabilities. This collaborative approach allows all students to remain in the general education classroom. With the current legislation, No Child Left Behind, teachers and school divisions are looking to this model of inclusive education to help ensure that all students have access to the general education curriculum. The following defining characteristics identify the unique relationship of co-teaching.

  • Two or more professionals

    A co-teaching relationship may consist of some combination of a special education teacher, general education teacher, and/or a related service provider.

  • Jointly delivering instruction

    In co-teaching, both professionals coordinate and deliver substantive instruction. They plan and use high-involvement strategies to engage all students in the instruction.

  • Diverse group of students

    Co-teachers provide instruction for a diverse group of students, including those identified with disabilities and others who are not so identified.

  • Shared classroom space

    In a co-teaching relationship, the majority of instruction takes place within the general education classroom in contrast to various pullout models, where groups of students receive instruction in an alternative setting.

    (Friend & Cook, 2003)

Co-teaching relationships represent a significant change in the working conditions and day-to-day activities of school professionals who are often used to working in a more independent manner. Professionals should consider the defining characteristics of co-teaching and their own professional strengths as they initiate co-teaching relationships.

The following list includes some common characteristics of professionals who make good co-teachers. Effective co-teachers demonstrate:

  • Professional competence

  • Personal confidence

  • Respect for colleagues

  • Good communication and problem solving skills

  • Flexibility and openness to new ideas

  • Effective organizational skills

  • Previous experience teaming with other professionals

  • Ability to invest extra time as needed

  • Commitment to weekly planning with partners

  • Voluntary participation in co-teaching

    (Walther-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin, & Williams, 2000)

Optimally, co-teaching teams utilize variations of co-teaching based on student and content needs. Each member of the co-teaching team can take the opportunity to fulfill various roles. This helps reinforce to students the idea that both individuals are "teachers" and gives both teachers an opportunity to share in the joys and challenges of the classroom. Variations of co-teaching are described below.

Variations of Co-Teaching Arrangements




Interactive Teaching

(Whole group)

Teachers alternate the roles of presenting, reviewing, and monitoring instruction.

A general educator and specialist teach a whole-group lesson on fractions. The specialist introduces the concept and provides initial instruction. The general educator directs the guided practice and evaluation. In future lessons, they might reverse roles.

Station Teaching

(Small group)

Small groups of students rotate to various stations for instruction, review, and/or practice.

A specialist works with a small group of students on prewriting, while other students are working with the general educator on research skills. Another group of students is using the classroom computer to research a topic. Over the course of the week, all students work at each task/station.

Parallel Teaching

(Small group)

Students are divided into mixed-ability groups, and each co-teaching partner teaches the same material to one of the groups.

The class is divided in half, and each teacher works with a group on creating a timeline of important events in history. At the end of the session, each group shares its timeline and reviews important concepts.

Alternative Teaching

(Big group/small group)

One person teaches, reteaches, or enriches a concept for a small group, while the other monitors or teaches the remaining class members.

The specialist works with a small group of students on an enrichment project, while the general educator teaches the remainder of the students.

(Adapted from Walther-Thomas et al., 2000)

For more information on co-teaching and co-planning, please visit our website at to request the Consideration Packets on Co-Teaching, Strategies for Creating Inclusive Schools, Grading in Inclusive Classrooms, and Differentiating for Success in Inclusive Classrooms.


Friend, M., & Cook, L. (2003). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (4th ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman.

Walther-Thomas, C., Korinek, L., McLaughlin, V.L., & Williams, B. (2000). Collaboration for inclusive education: Developing successful programs. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Date: November/December 2003