Co-teaching, also known as team-teaching or collaborative team-teaching, can successfully meet the needs of learners with diverse abilities simultaneously, in the same classroom. As a principal, I guided my staff to instruct all learners in an inclusive general education classroom—the least restrictive environment—as much as was appropriate.
But it wasn’t an easy process. Paradigms about how the needs of children with individualized education programs (IEPs) could be best served needed to change. With two or more adults assigned to a room, both had to learn to work collaboratively to define the roles, responsibilities, routines, and assessment processes in a shared setting.
It took time, with a continued focus on our goals, to figure out the many complicated pieces of our schoolwide plan. Fortunately, our desire to teach kids in an inclusive environment coincided with a statewide initiative in Ohio called Leadership for Results, a collaborative professional development program for principals and teachers sponsored by the Ohio Association of Elementary School Administrators and the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators.
In 2004, ASCD author and educational consultant Margaret Searle released Standards-Based Instruction for All Learners: A Treasure Chest for Principal-Led Building Teams in Improving Results for Learners Most At-Risk. It contains detailed strategies that principals can use to help grade-level teams improve co-teaching practices, ultimately geared toward improving achievement for all learners.
Searle outlines a vision of four co-teaching models: Speak and Help, Speak and Chart, Speak and Add, and Duet.
1. Speak and Help
In this model, when one teacher presents a lesson, the other is focused on formative assessment—using a wide variety of methodologies to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension.
By discreetly moving throughout the room, the “helper” assists with prompts, redirecting, time-on-task, and questions, and assesses understanding of all students during the lesson and independent work time.
2. speak and chart
This is a strong model for teachers with limited experience working together, especially when one of them feels unsure about the content. This option also works with paraprofessionals, students, or volunteers as the charting partner. One teacher presents verbally while the second teacher presents visually.
The visual presentation can be completed in multiple, creative ways. Examples might include note taking, demonstrating math problems on the blackboard, science demonstrations, collecting student responses for everyone to see, and more. Many students will benefit from the simultaneous auditory and visual presentations and the modeling.
3. speak and add
In this model, one teacher presents key ideas while the second gives examples. Stories, jokes, and other engaging instructional strategies add interest to the lesson. Changing voice, pitch, and pace can sustain students’ attention and helps reinforce the key points. This model enables each teacher to monitor student responses as the partner presents.
To speak and add effectively, teachers must demonstrate rapport and mutually design a well-planned lesson. The outcome is the development of a more effective repertoire of modifications and adaptations than one teacher alone can create and implement.
With successful duet models, students accept both teachers as their lead instructor. Responsibility for success is equally shared. Duet is the most complex version of co-teaching.
Both teachers must share an easy flow of “give and take” as they work and interact with each other. Good flow doesn’t happen unless teachers have time to create an organized plan and practice for the lesson.
Most co-teaching teams realize that implementing a combination of the four models makes sense. All models require preplanning, attention to grade-level indicators, and a focus on each student’s unique needs. With each model, the special education teacher (or paraprofessional) provides instruction to a diverse group of students, including those with IEPS or other specific needs.
As years go by, the teacher teams will change. When assisting teachers with the development of new partnerships, principals need to share their vision and commitment to co-teaching, and engage in collaborative planning with the expectation that there’s parity in roles and responsibilities. They must assess professional development needs and actively participate in the ongoing delivery of support for all teachers. Professional development, targeted to help all students achieve at high levels, must always evolve and never stop.
Any adaptation of Speak and Help, Speak and Chart, Speak and Add, or Duet is better than Sit and Watch, a situation in which one teacher in the pair is passively present. Both teachers can and should make valuable contributions every day.