Do You Have Research That Co-Teaching Works?
I was asked this question during a public seminar on Inclusion Strategies that I was delivering in the Chicago area. The teachers asking the question have experienced great success with their students and themselves through co-teaching. Their administrator, however, didn’t believe that co-teaching works. A national guru on teaching strategies (not co-teaching) announced in one of their in-services that it does not work. That guru did not give an explanation, rather just made the statement, they explained. I wonder if that guru has any experience with co-teaching, as that’s not their area of expertise. Regardless, these two teachers were devastated. So, they asked me, “Do you have research that it works?” “We know it works,” they emphatically claimed. They saw the growth in their students while co-teaching. They are passionate about continuing the co-teaching model in their school. However, that model is threatened because of misinformation.
The Co-teaching Label is Often Wrong
Well, here’s the nitty-gritty: No matter what the research says, the label is often wrong. What I mean by that is: School districts who put two teachers in an ‘inclusive’ classroom can CALL it co-teaching, yet, it may not be CO-teaching at all. And, if it is called co-teaching on paper simply because two bodies are in the room and it doesn’t work, it’s decided that Co-teaching does not work.
Co-teaching Will Not Work When…
Co-teaching (in name only) will NOT work when a general education teacher and a special education teacher are put together in a room and the special education teacher is constantly pulled for “other” responsibilities. It will NOT work when the administration is not supportive and/or does not provide training AND follow through. It will NOT work when the administration does not hold teachers accountable for best practice teaching methods. It will NOT work when administration holds an in-service for the teachers but does not attend (how can they possibly know how to follow through with the training if they were not there?). Co-teaching does NOT work if schools use it as a budget-cutting endeavor. And, it will NOT work when teachers don’t want to cooperate and one or both deliberately sabotage the process. You see, the bottom line is: None of the above is co-teaching. It’s a weak attempt at something that might, at a glance or on paper, LOOK like co-teaching, but it’s not CO-teaching. Co-teaching means exactly that – Co, together, two, both – teaching. Not one teacher teaching and one teacher holding up the wall.
Co-teaching Done WELL Works!
I’ve been co-teaching and working with co-teachers since 1993. Co-teaching done WELL, scheduled WELL, received WELL, and combined with BEST PRACTICE teaching strategies to DIFFERENTIATE INSTRUCTION ******DOES******* work. It works a whole lot better than one teacher, all alone, trying to deal with a classroom of 30+ students at different ability levels. It works a whole lot better than self-contained classrooms where the bar is often too low for students to make significant gains. It works when school districts don’t pretend they are doing Inclusion by putting the lowest achievers with the students with special needs and filtering out all the academically successful students into more challenging classes (that’s not inclusion, rather, that’s one big, tracked, low-level class).
Co-teaching With Teachers Who are Willing
If a district has two teachers who are willing to truly co-teach and they are co-teaching together on a consistent basis and that co-teach marriage is respected by the “powers that be” so that the general education teacher isn’t alone half the time (pulling the special education teacher out for coverage, meetings, training, crises, etc. is commonplace) and those teachers are using best practice strategies and differentiating instruction, the co-teaching model works better than almost any other model available to quickly accelerate ALL, yes I said ALL, students’ achievement. When you tier lesson plans in a co-taught class, high achievers also have the opportunity to accelerate!
So, Does Co-teaching Work?
Does co-teaching work? YES, when the district commits to implementing it correctly and truly and honestly supports teachers in the process. YES, when the teachers’ personalities mesh and they are willing to use best practice strategies to reach ALL learners. (I heard an *expert* say once that personality styles don’t matter in co-teaching. I strongly disagree! I’ve personally co-taught with many personalities and when I’m working with my opposite personality type it’s like being married to an alien and consequently a very challenging. if not impossible, ride.) YES, co-teaching works when schools don’t segregate learners into classes of high, medium, and low and pretend it’s inclusion when they put the students with special needs in a tracked low level class. YES. it works when one of the two teachers doesn’t fight the process every step of the way but instead keeps an open mind and is willing to teach with best practice strategies. YES, it can work when done well. It can even work when done half well.
YES. Co-teaching, implemented correctly, works.
Caveat: This is the first time that I’ve written a blog article without editing it ten times, filtering it to make sure it does not upset anyone, over analyzing it for political correctness and being overly cautious that I don’t burn bridges. In the past several months, I’ve begun to feel that I need to speak my heart and voice and take the flack for what I believe and if it offends someone, so be it. Some things just need to be said. So, you might find commas in the wrong places, you might not like what I wrote, or you may agree wholeheartedly. What matters most is that a message that I’m passionate about is addressed directly. The teachers I serve deserve passionate honesty. My heart goes out to the teachers in my audience that day. Only ONE was sent with her co-teacher. How does sending ONE co-teacher of a co-teaching pair to an in-service help that process to work? If you are going to do it, do it right!
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