Inclusive education and co-teaching are necessary complements to one another. Co-teaching often exists when schools adopt inclusive practices. In co-taught classrooms, general and special education teachers work together in highly coordinated ways to give all students with and without disabilities seamless access to general education curriculum, and importantly, to give academic access and social support to students with disabilities in inclusive settings.
Co-teaching allows us to take new professional risks and have a partner by our side to share the ups and downs of teaching. It gives us someone to share responsibilities with and brainstorm more creative and fun ways to deliver engaging and memorable lessons. And co-teaching helps us to create more cohesive and effective teams when it comes to writing and implementing IEPs. Co-teaching ultimately requires that we rely on each other in order to create classrooms in which all of our students feel an authentic sense of belonging, have appropriate access to general education curriculum, and are meaningfully included.
While there are exceptions to the rule, most co-teaching relationships start because of a school or district’s desire to better support diverse learners by growing their inclusive schooling model. We believe combining co-teaching models and practices with inclusive schooling is necessary to allow all students to reach their full academic and social potential. In order to make this happen, we suggest that co-teachers first work to create a shared vision for co-teaching and inclusion.
What Is Co-Teaching?
We define co-teaching as a) two licensed professionals (i.e. general educator and special educator) working together to provide instruction to diverse learners with and without disabilities in the general education classroom, while b) ensuring students with disabilities are entitled to student specific supports as determined through and written in their IEP (i.e. specially designed instruction, supplementary aids and services) (Dieker, 2013; Friend & Cook, 1995; Murawski, 2005). Marilyn Friend (2007), co-teaching guru, further explains that co-teaching often occurs in a shared classroom and that each teacher’s participation may vary according to their skills and the needs of the students. But because co-teaching can vary, it is important for you and you co-teacher to develop your own shared understanding. Set aside some time to create a vision that will clearly communicate your shared intentions.
What is inclusion?
Inclusive education is commonly understood as a model of service delivery where students with and without disabilities are educated in age-appropriate, general education classes in their neighborhood schools. And while this definition is a good start, we feel inclusive schooling is much more than a way to support students with identified needs.
Inclusion, to us, is not only about disability. It is about every learner in the classroom being valued and seen as an important member of the school including students from all racial and ethnic groups, students new to the school, English language learners and students with diverse family constellations. Inclusion, therefore, means making sure that every learner feels socially connected and welcome in the classroom and in the school. It means honoring the social needs of students as well as their academic needs and treating all members of the school community with dignity and respect (Kluth & Causton, 2015, p. 4)
Inclusion, therefore, is a strategy for transforming schools, for its underlying philosophy asks us to constantly explore the structures, practices, and norms to identify and eliminate those barriers and provide authentic learning for all. We suggest you create a shared vision about what inclusion can be for you and your co-teacher, your students, and your classroom. Some questions that can help guide this visioning include:
- What is the purpose of teaching?
- What does our ideal learning community look and feel like?
- What do we want our students to remember about our co-taught classroom?
When creating this shared vision of inclusive co-teaching, we also suggest that you:
- Be audacious, grand and daring;
- Be specific; and
- Be open to interrogating old practices and reimagining “what can be.” (Kluth & Causton, 2015, p. 15)
We encourage you and your co-teacher to take the first step to developing an inclusive school and write down your shared vision. Once you do, we think you’ll be well on your way to creating an even successful co-teaching partnership.
Want more? Check out the book I (Julie) co-authored with Paula Kluth 30 Days to the Co-Taught Classroom: How to Create an Amazing, Nearly Miraculous & Frankly Earth Shattering Partnership in One Month or Less.