Co-Teaching: Sharing is Caring

Today I want to talk a bit about co-teaching. I have already tweeted about it, and it seems like different teachers have a different understanding of what co-teaching is, so I decided to expand on it.

Based on my personal experience and some comments from other teachers on Twitter, I came up with this basic classification based on the nature of the actual teaching process (feel free to add more):
1. Independent
Two or more teachers share the same class/course, but teach different parts of it on different days. Quite popular in universities across the world. I had some courses like that (e.g., Scandinavian Historical and Cultural Topics or Scandinavian Literature) in the UoE. I guess the planning should be done collaboratively, but teaching is more or less independent, so that is why I called it that.
2. Passive
Two or more teachers share the same class/course, one is teaching, others are observing and probably making comments if asked. Never experienced it as a learner but did do it as a teacher. Even though the other co-teachers are present in the classroom, their roles are minimised; therefore, they are passive.
3. Symbiotic
Two or more teachers are sharing the same lesson. It means they teach the same lesson together swapping or sharing the stages. Experienced it as a learner during CELTA course and did it as a teacher last August and this week. This one is my ultimate favourite, so this entry will focus on it rather than the previous two.

Teaching Context
I am teaching within a unified curriculum which means that forty teachers are teaching the same lesson at the same time but in different classrooms to different students. Therefore, it is relatively easy to implement symbiotic co-teaching. While there is no opportunity for it during the semester, the so-called Repeating Course (RC) (a special course offered during holidays for those students who failed the regular course in the previous year) often involves classes being combined (due to low attendance) so teachers end up being assigned to the same – newly combined – class. While most teachers choose to implement passive co-teaching and teach every other lesson, my co-teacher and I went for symbiotic co-teaching and enjoyed it a lot.

What We Did
We had to teach the last part of the RC, i.e., five lessons. The first lesson was a review lesson, and since we were new to the students (the previous parts were taught by different instructors), we had to include a getting-to-know-you stage. The review lesson was followed by two regular lessons, one review lesson, and one final test lesson. We decided to do symbiotic co-teaching for the first review lesson, second review lesson, and final test lesson. Two regular lessons were co-taught passively (the main reason behind that decision was that we wanted to observe each other teaching a regular lesson from beginning till the end). Here is how our lesson outlines looked:


Review in a form of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” was our tech innovation. My co-teacher had a template with sound and animation, and we decided to try it out. I came up with some questions related to the skills we were teaching, and my co-teacher added some extra questions and inserted them into the template. For the activity, students were divided into two groups; each group had a small whiteboard, a marker, and a tissue. They would write the answers on the board trying to meet the time limit (5 seconds for easy questions, then 8, 10, and 15 upon achieving the threshold, i.e., the amount in white).
Fishbowl in Lesson 12 is an activity in which student observe each other and then give feedback to their peers.

For symbiotically co-taught lessons, we literally shared the stages and were giving instructions together. While students were doing the tasks, we were monitoring and then giving feedback adding to each other’s words. Together, we were able to give more accurate and detailed feedback.
Although our approaches to teaching skills were somewhat different, we did not have any conflicts or misunderstandings; instead, we managed to combine our strengths and techniques and deliver more effective lessons.
An important thing for co-teaching is for teachers to get along with each other both on a personal and professional level. It does not mean they have to share the same teaching beliefs and teaching principles, but they have to be ready to try new things and learn from each other. Only in this case, I believe, co-teaching will be beneficial for both teachers and students.


9 thoughts on “Co-Teaching: Sharing is Caring

  1. Hi Lina,

    I found this really interesting because I don’t think I have any experience in co-teaching — I _know_ I have no experience as a teacher but keep thinking back to whether I might have some as a student, but can’t remember. I don’t think so. Perhaps this is just not done in Croatia, where a lot of my learning and all of my teaching has taken place.
    Anyway, I was wondering how you and your co-teacher handled some of the practical concerns. How many students were there on average and would you say there is an ideal number for co-teaching? How did you devise the outline — did you sit down somewhere and work it out or did you work together online? Did you meet up after each co-taught lesson to see if the plan for the next one should be tweaked or to comment on how things had gone that day? How much more time (if any) would you say you spent on lesson planning than you would have if you had taught the class on your own?
    Thinking about it now, it occurs to me that the students may have differing opinions on co-teaching. Did you get a chance to talk to yours and see how they felt about it?
    Sorry if these are too many questions — please don’t feel that you need to answer all of them.
    Thanks again for writing the post!

    1. Hi Vedrana and sorry for keeping you waiting.

      We only had 7 students in our class. Sometimes we’d have to start with just 3 present, others would be late. I’d say the ideal number for co-teaching would be bigger than that. I see co-teaching as a solution for handling big classes (20+ students). However, middle-size classes of 8 learners can benefit from co-teaching as well.

      Yes, we did sit down before starting co-teaching and decided on who is going to do what. We looked through our lesson plans and made a kind of a mash-up lesson plan that consisted of our best and most effective activities.
      We did not really discuss our lessons afterwards; all of them went well, students were magnificent, so we didn’t see any need to adjust. We did assign some formative feedback tasks on the spot during the lesson though.

      Since we’ve taught all of these lessons before to our regular students, we didn’t have to plan from scratch. However, at the same time, we felt like co-teaching was an excellent chance to improvise and try something new (like that WWTBAM? review activity/game). We spent some time coming up with questions, but since we divided the work that had to be done, it took less time than if I’d have to do it all by myself.

      No, we didn’t talk to our students about this, but I think now that it could be a great research topic – to see what students think of having more than one teacher and which style (passive, independent, or symbiotic) they would prefer more.

      1. You’re welcome! Let me know if you have any further questions.

  2. Hi Lina
    Thank you for the post! It was great to ‘visit’ your classroom and read how you were making plans and decisions as to who is doing what with the other teacher(s). I really like the idea that the summer classes can be taught in the ‘symbiotic’ mode and the students have double perspective from the 2 professionals (and you can learn from each other, as you summarized at the end of the post.
    One old(er) article I like on this topic can be found here: I have not read the book, but the title sounds great.
    Good luck with the summer classes, and keep thinking about your own school (noticed what you said on Twitter :-))

  3. Hi Zhenya and thank you for leaving a comment.

    Thank you for sharing this article with me! The approaches described there would be ideal for large classes; I wish they could be implemented in the real world but I guess not many schools are able to hire more teachers and pay more salaries…
    Would be interesting to try station teaching!
    I’ve also found this Twitter page interesting:

    Oh yes 😀 Sometime in the future I’ll definitely (?) get there…

  4. Linda,
    I love your definition and explanation of co teaching and truly wish this would happen in the school I teach at. Currently I co teach for math, ELA, Social Studies, and Science. We aren’t given any time to plan together and discuss who will teach what part on what days so I end up sitting in the back of the classroom helping «my students». Two of my co-teachers coach sports so they are gone right at 3 every day and have other priorities in the mornings before school. The only time that I would have to meet is during our «planning periods» which isn’t ideal to meet as my co-teachers are grading and working on their lesson plans. If you have any suggestions I am all ears and am willing to try anything!

    1. Hi and thank you for leaving a comment.

      I am afraid I cannot say anything optimistic: it simply seems that your colleagues do not really care. I’d suppose the reason is that they have something more important to do, in their opinion (like teaching sports and planning their own lessons). Another issue is that, as you mentioned, you are not given any special hours to work on the lesson plans for the lessons you are supposed to co-teach. Under such circumstances, it is hardly possible to work effectively, and it is definitely not your fault. The only thing you can do is talk to them and explain how you feel about this whole thing (if you feel comfortable for you to do so). Also, probably you need to find some time that is going to suit everyone, but I suspect it is going to be quite tricky… Sorry for not being much help.

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