Tips for Co-Teaching & Team Teaching
Looking for classroom management tips for team teaching and co-teaching? You’ll find information on discipline and behavior management while sharing a classroom with a co-teacher, organization ideas for team teaching, and more! Learn from my personal experience with team teaching and hear from educators who have successfully implemented co-teaching, plus find links to other co-teaching and team teaching resources.
What’s the difference between team teaching and co-teaching?
Though some people use these terms interchangeably, team teaching usually refers to two general education teachers combining their classes (or sometimes, switching classes) and sharing responsibility for instruction. Co-teaching is two teachers (one of whom is usually general education, and one is usually a special education or ELL teacher) who are both responsible for a single group of students. On this page, I’ll provide resources for both scenarios.
My team teaching experience
I team taught during my sixth year of teaching due to an overcrowding situation. We had 65 third graders in one classroom while we were waiting for a new building to be constructed. We were told it would happen in October. As you probably predicted, construction feel behind schedule. We weren’t able to move rooms until the end of May, so my team teacher and I ended up sharing a classroom all year!
Fortunately, our teaching styles were very similar and we got along wonderfully. We ended up splitting the teaching load so that we each taught our strongest subjects: she taught whole group reading and science, and I taught math and social studies, and we both taught reading small groups so that the group sizes would be smaller. While one teacher taught the class, the other would be dealing with students on an individual basis, handling all those little things that come up throughout the school day (solving inter-personal disputes, monitoring bathroom privileges, dealing with emotional meltdowns, etc.) and assisting our students with special needs and English language learners. Because our students as a whole were not high-needs (due to the type of school population), we were also able to spend time grading papers, filing, etc. while the other person was teaching.
We conducted parent conferences together, which meant having to do double the amount of conferences, but it was worth it to have someone else be the bearer of bad news occasionally and back me up when there was a conflict. We also graded each other’s papers (we each graded for the subjects we taught) but we entered the grades in our own individual grade books, because in the school’s eyes, we were each responsible for our own group of students.
I was actually sad when the year ended and I had my own classroom again, because I loved having the downtime in between teaching lessons and the ability to talk with an adult who actually knew what it was like to be in the classroom with our kids all day! Teaching is such an isolating profession and I really enjoyed having someone to bounce ideas off of–someone who knew the kids just as well as I did and would be able to give the exact advice I needed.
I don’t think the situation was best for the students, so in that way, I was relieved to have my own room again. If we’d only had 30 kids, it would have been awesome, but no child should have 65 students in his or her class. Our team teaching circumstances were far from ideal, but we really made the best of it and I look back on that year very fondly.
Team teaching essentials from Ashleigh Swinford
Teacher blogger Ashleigh Swinford has a LOT of experience with team teaching–this will be her tenth year teaching with three years in fourth grade and the rest in third grade. She taught in a self-contained classroom for her first six years, and this will be her fourth year in a departmentalized setting. I invited Ashleigh to share some of her ideas below. She writes:
“Departmentalization or team teaching has become a trend in many elementary schools, and with the right set-up, it can be a very positive experience for both students and teachers. However, team teaching is like a marriage and requires hard work and commitment from all involved for a truly successful year. I’ve had the wonderful experience of team teaching for the past three years with an amazing teacher and through my experiences have learned that there are five essential elements to making it work.
1. Trust: You have to trust your partner completely. It’s important to know with 100% certainty that your teaching partner(s) excel in their subject areas, and also have faith that they will give students the best instruction possible while in that classroom. This gives you the freedom to focus on your academic areas and to develop your expertise in that subject.
2. Communication: Set aside time to communicate with each other daily. Discuss student progress, behavior, RTI, EIPs, ways to integrate your subject areas, upcoming assessments, and the list goes on and on. Always be courteous and respectful, and be willing to listen to new ideas, as well as share your own.
3. Consistency: The importance of consistency cannot be overstated. Elementary students crave routines and stability, so the transition from one teacher to another should be seamless. All teachers should have the same academic and behavioral expectations. From my observations and personal experience, this is the area where the most difficulties arise in team teaching, because when students lack the structure they need there is usually a breakdown in their classroom performance. Before the year begins, create a plan with your team to decide on your expectations for behavior, homework, recess, lunch room, hallway, etc. Then as a team, stick to the plan.
4. Organization: Staying organized is a challenge for any teacher, and adding multiple groups of students only adds to the challenge. When working with multiple classes, it’s important to have separate places for students to store their supplies and turn in their work. Be prepared for the organization of classwork and homework. Also, have a place where students can store their personal items. These steps can help you create a more organized classroom and improve your efficiency.
We have separate trays for make-up work, as well as trays where each group turns in their completed work.
5. Flexibility: As with any relationship, flexibility is a must. Life happens. Be prepared for the unexpected. When you departmentalize, you’re held to a much tighter schedule, so little things like a fire drill or assembly can have a major impact on your day. Try to be as agreeable and flexible as possible when working with your partner(s), and they’ll likely return the favor.
Working together with another teacher can be an extremely rewarding experience. Just remember that like any relationship it takes time to find your own way. By implementing these strategies, you may be amazed at the success you experience!”
Mandy’s co-teaching experience
Since I’ve never co-taught before (only team taught), I’ve invited Mandy Holland Gregory to share her story and tips about co-teaching.
Co-teaching requires a great amount of flexibility, communication and opportunities for collaboration. While it can have its difficulties, it can be an amazing experience. I have grown and learned more co-teaching for the last two years than I did in the seven years before this experience combined!
We jokingly refer to our situation as an arranged marriage- neither of us requested to co-teach. My partner was actually a part-time second grade teacher and lost her position when ALL part-time teachers were cut. She was hired back as a Special Education teacher and we happened to be placed together. Somehow it has worked out and three years later, a “divorce” would be quite painful now!
1. Communication: Co-teaching often requires working together closely with a colleague for most of the school day. It is important to communicate tactfully pet peeves and expectations. One thing my partner and I hashed out quickly were the things that drove us batty. She requires silence during morning announcements. I like anchor charts to be in my own handwriting (although I have learned to let this go!).
Also co-teaching in a Special Education inclusions setting requires many meetings. It is important for all parties involved to be aware of meetings dates and times. As the general education teacher I am provided a copy of all of the students accommodations and goals so I am providing students with the correct accommodations and targeting their needs when I am meeting with them in small groups.
2. Organization: Two teachers in one classroom space can make for a tight situation. It is imperative to stay as organized as possible. My partner and I have chosen to share a desk that has communal supplies (thank you cards, post cards, etc) and use our reading table as our desks. This saves spaces, but still allows a space for supplies and a laptop to be hooked to the Promethean and projector.
3. Flexibility: My partner and I try to plan together as often as possible. We often do this during our lunch break! However, some of our grandest plans may crash and burn if we notice students are not understanding the lesson. We are very flexible in our planning and are able to break into small groups or continue a lesson if it is going well. We always have a plan B waiting in the wings!
4. Respect: Unfortunately, many parents see two adults in a classroom and assume that one is the teacher and the other adult is a paraprofessional. I try to make sure both our names are on every paper from the office, both names are displayed in the halls and are on every note from our classroom. We both speak to parents during Open House and stress our experience and educational background.
5. Expectations: My partner and I both are very structured as far as routines and procedures. However, we have a relatively easy going disposition toward discipline. It would be very hard to work with another person that has a more structured approach to discipline. Try to find a median as far as student’s behavioral expectations. It will prevent student confusion and make the classroom run smoother as a whole.
6. Division of Labor: One nice perk of co-teaching is a partner to share the work load (and being able to go to the bathroom whenever needed!). However, keep in mind a Special Education teacher has a ton of extra paper work and data collection to do. We do not have a hard and fast division of labor where my partner has specific tasks to complete and I have another set of tasks to complete. Instead, we share the work load. I have noticed that partnerships in which work is “assigned” it tends to create resentment.
We each have tasks we prefer. I prefer to do the planning, grading, and day to day preparations. My partner does the monthly calendar, newsletter and homework. It works well for us since I am terrible at planning ahead and she is a whiz at it! However, I do not do all the planning every week and my partner does not do all the newsletters every week; we help each other and switch tasks as needed.
7. Support Each Other: Certain times of the year are very stressful: conferences, report cards, and end of the year paper work. At times one of us will teach a lesson whole group (this works especially well in science and social studies) while the other partner plans or completes paper work. It is an unpleasant reality in teaching; paperwork is inevitable. We try to do this only occasionally, because there is a reason two teachers are in the classroom!
My last piece of advice: laugh. Laugh hard and often. Teaching is a stressful profession, isolating profession, with little down time. It is great to able to look across the room at another adult and smile!
Mandy Gregory has been teaching for over ten years. She has co-taught for two years and taught departmentalized Reading, Writing, and Grammar for three years. Mandy has taught second, third, and fourth grades. She currently lives in Georgia with her husband, adorable two year old daughter, and two very fat cats! Her website is Mandy’s Tips for Teachers. You can also follow her on her blog.
Team teaching in a departmentalization scenario
I get lots of questions from teachers about departmentalizing and how that works in an elementary setting. If you are team teaching in a set up where you teach certain subjects and other teachers provide instruction on the rest (with either students of teachers changing classrooms throughout the day), check out the Departmentalized Teaching page for tips from teachers who have implemented that successfully.
Questions about co-teaching and team teaching
The following questions were submitted to me as part of the Ask Angela Anything blog post series. You can submit any teaching-related question anonymously to maintain your privacy and student confidentiality. I’m including the two questions below here on this page instead of in the column to make it easier for co-teachers to find answers all in one place.
I work with a wonderful co-teacher. We have both been under lots of stress from work and home. Due to this we haven’t had the best relationship. To add to it, we both are disorganized. I am working on both home and work, but when I attempt to implement it at work, she claims she doesn’t have time. In order to survive this next year, I need to implement better time management and organization skills. How do I do this when our jobs are intertwined? I was thinking of meeting and setting to do lists, prioritize our work load, so when we are not together we still can do the jobs that needed to get done in a timely fashion. HELP……
No wonder you are “overwhelmed”! That’s quite a challenge you’ve got there. If you can, I would use Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) and Google Apps for Education as much as possible–these resources are free and make collaboration immensely simpler. You can have a shared online calendar that’s accessible from any computer (work or home), keep your lessons in Google Drive (which you can both edit concurrently), and even use Google Forms and Google Spreadsheets for data keeping.
I definitely agree you should meet before school starts and plan some things out. Do all the leg work for your co-teacher so that your questions are answered and you leave the meeting feeling comfortable about where you both stand. Make a list of every task that you’d like to prioritize or assign to one of the two of you, and then you can just go down the list and talk about who will do each one.
Mention that it would be great if you could have a set planning time each day, either first thing in the morning before the kids come in or at the end of the day when they leave. Just 15 minutes, if nothing else, in which you both agree to be in the room alone together and talking about students progress, things that need to be done, etc. Make that time a priority and stick to it.
When problems come up, think of a solution that you think would work and pose it to her: “Hey, I noticed __ happening. What if we __ next time? Is that okay with you?” That way she can’t say she doesn’t have time to think about it or doesn’t know what to do. Be open to her suggestions and input, of course, but take the lead so that there are no excuses about staying disorganized.
In terms of maintaining the relationship, try to let her know you appreciate her as often as possible. Always speak highly of her when she’s standing there (i.e. tell about how she saved the day by making the photocopies when you forgot, or handled a problem with a student while you were busy) and never criticize her behind her back. Foster as much good will as possible: little things make a big difference. Sometimes a single genuine compliment or “thank you” just makes a person’s day. Keep looking for ways to share one another’s workloads (and emotional loads) and try to make the most of what can be a wonderful situation.
I’m a fifth grade teacher and we team teach in our grade level. What advice do you have on working with a teacher whose behavior management style is different from your own? I was teamed with a teacher who is very passive in her approach and that made it difficult since I was more active in teaching and correcting behavior. The students always seemed confused why they were corrected for interrupting in my math/science class, but not in her language arts/social studies class. How do I work with her to ensure we have the same expectations for our students so that they can succeed?
If it makes you feel better, Rebecca, know that this is a really common problem. After all, no two people discipline alike (just ask moms and dads who try to co-parent!) Start by figuring out what you can compromise on and what you can’t. If your team teacher lets kids call out when she’s teaching and you don’t, decide whether you can tolerate that behavior or not. You might even want to list the things you can loosen up about and the things you absolutely must see eye-to-eye on.
Then talk to her about the areas in which you feel strongly that you must be in agreement on. Approach her in a casual way when you’re alone together and have a few minutes to talk. You could say, “I saw how [student] was __ while you were teaching and it was driving me nuts. Your lessons are so good and I’m bothered when the kids are distracted by __. When I see that kind of behavior, I’d like to address it by __. Is that okay with you? Are you comfortable with addressing that behavior too? I want to make sure we’re sending a clear message to the kids that we’re on the same page and have the same expectations, and that if I don’t allow something, you won’t either.”
It’s also worth talking to your students about how there are different expectations for different scenarios. Discuss how they have one set of rules at home, one on the school bus, one in the hallways, etc. Tell the kids that it’s important to be resilient and flexible and understand how to behave in different scenarios, and talk about how a classroom is like a teacher’s second home. We all run our homes differently, and we all run our classrooms differently. When two teachers share one room, it can get a little tricky. Their other teacher might be okay with kids getting up to get drinks without asking, but you prefer they ask you. Neither of your preferences are right or wrong, they’re just your personal preferences, and you ask that the kids respect those preferences, just as you try to respect their likes and dislikes whenever possible.
In that way, you can make allowances for the differences in your teaching style in a way that makes sense to the kids. Children intuitively know what they can get away with in the presence of every adult in their lives (hence their behavior is often different for substitutes), so don’t stress out about having a perfectly united front. Try to be gentle when correcting the kids about behaviors that your co-teacher allows and you don’t: kids are likely to cooperate with patient reminders about your expectations but get defiant when they’re yelled at for something they’re sometimes allowed to do.
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