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How to Co-Teach: A Guide for General and Special Educators

reviewed by Debra Schneider - September 14, 2012

coverTitle: How to Co-Teach: A Guide for General and Special Educators
Author(s): Elizabeth A. Potts & Lori A. Howard
Publisher: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company, Baltimore
ISBN: 1598571699, Pages: 224, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

In How to Co-Teach, Potts and Howard have provided an all-encompassing guide for general education and special education teachers working together in the same classroom. In the move toward increased accountability heralded by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB; PL 107-110), more schools have turned to co-teaching to maximize instructional benefits for students but may not be co-teaching most effectively (Scruggs, Mastropieri, & McDuffie, 2007). How to Co-Teach provides comprehensive instructions in creating, sustaining, and working in a co-teaching relationship. This book would be useful not only for co-teachers, but also for their administrators and for students in teacher-preparation programs who wish to explore becoming co-teachers in their careers.

How to Co-Teach is organized into five sections. Each section has two or three chapters connected by a common theme. The authors, professors of education at the University of Virginia Northern Virginia Center, teach in special education programs and bring this knowledge to the book, but present a nicely balanced model of egalitarian teamwork and shared expertise between general and special education teaching.

Section One, “Respect Perspectives,” defines different co-teaching models, presents research on co-teaching, orients the reader to the perspectives and expertise each teacher can bring to the co-teaching relationship, and shows teachers how to find and approach a potential co-teacher. There is a good orientation to special education for the general education teacher in this section. Section Two, “Practice Communication,” gives extensive resources for working together: a teaching beliefs questionnaire, problem-solving worksheet, planning checklist, lesson plan organizer, even a Co-Teacher’s Oath. The purpose of this chapter is not to teach the reader about these forms, no matter how practical and useful they may be. Instead the forms are artifacts to lead co-teachers into having frank, deep, and far-reaching conversations that can become a strong foundation for a co-teaching relationship. Section Three, “Focus on Classroom Teaching,” leads teachers to discuss their beliefs about grading, assessment, accommodations and modifications. The examples provided cover a myriad of possibilities and would support teachers in making their beliefs and classroom practices explicit in expectation of co-teaching.

An important message of this book is implicit in its structure. The authors chose to dedicate three of the five sections, more than half of the book, to working on preparing for and building the co-teaching relationship. This is important work to be done before co-teaching the students begins. The authors acknowledge this in their introduction: “[S]uccessful co-teaching does not ‘just happen.’ It requires more from teachers than merely having knowledge of instruction and curriculum. Both teachers must find common ground and develop an ability to work together in their teaching” (p.2). The resources in the first three sections can strongly support teachers in this effort.

The authors encourage volunteering for co-teaching and ask administrators to support volunteer efforts, not to make arbitrary co-teaching assignments. This is important advice. But they acknowledge that co-teaching may be assigned to less-than willing participants and focus those co-teachers on doing “whatever is best for the students” (p.35).

In Section Four, “Build Student Success,” the authors turn attention to the classroom environment and teaching practices once the co-teachers are working together. Classroom logistics, classroom climate, management of behavior, pacing of instruction, record keeping, teachers’ common language in referring to students, and working with a substitute teacher in the absence of a co-teacher are some of the ideas covered. While some topics might seem inconsequential to someone who has not co-taught, after four long-term co-teaching experiences, I found that logistics alone are an enormous challenge in the beginning of a co-teaching relationship. Having this guide in hand, co-teachers can consider and proactively prepare for many possible challenges.

This section also includes chapters on co-teaching in elementary and in secondary schools, with specific suggestions for instructional strategies and lesson planning. These might be the least necessary chapters; experienced teachers would have expertise already in these areas, and new teachers would need more support than one chapter could provide. However, the chapter on secondary school co-teaching has a useful segment on teaching self-determination and self-advocacy to adolescents, a particularly effective skill for special education students in my experience.

In the final section, the authors return to a focus on the co-teaching relationship, encouraging teachers to “Improve and Reflect on Relationships.”  Co-teachers self-assess their own behaviors and their relationship, their lesson planning and teaching, and their students’ achievement to set goals and guide future co-teaching. The authors encourage reflection on how well the co-teachers are working with administrators, other teachers of these students, paraprofessionals and parents. All of this reflection is done in the context of a team with shared responsibilities and shared goals. If the relationship is not working, there is even a guide for ending a co-teaching relationship. It is that attention to the details and realities of co-teaching that makes this book so valuable.

How to Co-Teach has useful features for students in teacher education as well as teachers at every level of experience exploring a co-teaching relationship. Each chapter has a checklist of what a reader should be able to do after reading the chapter. At the end of the chapter are reflection questions for journaling or discussion. These are followed by “Connection” questions for experienced, beginning and prospective co-teachers.  The end of the book has a Readers Guide with “Thought Questions” and “Practice Activities” for each chapter. All of these extras can be used effectively in a variety of ways. They are suitable for use by co-teachers in a pair or larger group, students in a teaching program, or a mixed group of teachers at a school site or district collaborating on instituting co-teaching. The questions could be proposed as assignments in a course or used as discussion starters by co-teachers in practice together.

How to Co-Teach also includes a DVD with interviews of co-teachers and reproductions of documents (checklists and forms) from the book. The interviews connect to topics in most chapters and are accompanied by suggestions for “what to watch for.” These suggestions are collected in a DVD guide in the book. Some interviews are less illuminating than others, but almost all of them would be effective as discussion starters when watched by co-teachers together.

Potts and Howard have written a comprehensive, thoughtful, and very useful guide to co-teaching. Their focus on building and assessing the co-teachers’ relationship is key. The specifics of co-teaching work are covered in detail, to encourage planning and reflection. How to Co-Teach will be useful to many teachers.


No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act: Accountability, PL 107-110, 20 U.S.C. • 1426 (2008)

Scruggs, T.E., Mastropieri, M.A., & McDuffie, K.A. (2007). Co-teaching in inclusive classrooms: A meta-synthesis of qualitative research. Exceptional Children,73, 392-416.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 14, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16869, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 12:59:18 AM

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About the Author
  • Debra Schneider
    Merill F. West High School
    E-mail Author
    DEBRA SCHNEIDER is a teacher in the Social Studies Department at Merrill F. West High School in Tracy, California. She earned her Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley in 2002. Her interests are teacher research, co-teaching as a form of teachers' professional development, working with students learning English, and teaching reading and writing in history. She is currently leading a Teacher Based Reform (T-BAR) teacher research team examining analytical reading and writing in high school history classes.
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