Implementing a Co-teaching Initiative? Start Small with Willing Teachers

Some teachers and school administrators believe that co-teaching should be voluntary.  We have learned that, when a new co-teaching initiative begins in a district, it is best to start small and with teachers who are willing to experiment, if possible. By using this approach, a school can work out any major issues before implementing the co-teaching initiative school or district-wide.

Co-teaching being done wellThis strategy works well because the anxiety teachers may have before implementation of a co-teaching program will only be exacerbated if the program is started too quickly, by doing too much, and without proper preparation or training with unwilling or reluctant teachers. Any problems that occur become fuel for the argument that co-teaching doesn’t work.

Ideally, school districts should start their co-teaching initiative with teachers who are willing to take on the challenge and immerse themselves in professional development geared toward making co-teaching a success.

How to Match Co-teachers for Success

Sometimes, however, schools have no choice but to assign teachers to a co-teaching role, even when unwilling, because of the need to meet IEP requirements or state standards. In this situation, try to carefully match up personalities for the best possible success. Co-teaching is like an arranged marriage, and the personalities sharing a classroom can make or break the co-teaching relationship. All the conflict resolution or professionalism in the world cannot compensate for two seriously mismatched personalities.

When beginning a co-teaching initiative, district administrators may find themselves struggling to find appropriate co-teaching matches. When setting up teams for an idea this big, it’s important to think out-of-the-box; teachers may need to be moved to different grade levels or courses, schedules may need to changed or adjusted, etc. so that teachers who are willing to co-teach can work together.

A School Principal’s Role in a Successful Co-teaching Initiative

Just like the classroom teacher, administrators may be nervous about their role in the co-teaching initiative and how to best support their staff. It is imperative that administrators understand what co-teaching is, what it is not, and that they coach and mentor their staff in a positive, productive way to achieve the best possible results.

Co-teaching Initiatives: The Bottom Line

My experience has shown me that the best way to implement a successful co-teaching program on any campus or in any district, is to start small with a few teams of dedicated, professional educators who are willing to collaborate together, with training and coaching. When the data collected from these “model” teams shows gains in student performance, other teachers will be motivated to participate and motivated teachers will always be more successful than coerced teachers.

In this age of testing, fear, and reprisal, teachers need to be motivated and taught how to best utilize their time and efforts to help students succeed. Co-teaching, done well, is one of the surest ways to make a difference for students.

Excerpted from Co-teaching and Collaboration in the Classroom


Co-teaching and Collaboration in the ClassroomFor more information on co-teaching and co-teaching models, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Co-teaching and Collaboration in the Classroom. Available in both print and electronic versions!

We also offer a Professional Development Kit for Co-teachers, with a Graduate Credit Option!

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