What is Co-Teaching Professional Development?

Published On: July 31st, 2023·By ·

In the dynamic realm of education, collaboration and innovation are essential ingredients for student success. Enter co-teaching, a powerful approach that brings educators with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and expertise.

Co-teaching typically involves a partnership between a general education teacher and a special education teacher or even two general education teachers. They collaborate, plan, and deliver instruction in a shared classroom setting.

New teachers paired with more experienced co-teachers can find navigating differences in teaching philosophies particularly challenging. Similarly, co-teachers whose teaching philosophies differ from each other may also need help.

While co-teaching is a dynamic educational framework, it is also intimately connected with professional development. Professional development encompasses the ongoing journey of honing teaching skills, expanding pedagogical knowledge, and staying abreast of emerging research and best practices. 

As a classroom teacher, co-teaching can solve the challenge of giving every student immediate, individualized feedback beyond “good job!” 

The presence of two teachers in a classroom improves teamwork and doubles the opportunity to confer with students and check in on their progress, thereby leveraging several co-teaching benefits.

This article will explore co-teaching strategies and unveil how they seamlessly align with professional development

What Is Co-Teaching?

Co-teaching is a collaborative teaching approach that involves two or more educators working together to plan, deliver, and assess the learning of a group of students. Co-teaching can take different forms depending on the teachers' and students' needs and preferences, such as team teaching, station teaching, parallel teaching, alternative teaching, or one teacher/one assistant.

Typically, co-teaching aims to provide high-quality instruction that meets the diverse needs of all learners in an inclusive classroom. Co-teachers can leverage their strengths, skills, and perspectives to create a rich and engaging learning environment by sharing the responsibility for teaching and learning. 

In addition to offering the opportunity for teachers to differentiate instruction, monitor student progress, and provide timely feedback and support, collaborative teaching requires careful coordination to ensure that students receive unified, cohesive instruction. This involves frequent and effective communication to establish common goals, expectations, and strategies.

Collaborative teachers must align their curriculum, assessment, and grading practices to ensure clarity and consistency. Respecting each other's roles and responsibilities and fostering a positive and trusting relationship is also essential.

Collaborative teaching has been shown to benefit both students and teachers in many ways, as research indicates that it can improve student achievement, motivation, engagement, and social skills. Furthermore, collaborative teaching can enhance teacher satisfaction, confidence, creativity, and professional growth.

Benefits of Co-Teaching

Co-teaching is a collaborative approach to teaching that involves two or more educators working together to plan, deliver, and assess instruction for a group of students. Co-teaching can provide many benefits for both students and teachers, such as:

Increased Student Engagement

Co-teaching can increase student engagement by offering more opportunities for interaction, feedback, and support. 

When co-teachers use different strategies to teach the same content, they can appeal to diverse learning styles and preferences. They can also monitor and adjust the pace and level of instruction to meet the needs of individual students. 

Co-teaching can also foster a positive classroom climate where students feel valued and respected by multiple adults. Having two teachers in a classroom setting also allows for greater flexibility and enables experimentation with new teaching methodologies. Some ideas for co-teachers to increase student engagement are:

  • Use cooperative learning activities that require students to work in pairs or small groups with different roles and responsibilities.
  • Incorporate technology tools that allow students to create, share, and present their learning products.
  • Use formative assessment techniques that elicit student responses and provide immediate feedback.
  • Use questioning strategies that promote higher-order thinking and encourage student participation.

Differentiated Instruction

Both approaches aim to provide instruction responsive to student's diverse needs and abilities. Differentiated instruction is planning and delivering instruction considering students' readiness, interests, and learning profiles. 

Co-teaching can facilitate differentiated instruction by allowing co-teachers to divide the class into smaller groups and provide more individualized attention and support. Some examples of differentiated instruction in a co-taught classroom are:

  • Use flexible grouping based on pre-assessment data or student choice.
  • Use tiered assignments that vary in complexity and challenge according to student readiness.
  • Use curriculum compacting that allows students who have mastered the content to move on to more advanced or independent work.

Reduced Teacher Isolation

Co-teaching reduces teacher isolation by creating a professional partnership between teachers, known as a co-teaching relationship. By working closely with another educator in a co-teaching relationship, co-teachers can exchange skills and knowledge, learn from each other's strengths and weaknesses, and improve their instructional practices. 

Moreover, this collaborative co-teaching relationship fosters a supportive environment where teachers can collaborate, plan lessons together, and provide targeted student support. 

Teachers can leverage their combined expertise through the co-teaching relationship, create diverse learning opportunities, and enhance student outcomes. In addition, the co-teaching relationship also promotes reflection and growth as educators engage in ongoing communication and feedback, refining their teaching strategies for the benefit of all students involved.

Also, a quick online search will turn up several national fellowship and learning programs for teachers, such as the Department of Education's Effective Educator Development Programs, which include the School Ambassador Fellowship, and the National Education Association Foundation's Global Learning Fellowship. 

Schools can inform experienced teachers about these opportunities and encourage them to apply and sign up. So, new ideas will come into the collaborative area and make learning better for students. 

Co-teaching can also help connect with others who share their goals, challenges, and successes. This activity can foster a sense of collegiality, trust, and mutual support among co-teachers. Some tips for co-teachers to reduce teacher isolation are:

  • Communicate regularly and openly about your expectations, roles, responsibilities, and feedback.
  • Plan collaboratively and share your ideas, resources, and expertise.
  • Reflect together on your co-teaching experiences and identify areas for improvement or celebration.
  • Seek professional development opportunities that enhance your co-teaching skills and knowledge.

Co-Teaching Methods

Defining the different co-teaching models is crucial because it provides clarity and structure to the collaborative teaching approach. These models serve as frameworks that outline the roles and responsibilities of co-teachers in various contexts, allowing educators to choose the most suitable approach based on their instructional goals and student needs.

There are six standard models of co-teaching that teachers can consider:

1. One Teaches, One Observes

In this co-teaching model, one teacher takes the lead in delivering instruction while the other observes and gathers data on student performance. The observing teacher can focus on specific students, behaviors, or instructional strategies. You can use checklists or anecdotal records to document observations.

Example: During a math lesson, one teacher presents the concept while the other observes students' understanding, engagement, and areas of difficulty. The observing teacher gathers data to inform future instruction or identify students who require additional support. Benefits and reasons to opt for this model:

  • Allows one teacher to observe student learning and behaviors closely.
  • Provides an opportunity for data collection and assessment.
  • Enables teachers to reflect on instructional strategies and make adjustments based on observations.
  • Facilitates individualized instruction by identifying students' strengths and areas for improvement.

2. One Teaches, One Assists

In the “One Teaches, One Assist” model, one teacher leads the instruction while the other provides support and assistance to individual students or small groups. The assisting teacher circulates the classroom, reinforces concepts, answers questions, and offers additional explanations.

Example: During a reading activity, one teacher leads a whole-class discussion while the other circulates, assisting struggling readers, checking for understanding, or providing enrichment activities to advanced readers. Benefits and reasons to opt for this model:

  • Allows for personalized instruction and targeted support.
  • Increases teacher-student interaction and individualized feedback.
  • Provides flexibility to address diverse student needs simultaneously.
  • Encourages active engagement and participation of all students.

While the training and experience of each teacher differ, the fundamental essence of co-teaching lies in the fact that both teachers teach and work directly with students, both as a group and individually.

3. Station Teaching

Each educator takes responsibility for a specific topic area and teaches it again to different classes during the same class session using this co-teaching technique. Unlike parallel teaching, this plan lets each teacher focus more on a different part of the lesson.

In the “Station Teaching” model, teachers divide the classroom into stations or learning centers, each addressing a specific topic or skill. Students rotate through the stations, receiving instruction from one teacher at each station. The co-teachers collaboratively plan and design activities for the different stations.

Example: One teacher leads a hands-on experiment in a science lesson while the other facilitates a reading and research station, utilizing a station teaching approach. Students rotate between stations, engaging in different learning activities. Benefits and reasons to opt for this model:

  • Provides differentiated instruction and multiple learning opportunities.
  • Promotes student independence and responsibility.
  • Allows teachers to target specific skills or content areas.
  • Fosters collaboration and cooperative learning among students.

4. Parallel Teaching

In parallel teaching, both teachers give the same information to two different groups of students simultaneously. In a co-teaching model, you and your co-teacher collaborate to plan together and strategically employ different instructional approaches or variations to address the diverse needs of students within each group effectively.

In the parallel teaching system, both teachers cover the same information but divide the class into two groups and teach simultaneously. This collaborative approach ensures that both of you can leverage your unique strengths and teaching styles while maintaining a cohesive and inclusive learning environment. 

By utilizing the co-teaching model, you can effectively tap into both educators' diverse skill sets and perspectives, resulting in a comprehensive and tailored learning experience for all students involved.

Example: During a writing lesson, one teacher works with a small group of students on brainstorming while the other works with another group on revising and editing. Benefits and reasons to opt for this model:

  • Provides more opportunities for student participation and engagement.
  • Allows for greater individualized attention and support.
  • Encourages peer interaction and collaborative learning within smaller groups.
  • Supports differentiated instruction based on student's needs and abilities.

5. Alternative Teaching

In most class groupings, there are times when several pupils require specific attention. In alternative teaching, one teacher is in charge of the leading group, while the other is in charge of a smaller group.

Typically, one teacher works with the majority of the students, delivering core instruction, while the other teacher works with a smaller group of students who require additional support or extension activities. The smaller group receives targeted instruction that complements or extends the content being taught to the larger group.

Example: During a social studies lesson, one teacher leads the whole class in discussing a historical event while the other teacher provides targeted instruction to a group of English language learners, focusing on vocabulary development and comprehension strategies. Benefits and reasons to opt for this model:

  • Allows for targeted instruction to meet diverse student needs.
  • Provides intensive support or extension activities for specific groups.
  • Promotes individualized attention and small-group interaction.
  • Helps prevent student disengagement or frustration by addressing different ability levels.

Alternative Teaching is often called “big group/small group” instruction.

6. Team Teaching

Team Teaching is a style of collaboration in which both professors take turns teaching the entire class. Team Teaching is when two or more teachers work together to give a lesson. Each teacher brings their style and knowledge to the lesson. 

They co-present lessons, actively engage with students, and work collaboratively throughout the teaching process. The expertise and knowledge of both teachers are integrated seamlessly.

In this team teaching model, both teachers are delivering the same instruction at the same time. Others call it tag-team teaching. Most co-teachers consider this approach the most complex, but it doesn't sound as complex once you get the hang of it.

In team teaching and the five other co-teaching models, a teacher team can consist of two general education teachers, two special education teachers, or a combination of both. Alternatively, collaborating between a teacher and a specially trained paraprofessional could involve collaborating. It is worth noting that specific Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) may require the involvement of both general and special education teachers.

Example: In a history class, both teachers co-present a lesson on the causes of a significant historical event, providing different perspectives and facilitating discussions with students. Benefits and reasons to opt for this model:

  • Promotes collaboration and shared decision-making between teachers.
  • Allows for seamless integration of multiple perspectives and expertise.
  • Provides students with a variety of instructional approaches and learning opportunities.
  • Helps students and teachers get along better and creates a good atmosphere in the classroom.

By understanding and selecting from these co-teaching models, educators can create effective partnerships that enhance student learning, meet diverse needs, and promote professional growth among teachers.

Co-Teaching Roles and Responsibilities

One of the critical factors for successful co-teaching is establishing clear and shared roles and responsibilities for the co-teachers. This means that you and your co-teacher should communicate regularly and openly about your preferences, strengths, and areas for improvement. You should also agree on dividing the planning, instruction, assessment, and management tasks. 

Furthermore, co-teaching provides a unique platform for educators to engage in collaborative learning, reflective practice, and the exchange of innovative ideas. It intertwines seamlessly with the broader landscape of professional growth, empowering teachers to enhance their instructional expertise and meet the ever-evolving needs of diverse learners.

Some of the common mistakes of co-teaching are:

  • Assuming one teacher is in charge and the other is an assistant. This can lead to a power imbalance and inhibit collaboration among co-teachers.
  • Assuming that one teacher is the content expert and the other is the support provider. This can limit the opportunities for both teachers to contribute to the learning process and address the diverse needs of the students.

Co-Teaching Responsibilities

As co-teachers, you have some typical responsibilities that you need to fulfill together. These are:

  • Develop co-teaching plans and strategies. You should plan your lessons together, decide on the co-teaching models that best suit your goals and students, and prepare the materials and resources you will use.
  • Reflect on co-teaching practice and outcomes. You should review your co-teaching experiences, evaluate the impact of your co-teaching on student learning and engagement, and identify what worked well and what needs improvement.
  • Seek co-teaching support and resources. You should seek peer, mentor, or administrator feedback on your co-teaching practice. You should also access professional development opportunities and research-based literature on co-teaching.
  • Cultivate co-teaching relationships and culture. You should build trust, respect, and rapport with your co-teacher. You should also promote a positive and collaborative learning environment for your students.

Co-Teaching & Professional Development

Co-teaching and professional development are closely connected as co-teaching can serve as a valuable form of professional development for teachers. Co-teaching involves collaborating with another educator to deliver instruction, share responsibilities, and meet the diverse needs of students. 

Teachers can learn from one another through this collaborative practice, exchange ideas, and improve their instructional practices.

Co-teaching can help with professional development in several ways:

  1. Collaboration and Shared Expertise: Co-teaching allows teachers to combine their knowledge, skills, and experiences. This collaboration promotes professional growth as teachers can learn from each other's teaching strategies, classroom management techniques, and instructional approaches.
  2. Reflective Practice: Co-teaching requires ongoing reflection and analysis of instructional practices. Teachers can observe and provide feedback to one another, identifying strengths and areas for improvement. This reflective practice promotes professional growth by encouraging self-assessment and implementing effective teaching strategies.
  3. Targeted Professional Learning: Co-teaching allows teachers to address specific areas of professional development. Teachers can collaboratively identify their strengths and areas for growth, then design co-teaching experiences that target those areas. For example, if one teacher wants to improve their differentiation strategies, they can collaborate with a co-teacher who excels in this area to learn and implement new techniques.
  4. Exposure to New Ideas and Perspectives: Co-teaching exposes teachers to different instructional methods, perspectives, and approaches. Educators can expand their pedagogical repertoire and gain insights into diverse teaching strategies by working closely with co-teachers. This exposure to new ideas enhances professional development and encourages continuous learning.

Professional development is vital for teacher success because it allows educators to stay current with best practices, enhance their instructional skills, and adapt to the evolving needs of students. It provides opportunities for teachers to deepen their content knowledge, refine their teaching strategies, and explore innovative approaches to instruction. 

Additionally, professional development fosters a culture of lifelong learning, which is crucial in an ever-changing educational landscape.

You can explore these professional development courses and resources. These courses can provide valuable opportunities to expand your knowledge, refine your teaching practices, and engage in collaborative learning with other educators. 

Investing in your professional development can enhance your teaching effectiveness and positively impact student learning.

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