Nervous about coteaching? Here are 6 tips that will help you successfully co-teach in inclusion classrooms. This post will cover everything from tips for successful collaboration with general education teachers to ideas for differentiated instruction. Use it as a guide to help make your special education co-teaching experience a success!
These tips come from my own experience with co-teaching in the elementary level setting. I will say it wasn't easy – in fact, to say my first year co-teaching was rocky is a huge understatement. My school was committed to inclusion, so we had to find a solution to make it work. Fast forward to the following school year (and many years after that), we found our coteaching groove and it was well worth the extra effort!
Six Tips for Successful Collaborative Teaching
- Coteaching can be an effective way to improve student learning, but it only works if both teachers are clear about their roles and responsibilities. Make sure to set aside time to plan together and get on the same page for meeting all student needs. This will help ensure that your lessons are aligned and that you are both aware of what the other is doing.
- Differentiated instruction is a MUST in inclusion classrooms. With such a wide range of abilities and individual needs of students, it is important to make sure that all students are being challenged and engaged. There are a variety of ways to differentiate instruction in the inclusion classroom setting. Talk with your co-teacher about what will work best for students receiving special education services and inclusive practices to reach the needs of all students. Special educations have a lot of knowledge when it comes to differentiation – don’t be afraid to share your ideas!
- Be flexible and open to change. Things will inevitably come up that you didn’t plan for just like in a resource room or general education classroom. When they do, try your best to stay open-minded to different teaching methods and teaching styles. This will help keep the lesson on track and prevent frustration. You may need to switch to small group instruction from full group on the fly. That is okay – effective instruction can look and feel so many different ways. What works in one classroom may not work in another, so it is important to be willing to adjust your plans as needed.
- Communication is essential. If you are having a difficult time with something, talk to your co-teacher (and the same goes for when things are going well!). Keep the lines of communication open so that you can help each other out, develop mutual respect, and continue to improve the co-teaching relationship. Since coteaching can be a bit of a balancing act, it is important that both teachers are checking in with each other on a regular basis to make sure that both teachers are still on track and that student learning is still happening effectively. Don’t forget to keep lines of communication open with other co-teaching teams in your school district – they may be a resource for additional help.
- Evaluate regularly – this build off of tips #3 and 4. It's so important to have those communication routines in place to evaluate what's going well and what needs tweaking. If coteaching partners are meeting regularly, they can quickly identify any areas that need improvement and make adjustments as necessary
- Have fun! Teaching in co-taught classrooms is a lot of work, but it can also be a lot of fun. Enjoy the time you have with your students and the general educators you work with. These are the moments that you will remember long after you leave the classroom.
Six Co-Teaching Models for the Inclusion Classroom
There are six main models for co-teaching and each service delivery model has it's own unique benefits. In my own coteaching experience, we tended to stick with two models that fell in our mutual comfort zone and then tried out one or two more when we wanted to mix up our teaching approach for increased student engagement.
- One Teach, One Observe – One teacher (often the general educator) is teaching the whole group; The other observing teacher (most likely the special educator) is collecting data during this class time.
- One Teach, One Assist – One teacher is teaching the whole group while the other teacher is supporting students who may need assistance accessing the content.
- Alternative Teaching – One teacher is addressing the majority of the large group; One teacher is pulling a smaller group for differentiated small-group instruction
- Team Teaching – Both teachers are interacting with students and delivering instruction in the same general curriculum lesson.
- Parallel Teaching – Both teachers are pulling groups and teaching the same lesson at the same time. This allows for smaller group size.
- Station Teaching – Both teachers are meeting with their own small group and a 3rd group is working independently; groups follow a rotation schedule.
Co-teaching can be a successful model for instruction when both teachers have the same goals and are flexible in their teaching. Communication is key to ensure that all students are learning.
If you are looking for more resources on co-teaching or special education, here's special education binder dedicated to supporting co-teaching partners. This binder includes differentiated instruction lesson plans, templates, and ideas to help you get started in your own classroom.
Can't wait to hear what you think!