A Back to School Guide for Co-Teaching

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Here is an example conversation starter to support building a strong co-teaching relationship at the very beginning of the year

We know it is important to build relationships and set expectations for our students at the beginning of the school year. It is equally important to build relationships and set expectations between co-teachers to establish and maintain shared responsibility for efficiency, learning, and student success.

Co-teaching implemented with fidelity has a profound impact on a range of learners with and without disabilities from a variety of cultures (Dieker, 2011; Murawski, 2010; Friend, 2008; Scruggs, et al, 2007). Co-teaching is often characterized as a “marriage” between a general education and a specialist (Special Education teacher, English Language Teacher, and/or related service provider). Formally defined, Co-teaching is two or more educators sharing responsibility for teaching all of the students assigned to a classroom. It involves the distribution of responsibility among people for three components: co-planning, co-instructing, and co-assessing for a classroom of students.

This article will address the first component: Co-planning. Whether you are working with a new co-teaching partner(s) or returning to an established partnership, dedicate time at the beginning of the year (before you both step into the classroom) to discuss a shared philosophy or belief system around student achievement, pedagogy and class climate.  The foundation of successful co-planning includes time for professionals to discuss how their individual philosophies/beliefs about students, pedagogy, and classroom climate are aligned. If initially you find your beliefs are not aligned, successful teams meet and plan to align their beliefs about pedagogy in-order to benefit all students. After these beginning conversations, teachers then build on these beliefs and co-plan academics (establishing routines, such as how to utilize each other’s strengths, how to analyze student data and how to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all learners, etc.).

Here is an example conversation starter to support building a strong co-teaching relationship at the very beginning of the year:

What are our expectations of each other for…

  • when attendance is taken?
  • the grading of assessments and/or assignments?
  • when students are doing independent work in the classroom?
  • parent/home contact (for discipline, for praise, for concerns) for students with disabilities and students without?
  • enforcement of classroom discipline?
  • when a student asks the same question to both teachers because they didn’t like the answer of the first teacher?
  • when one teacher has a substitute?

To make this component of co-planning fun and interactive, I have created fun co-teaching_Choice boards for new teams and returning teams to play.  Not only will this choice board be a fun activity to establish relationships, but a choice board is an excellent instructional strategy to use to differentiate instruction for your students. Your answers can be used to start a conversation about how you will work as a team to meet the needs of all your students.

Up Next: How do we effectively maximize both educators to co-plan differentiated instruction for our learners?


Savanna Flakes, EdS, has taught a variety of subjects, grades and learners in Washington D.C., Pittsburgh and Virginia. Savanna is an education consultant specializing in inclusion, special education, and literacy. Her prior instructional leadership roles include Manager of Professional Learning, Master Educator, technology integration specialist and inclusion instructional specialist, coaching administrators and teachers on effective inclusive and instructional practices. Savanna has served as a professor in the American University School of Education and Health, and she presents nationally on topics such as differentiation, co-teaching, universal design for learning, and inclusion. As an education consultant, Savanna works with school communities to build effective instructional practices for students with exceptionalities. For more information, visit Inclusion For a Better Future.