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Friday, March 27, 2015

On Co-Teaching

On Co-Teaching

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Students need co-teachers.  We, as teachers, need co-teaching. 

This is true at the K-12 level, or even at the University. 

While in K-12, I co-taught with my mentor teachers.  It was an outstanding experience; we were quite different, and although my probationary status operated in a fishbowl, it was a wonderful way to learn my craft.  I would like to think that those much more seasoned learned a few things from me as well.

For a number of years, I have co-taught classes at the college and university as well, most often with colleagues in the Department of Educational Leadership, and even one with my Dean.  Sometimes, the choreography is serious; at other times a bit more on-the-fly.

This semester, I have had both the fun and privilege of co-teaching with two of my good friends and colleagues, Dr. Steve Gruenert and Dr. Todd Whitaker.  We’re co-teaching a graduate-level principalship class, where the three of us get together each Thursday evening in a teaching studio at Indiana State University.  A handful of our students, mostly professional educators, meet with us in the studio – others join from a distance via the Internet with a software that allows for video and audio capabilities, as well as the creation of breakout rooms for small group interaction.

It’s a great time.

This week, for example, Steve took the lead on “school culture,” Todd shared “three types of teachers,” and next week, I’ll start the evening with “instructional leadership.”  Although it may sound segmented, it’s really not; rather, it’s like someone is “singing melody”; while others “sing harmony,” the lead alternating depending upon the content, topic, or circumstance.  It can change on a dime, depending on the teachable moment.

Co-teaching requires a few things in order to be successful.  I can’t say that I’m a master of it, but I can be propped-up pretty darn well with Steve and Todd in the room. 

Here are a few thoughts with you, off the top of my head – those that I hope you will consider discussing with friends and colleagues – that contribute to co-teaching success.

Co-teaching is significantly enhanced through:

Communication in the co-planning – yet not over-communication, as we might consider allowing for a bit of extemporaneous performance as well.

Playing to each other’s strengths. 

Admitting when something’s not in your wheelhouse.

Discussion and reflection of how things went afterward.

An honest talk.

An ability to affirm each other or at times, to disagree, and to be OK with the fact that multiple perspectives exist.

A willingness to watch closely to see if students are “getting it,” when your colleagues are talking, and their willingness to do so as well, when you are presenting.

The latitude to extend on another’s explanation, clarify your colleague’s directions, and provide another way of articulating that simply cannot be accomplished with one voice.

A division of tasks (technology, etc.), so that someone can “always” be all-about relationships.

A healthy dose of self-confidence, yet not overconfidence, so that everyone is more about “effectiveness” than “justification.”

A willingness to “put oneself out there” with a perspective that can be debated, and restraint, when you’ve been “bettered” on a point. 

Excitement, when the students disagree, and to feel comfortable sharing.

Impeccable content knowledge.

A willingness to shut up, and learn.

A desire to protect and preserve the moments where learning happens, and not rushing through a lesson plan.

Laughing at ourselves.

Please feel free to add to my list.  Particularly, would you agree that we as educators need co-teaching as much as the students?  It would be great hearing from you, as I’m sure many of you have much more experience and a perspective that will help keep me relevant.


Ryan Donlan loves augmenting his teaching, scholarship, and service through collaborative work with others.  If you would like to partner with him on anything, please reach-out to him and say “Hi,” at 

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