General education teacher (overheard inthe hallway): Oh yeah, I used to have aspecial educator working with me in theclassroom . . . but I do not know whathappened to her!
We know! Although co-teaching may behere to stay, co-teachers themselves donot always stick around. As researchers,teacher educators, and co-teachers our-selves, we are keenly aware of theissues related to obtainingand moreimportant, keepinggood co-teachingteams. In fact, educators frequentlyrelate co-teaching to a marriage; unfor-tunately, research clearly indicates thatmany co-teaching marriages result instruggle, separation, or even divorce.This article uses humor and mnemonicsto highlight the keys to effective co-teaching that research and literaturehave identified. Our purpose is to clari-fy the critical factors necessary fordeveloping and maintaining a success-ful co-teaching team.
Clarifying Co-TeachingCo-teaching is a service delivery optiondesigned to address the needs of stu-dents in an inclusive classroom by hav-ing a general education teacher and aspecial service provider (e.g., specialeducation teacher, speech/languagepathologist, Title I teacher) teach
together in the same classroom to meetthe needs of individual students. Fortrue co-teaching to occur, both profes-sionals must co-plan, co-instruct, andco-assess a diverse group of students inthe same general education classroom(Murawski, 2005, p.10). With the ongo-ing move toward inclusive education(wherein educators teach students withspecial needs in the general educationclassroom), co-teaching is a servicedelivery option that educators increas-ingly use to meet the needs of bothteachers and students (Scruggs,Mastropieri, & McDuffie, 2007).Although not all educators will experi-ence co-teaching, more teachers thanever before are looking for tools to helpmake them more successful (see box,What Does the Literature Say AboutCo-Teaching?).
To rectify the problems associatedwith co-teaching, co-teachers shouldconsider the following suggestions forbefore, during, and after co-teaching.Because many of these tips overlap (forexample, issues related to planningoccur before, during, and after co-teach-ing is already in place), those interestedin co-teaching should read the entirearticle rather than using it as a step-by-step checklist. Also, the authors havebased all tips on their years of experi-ence, experiences of other co-teachers,
and research conducted on co-teaching.Thus, some of the hints are evidence-based practices already supported in theresearch, whereas others are practicessuggested by experienced co-teachers.Following each tip is a question to askyourself, your co-teacher, or other stake-holders. We hope that the catchy phras-es will help ensure that you keep righton co-teaching and finding success forboth teachers and students.
1. Hop on the bus, Gus. Volunteer toco-teach before anyone tells you todo so. Inclusive education is notgoing away. Schools increasinglyrequire that teachers collaborate,many by some form of co-teaching,because of the changes in theIndividuals With Disabilities Educa-tion Improvement Act (IDEA) of2004 and changes related to thehighly qualified component of NoChild Left Behind (2002). Get aheadof the curve by volunteering andchoosing a compatible partnerbefore someone tells you that youmust co-teach.
Ask yourself: Have I stepped up tothe plate and volunteered yet?
2. Talk to the boss, Ross. Admin-istrators can help provide materials,
40 COUNCIL FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN
50 Ways to Keep Your Co-Teacher
Strategies for Before, During,and After Co-Teaching
Wendy W. Murawski
Enhanc ing Student Success
resources, improved schedules, andmore. Furnish them with articlesthat clarify co-teaching, and discusswith them your particular needs.Some resources that you may findhelpful in sharing with administra-tors include Boscardin (2005),Murawski and Lochner (2007), Reaet al. (2002), Rea (2005), Walther-Thomas (1997), and Wilson (2005).
Ask each other: Have you consid-ered what you need to create orimprove your co-teaching situationand how those needs will affect stu-dent outcomes? How will you com-municate those needs to youradministrator?
3. Get trained, Layne. Co-teachers fre-quently cite the need for training incollaboration, co-teaching, and dif-ferentiation strategies (e.g., Mastro-pieri et al., 2005). Seizing opportu-nities for staff development in-serv-ice training and workshops is help-ful, as is reading books and articlesthat focus on the collaborative rela-tionship in inclusive classrooms.Ask whether you and your co-teacher can attend a workshop onco-teaching or inclusion together.(Speakers bureaus like the Bureauof Education and Research [www.ber.org] can provide high-qualitystaff development.)
Ask your administrator: How canyou help ensure that we are welltrained in co-teaching before webegin?
4. Make a new plan, Stan. Recognizethe importance of trying things in anew way. Beninghof (2003) statesthat one of the most common mis-takes of co-teaching is that neithereducator is willing to loosen thecorset and be more flexible in thisnew relationship. Both teachersneed to approach this new relation-ship with willingness to let go ofcontrol a bit and try new things.
Ask each other: Are you game to trysomething new? What sacredcows are you willing to sacrifice?
5. Keep the numbers low, Joe. Puttingtwo full classes together is not theanswer. One of the benefits of co-
teaching is the lower student-teacher ratio (Friend & Cook, 2003).A good rule of thumb is to keep tothe natural proportions of individu-als with disabilities in societyabout 20%. If you need to clustermore, up to 30% of the studentsmight have a disability, but try toavoid having a class in which all30% represent the same type of dis-ability (e.g., a class in which 10%have behavioral disabilities and20% have learning disabilities,rather than a class in which 30%have learning disabilities). Too greata number of students with learningor behavioral challenges jeopardizethe benefits that you are hoping tosee. Make sure that your inclusiveclass does not become a place for allstruggling studentsthat is, inessence a special education classwith only a few general educationstudents.
Ask each other: How many studentsin our co-taught class have identi-fied disabilities? How many are atrisk, are English language learners,are gifted, or are otherwise excep-tional?
6. Prepare the class, Cass. Just as youprepare to work together as a team,make sure that you have preparedstudents to start working in a moreinclusive setting. Co-teaching isnot the only effective approach, andit is not necessarily the bestapproach for all kids (L. Cook, ascited in Spencer, 2005, p. 297). Con-sider which students need to be in a
co-taught class, and then considerhow you will adequately preparethem for this transition.
Ask the parents: Is your child pre-pared to be in a co-taught generaleducation class? What services andadaptations need to be in place toensure his or her success?
7. Inform the parents, Clarence. Send aletter home to all parents to informthem that two teachers will be inthe classroom. It is not necessary tostate that one of you is a specialeducator and one is a general edu-cator. Simply state that two creden-tialed teachers will equally share inplanning, instructing, and assessingthe whole class (Murawski, 2005).
Ask each other: Who will take thelead in parental contact, or will wedivide this task as a team?
8. Share the news, Suz. Be certain thatothers in the school are aware thatyou are co-teaching. This prepara-tion helps ensure that administra-tors do not call either teacher awayon a regular basis for an emergencymeeting, to help with a behaviorproblem, or to talk to a parent.Parity is critical, as is the consistentpresence of both teachers in theclass. Co-teachers often report thatthey are unable to depend on eachother for planning and instructionbecause one is often out of the classfor a variety of reasons (e.g., for IEPmeetings, for behavioral issues, orto substitute in another class).
Ask yourselves: Do the students seeyou both as the teacher, or do they
TEACHING EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN MAR/APR 2008 41
What Does the Literature Say About Co-Teaching?Less than 10 years ago, little research on co-teaching existed (Murawski & Swanson,2001); however, recent studies have found that it can be a very effective method formeeting students needs (e.g., Magiera, Smith, Zigmond, & Gebauer, 2005;Murawski, 2006; Rea, McLaughlin, & Walther-Thomas, 2002; Scruggs, Mastropieri,& McDuffie, 2007). However, as with any paradigm shift, change is difficult and bar-riers are common. Teachers have reported a variety of frustrations with co-teaching;they include lack of training (Mastropieri et al., 2005), lack of administrative sup-port (Dieker, 2001; Rea, 2005), and a lack of parity in the classroom (Dieker &Murawski, 2003; Spencer, 2005). Dr. Lynne Cook, a noted expert on co-teaching,clarified that co-teaching is not simply having two teachers in a classroom with oneacting as a glorified paraprofessional or an in-class tutor for one or two students(Spencer, p. 297), and yet that is exactly what many teachers complain is occurring(Weiss & Lloyd, 2002).
see one as the real teacher andthe other as an aide who is in andout?
Ask the administrator: Are you pre-pared to treat us both as real teach-ers in the room and avoid calling thespecial educator out for various rea-sons?
9. Dont need to be coy, Roy. Make sureto communicate your pet peeves,preferences, strengths, and weak-nesses with your co-teacher beforethe start of the semester. Talkingabout these preferences will helpavoid personality conflicts and othermiscommunications. Use theSHARE worksheet in Murawski andDieker (2004) to facilitate conversa-tion about important areas of teach-ing on which you will need to agree.
Ask each other: When can we sitdown and review our responses onthe SHARE worksheet?
10. Drop off the key, Lee. Be willing toshare all materials. To ensure parity,do not allow students to think thatone teacher owns the materials orroom because the other always hasto ask permission to use items.Instead, demonstrate parity by cre-ating common materials and spaceand putting both names on theboard, the roster, the report cards,and any communications home.
Ask yourselves: If we look aroundthe room and at our materials, dowe emphasize one teacher over theother? What can we do to remedythat situation?
11. Commit to co-plan, Dan. Planningtogether is the most important partof co-teaching (Murawski, 2005).Before you enter the co-teachingrelationship, talk to your potentialpartners about how you will identi-fy time to get together to co-plan,especially when you are new to co-teaching. Dieker (2001) demonstrat-ed through research that veteran co-teachers only need about 10 min-utes to plan for a week; however,those teachers had previously co-taught. In new situations, overplan-ning is better than underplanning.Ideas for finding time to co-plan are
available in Murawski and Dieker(2004). Two excellent resources tohelp structure co-planning to maketime and ensure consistency are TheCo-Teaching Lesson Plan Book(Dieker, 2006) and the Co-TeachingSolutions System (CTSS) TeachersToolbox (www.coteachsolutions.com; Murawski & Lochner, 2007).
Ask the administrator: Are you will-ing to support our efforts by pur-chasing The Co-Teaching LessonPlan Book or CTSS Toolbox andhelping us find time to meet regu-larly to co-plan?
12. Each take a piece, Reece. One of thebest things about co-teaching is theopportunity to shareresponsibili-ty, accountability, workload, andfun! Letting teachers know that theywill have someone else to help withplanning, obtaining materials, grad-ing, and other chores is one of thebest ways to attract interest in co-teaching. Ask each other: How will we breakup the load so that we both willbenefit?
One of the best things about co-teaching is the opportunity
to shareresponsibility,accountability, workload, and fun!
13. Work where you are strong, Wong,and address where you are weak,Zeke. Being aware of each othersstrengths and weaknesses is manda-tory. Be honest, and share with eachother whether you are a procrasti-nator or a type-A control freak. Dis-cuss whether you love or hate toplan, grade, and take care of disci-pline and other aspects of instruc-tion. Although special educators donot need to be content experts, theyneed to be willing to expand ontheir content knowledge if that is anarea of weakness, especially at thesecondary level. General educatorsmay share that they feel comfortablewith the content and standards butmay be less familiar with individu-alizing strategies or ways to make
content accessible to students whoare struggling.
Ask each other: What are yourstrengths and weaknesses, and howdo they affect your teaching? (Per-haps you will find that you two willtruly complement each other. If not,you should discuss compromises.)
14. Its OK to be trendy, Wendy. Readcurrent material on brain-basedlearning, and offer some teachingto the brain tricks as your role inthe co-taught class. Be aware ofother strategies, tools, and tech-niques that come from a variety ofsources (e.g., English languagelearning seminars, as well as litera-cy and mathematics coaches); andbe willing to use whatever mightmake a difference in studentengagement and learning.
Ask specialists in your district: Canyou share any new strategies withus so that we can help our studentsincrease their academic, behavioral,and learning skills?
15. Establish clear rules, Jules. The co-teachers need to discuss the waythat each person deals with behav-ioral issues before beginning co-teaching. Check to be certain thatyour rules are clear enough that youcan provide consequences in lessthan 3 seconds and that you bothare consistently acknowledging pos-itive behavior and not merely rein-forcing bad behavior.
Ask each other: What are our rolesand preferences related to behaviorin the co-teaching setting?
16. Always be fair, Cher. In a strong co-teaching climate, both teachersclearly understand that fair meansthat everyone gets what he or sheneeds (and that fair does not meanthat everyone gets the same or equalthings). In inclusive classroomswhere teachers are clear about fair-ness from the beginning and sharetheir philosophy with students, thisissue never arises. However, if theco-teachers do not share this con-cept early, students and teacherswill struggle to understand why
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some students receive different sup-port than others.
Ask yourselves: Do you both holdsimilar philosophies about fairness?If not, you need to discuss this issuein the first days of planning. Thistopic can make or break your rela-tionship.
17. They are our kids, Sid. Effectiveco-teachers always talk about ourkids, not yours and mine. They donot differentiate students by label...