The old adage “two heads are better than one” holds special significance in the classroom. Schools are increasingly recognizing the potential benefits of co-teaching for many students across a variety of settings.
Co-teaching expert Wendy Murawski defines the strategy as “two or more educators who co-plan, co-instruct, and co-assess a group of students with diverse needs in the same general education classroom.” While co-teaching was originally designed to enhance inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities, it is now also embraced as a valuable tool for reaching English language learners and gifted students, and for teaching collaborative content.
The instructional aspects of co-teaching have been examined, but it’s important to address the unique classroom management challenges of co-teaching and specific tactics that can be used to address these issues.
Peanut Butter and Mayonnaise
While peanut butter and mayonnaise are both tasty, few of us are brave enough to mix them on the same sandwich. Some foods that are wonderful on their own may not be the best combination. The same could be said for co-teachers. Two solo educators might be excellent in their own classrooms, but forcing them to work together may not produce the best results.
Differences in personalities, teaching styles, or classroom management priorities are a few of the reasons that teachers may clash. When co-teachers are unable to compromise, students suffer.
Although some teaching partnerships are dictated by administration, participants should approach these relationships with flexibility and an open mind. Early and frequent communication is one of the best ways to avoid, or at least minimize, significant disagreements. Tools like a co-teaching partnership checklist give partners the opportunity to discuss their individual approaches and priorities and to identify areas for compromise, if need be. Co-teachers should establish their approaches and work on compromises before students even set foot in the classroom.
Mom Said I Could
Kids are pretty savvy at getting what they want. For example, Mom may tell a child they cannot attend a sleepover because it’s a school night. Not being satisfied with that answer, the child may later seek permission from Dad, never mentioning that Mom was already asked. Some kids may even go so far as to finesse the truth to make it seem that the other parent is already fully on board with their requests. Unsurprisingly, these types of manipulation usually lead to frustration and anger between the adults when the truth finally comes out.
Co-teachers need to be aware of how students engage with each teacher in the classroom. For minor requests, such as signing bathroom passes or borrowing school supplies, consider assigning specific requests to only one member of the team, and inform students of the division of labor. For example, Mrs. Caspero handles all restroom requests, while Mr. Longo is the person to see if you need to borrow a pencil. Assuming both co-teachers have similar expectations, such an approach minimizes confusion and redundancy.
For more complex requests, such as extra-credit opportunities or project deadline extensions, an immediate answer is not required. Explain to the student that you need to run the idea by your colleague, and give them a clear estimate as to when a joint decision will be made. This approach shows students that you value collaboration and respect your partner.
Good Cop, Bad Cop
Buddy cop movies often feature interrogation scenes. One officer plays the role of the bad cop, acting tough and doing everything to intimidate the suspect. The partner plays the good cop, who tries to bond with the suspect in an effort to make them drop their guard.
While this approach may be successful in the movies, it will be ineffective and lead to confusion in a co-taught classroom. Teachers need to calibrate behavioral expectations and consequences. Consistent consequences and ongoing discussion between partners regarding which behaviors should be addressed are important. Remember that disagreements should be discussed promptly and professionally, but not in front of the students.
Furthermore, co-teachers need to feel comfortable confronting students rather than let their more assertive colleague handle it. Addressing misbehavior need not be adversarial. Nonverbal strategies such as eye contact or closer proximity are effective ways to quickly get a student back on board without undue attention.
Sherlock and Watson
Although the great literary duo Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson have shared the spotlight in dozens of adventures, they are rarely perceived as equals. Watson is always a few steps behind Holmes, who is portrayed as having a superior intellect and brave sense of adventure.
All too often, co-teachers are also viewed unequally among students. This may lead to less engagement and weaker relationships. One of the most effective ways to overcome this obstacle is to ensure that both teachers are consistently and meaningfully involved in the planning, teaching, and assessing of every lesson. Co-teaching lesson templates can provide both structure and accountability.
Co-teaching is a promising technique that holds educational potential for many students. Using the classroom management skills of collaboration, communication, and equity, teaching partners can establish a learning environment that is both peaceful and productive.