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Effective Co-Teaching Strategies

Dr. Richard Villa

Does your staff need Co-Teaching training? The K-12 Teachers Alliance can help you plan your in-service professional development at no additional cost.

Effective Co-Teaching StrategiesWith inclusion on the rise, teachers are sharing classrooms more than ever and becoming an effective co-teaching partner is a teaching essential. With the onset of a new school year right around the corner, meanwhile, it's imperative to begin devising and building positive co-teaching strategies.

A co-teaching team typically includes a general and a special educator who teach the general education curriculum to all students as well as implement Individual Education Programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities. Both educators on the co-teaching team are responsible for differentiating the instructional planning and delivery, assessment of student achievement, and classroom management.

Several collaborative teaching approaches have proven to be successful to guide educators who work together in co-teaching partnerships to differentiate instruction. The approaches include:

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  1. Supportive Co-teaching - where the one member of the team takes the lead role and the other member rotates among students to provide support
  2. Parallel Co-teaching - where support personnel and the classroom teacher instruct different heterogeneous groups of students
  3. Complementary Co-teaching - where a member of the co-teaching team does something to supplement or complement the instruction provided by the other member of the team (e.g., models note taking on a transparency, paraphrases the other co-teacher’s statements)
  4. Team Teaching - where the members of the team co-teach along side one another and share responsibility for planning, teaching, and assessing the progress of all students in the class.

Some co-teaching approaches (e.g., complementary and team teaching) require greater commitment to, comfort with, and skill in collaborative planning and role release (i.e., transferring one’s specialized instructional responsibilities over to someone else). It is recommended that collaborative teams select among the co-teaching approaches, as needed, based up the curriculum demands of a unit or lesson and student learning characteristics, needs, and interests.

When deciding which approach to use in a given lesson, the goal always is to improve the educational outcomes of students through the selected co-teaching strategies. Many beginning co-teachers start with supportive teaching and parallel teaching because these approaches involve less structured coordination among the co-teaching team members. As co-teaching skills and relationships strengthen, co-teachers then venture into the complementary teaching and team teaching approaches that require more time, coordination, and knowledge of and trust in one another’s skills.

Co-Teaching Strategies Chart

How are the Co-Teaching Strategies similar?

  • Two or more co-teachers in the classroom.
  • Capitalizes on specific strengths & expertise of co-teachers.
  • Provides greater teacher/student ratio and brings additional 1-1 support for students in the classroom.
  • All approaches have benefits and cautions associated with their use.
  • Students are heterogeneously grouped by mixed abilities and interests.
  • Shared responsibilities.
  • Requires trust, communication, planning time, and coordination of effort.

(Note: The need for all of these elements increases as you move from supportive to parallel, parallel to complementary, and complementary to team teaching co-teaching.)

How are the Co-Teaching Strategies different?

Supportive Co-Teaching

Parallel Co-Teaching



Team Teaching

  • One co- teacher is in the lead role; others provide support. Who is in lead and who provides support may change during the lesson.



  • Co-teachers work with different groups of students in the same room. (There are numerous different options for arranging the groups.)


  • The co-teachers share responsibility for teaching the whole class. One takes a lead content role and the other facilitates access to the curriculum.

  • One co- teacher teaches content; the other clarifies, paraphrases, simplifies, or records content.
  • One co-teacher may pre-teach specific study or social skills and monitors students’ use of them; the other co- teacher teaches the academic content.
  • Both co- teachers are equally responsible for planning, instruction of content, assessment, and grade assignment.
  • Requires the greatest amount of planning time, trust, communication, and coordination of effort.

What are potential problems with co-teaching?

Supportive Co-Teaching Cautions

Parallel Co-Teaching Cautions

Complementary Co-Teaching Cautions

Team Teaching Cautions

  • Beware of the “Velcro effect,” where a supportive co-teacher hovering over one or selected students, stigmatizing both students and the co-teacher.
  • Beware of making the supportive co-teacher the “discipline police,” materials copier, or in-class paper grader rather than an instructor.
  • Beware of ineffective use of expertise of supportive co-teacher (e.g., special educator)
  • Beware of resentment if the skills of the supportive co-teacher (e.g., special educator) are not being used or the lead (e.g., content teacher) co-teacher feels an unequal burden of responsibility.
  • Beware of staying in the supportive role, due to lack of planning time.
  • Beware of creating a special class within the class and lowering student achievement by homogeneously grouping lower performing students together (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollack, 2001, p. 84).
  • Beware that noise level can become uncomfortably high when numerous activities are occurring in the same room.
  • Beware failing to adequately prepare other co-teachers to ensure they deliver instruction as intended, since you cannot monitor each other while you all are simultaneously co-teaching.
  • Beware of not monitoring the students who need it.
  • Beware of too much teacher talk, repetition, and lack of student-student interaction.
  •  Beware of “typecasting” the co-teacher delivering content as the “expert” or “real” teacher.
  • Beware of failing to plan for “role release,” so all co-teachers get to teach the content
  • Beware of not monitoring the students who need it.
  • Beware of too much teacher talk, repetition, and lack of student-student interaction.

Additional Co-Teaching References

  • Villa, R. Thousand, J., & Nevin, A. (in process). More students, More Resources: Unleashing the Power of Students in Instruction, Advocacy, & Decision-Making. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Pres.
  • Nevin, A., Villa, R., & Thousand, J. (2009). A Guide to Co-Teaching with Paraeducators Practical Tips for K-12 Educators. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Pres. (800) 818- 7243
  • Villa, R. Thousand, J., & Nevin, A. (2008). A Guide to Co-Teaching: Practical Tips for Facilitating Student Learning (2nd. Ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Pres. (800) 818- 7243
  • Villa, R. Thousand, J., & Nevin, A. (2008). Co-Teaching: A Multimedia Kit For Professional Development.? Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Pres. (800) 818- 7243
  • Villa, R., Thousand, J., & Nevin, A. (2008). Co-Teaching at a Glance. A laminated Tri-Fold Reference Guide. Port Chester, NY: National Professional Resources. (800) 453- 746
  • Thousand, J., & Villa, R., & Nevin, A. (2007). ?Differentiated Instruction: A Multimedia Kit for Differentiated Instruction. California: Corwin Press (800) 818- 7423
  • Thousand, J., & Villa, R., & Nevin, A. (2007). ?Differentiated Instruction: Collaborative Planning & Teaching for Universally Designed ?Lessons. California: Corwin Press (800) 818- 7423
  • Villa R., & Thousand. J., (Eds). (2005). Creating an Inclusive School. ?Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (800) 933- 2723.

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