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EXPERIENCES OF CO-TEACHING: CRAFTING THE RELATIONSHIP
DIMPLE MALIK FLESNER
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Dimple Malik Flesner
To my father, Dr. Satinder Kumar Malik, who inspired and provided for success. You were
always with me in spirit, and this is for you.
Pursuing my doctorate has been quite an incredible journey. I cannot believe it is coming
to an end, but I look forward to all the possibilities the future holds. Creating and completing this
dissertation changed how I understand the world around me, and I truly hope it makes a
difference in the lives of teachers and children. Throughout the research and writing process, I
was filled with excitement, wonder, optimism, pessimism, anxiety, and joy. There are many
individuals who shared these feelings with me and had an impact on my life. As I close this door
and open another one, I need to express my love and gratitude to them.
First, I want to thank my committee members for being such wonderful mentors and role
models. Dr. Mary Brownell, my advisor and chair, showed me how to become a better researcher
and scholar. During our discussions and collaborative projects, she pushed me to the next level,
and I learned so much from her brilliance, guidance, and advice. She urged me to formulate new
theories, to expand my knowledge base, to become a critical thinker, and to navigate through
challenges in order to achieve more. Dr. Diane Yendol-Hoppey, my mentor and co-chair, helped
me become a better field advisor and teacher. During our meetings and professional development
work, she treated me as a peer, and I learned so much from her experience, direction, and
counsel. She encouraged me to take ownership of problems and solutions, engage in joint
decision-making with colleagues, reflect on my own teaching practice, and share responsibility
for shaping the minds of prospective teachers. I especially want to thank both Mary and Diane
for seeing the potential in me when I was unable to see it in myself.
Next, I want to extend genuine thanks to my professor, Dr. Mirka Koro-Ljungberg, who
helped me appreciate the foundations of qualitative research and the development of theory; she
facilitated the organization of my data and the refinement of my conceptual framework. I would
also like to thank Dr. Cynthia Griffin, who helped me further understand the trends in co-
teaching and teacher collaboration; she offered the resources and support to complete my study.
Finally, I want to thank Dr. Vivian Correa who helped me gain focus in developing a research
topic and proposal; she gave the necessary direction to apply my knowledge. I will always be
fortunate to have worked with such remarkable researchers in the field of education.
Then, I was blessed to have amazing friends and family in my life that supported me
throughout my studies. Especially my warm thanks go to my dear friends, Betsy Collins, Julie
Graham, Lisa Langley, Seonjin Seo, and Brenda Walters, who shared many memories as well as
their sincerity, loyalty, and love. I cherish all of these devoted friendships that steadied and lifted
me. Of course, my mother, Neera Malik, who patiently listened to my uncertainties, my worries,
and my relations and generously shared her time and wisdom. She would spontaneously drive up
for the day, take me to lunch and a shopping spree, and give me the renewed strength to move
forward. My brother, Sawan Malik, who showed me what it looks like to have passion for your
work and motivated me to obtain my Ph.D. He would check in with me often through phone or
email and remind me about the importance of perseverance. I will be thanking my family for the
rest of my life.
And most importantly, I thank the two people closest to me whose love made this work
possible. I owe special thanks to my husband, Shannon Flesner, for his unconditional love and
dedicated support. He put balance and laughter into my life, gave me the courage and confidence
to embrace my goals, and taught me powerful lessons about living in the moment. He proved to
me that true partnership was about keeping promises, listening to each other's perspectives, and
holding strong when someone else cannot. He was, and will always be, my best friend, my
confidante, and my giving tree. At last, I need to thank my baby daughter, Mira Emily Flesner,
for reminding me of my priorities and helping me maintain my gratitude. I was pregnant with her
during the research and writing of my dissertation; and although this work was a large
undertaking, her birth signifies my greatest accomplishment. I hope she loves learning as much
as I do.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ........................................................................................ .............. 4
LIST OF TABLES.............................................................10
L IST O F F IG U R E S ....................................... ... ..... ... ...................................... ......................... 11
ABSTRACT .............................................................. 12
1 IN TRODU CTION ............... .............................................. ...............14
B background ........................................................................................... ......................... 14
C o-teaching ........................................................................................... ......................... 16
T teacher B benefits ................................................................................. ........................... 18
Student B benefits ............................................................................... ... ............................. 19
Challenges of W working Together..........................................................................................20
Statement of Problem ..................................... ............... .... .. ..... ......23
Purpose of Study ................................................................. ................... ...............25
2 LITERA TURE REVIEW ................................................................................................. 27
Introduction.............................................. .. ... .. .. ...... ...........................................................27
Idea 1: Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. ................................................. ......................28
Idea 2: Teachers Can Better Address Student Academic and Social Needs. .........................30
Idea 3: Teachers Can Cultivate Collaborative Skills............................................................31
Idea 4: Teachers Are M motivated to W ork Together..............................................................33
Idea 5: Teachers Have Certain Contextual Conditions in Place for Collaboration. ...............34
Im plications of Literature ................. ...... .... .................................... ...............36
3 RESEARCH M ETHOD .......................................................................................... . 39
Introduction........................................ .. .................................................................. 39
Theoretical Background.......................... ................... ...............39
R research D design ................................................................................. ...........................41
Sam ple Selection ................................................................. ................... ...............42
Teacher information............... .... .. ...... ................. .. ...............42
D ata C collection .................................................................................... ......................... 46
Interview s ...................................................................................... .........................46
O observations ................................................................. .................... ...............47
D ata A analysis ...................................................................................... ...........................48
Reliability and Validity ....................................................... .. ...... .... .................52
Role of Subjectivity in Qualitative Research........................................................................55
M y Personal Stance .............. ........................................... ...............55
Study Lim itations........................................ ........ .............................................................58
4 CONCEPTUALIZATIONS OF CO-TEACHERS................................................ ...............61
In tro d u c tio n .......................................................................... .................... .................. 6 1
K ay and R achel: Y in and Y ang ............................................................................................62
B eliefs about C o-teaching ........................................................................... ...............63
The Practice of C o-teaching ..........................................................................................66
Cynthia and Ted: The Dance............................ ............................71
B eliefs about C o-teaching ........................................................................... ...............72
The Practice of C o-teaching ..........................................................................................75
A m y and Erika: The A ccom panist .......................................................................................80
B eliefs ab out C o-teaching ........................................................................... ............... 8 1
The Practice of C o-teaching ..........................................................................................85
Sarah and Lynn: The U nderstudy .........................................................................................89
B eliefs about C o-teaching ........................................................................... ...............89
The Practice of C o-teaching ..........................................................................................93
S u m m ary ............... .......... ................................................ .......................................... . 9 7
5 THE GROUNDED THEORY OF CO-TEACHING ........................................................100
In tro d u ctio n ........................................................................... .................. .................. 1 0 0
Foundations of C o-teaching.............................................................................................101
B elief in Inclusion ...................................................... ................... ............... 101
Com m unication of G oals..........................................................................................102
Value of Each Other................ .......... ..................... ...... ...............104
W willingness to C ollaborate ........................................................................ ...............105
P rop erties of C o -teach ing .....................................................................................................10 6
Focus on Students....................................................................... ...... ...............107
N negotiation ................................................... ................................................ ...............110
Creation of Parity .............. ............. ..............................112
Utilization of Partner's Unique Skills .......................................116
Results of Relationship ............... ...................................................... ...... ...............119
C om m itm ent to C o-teaching ..................................................................... ............... 119
Integration of Knowledge and Skills............ .............................122
Sum m ary ........................................................................................... ......................... 126
6 DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS............ ...............................129
Overview of Study ................... ............................................................ ...... ...............129
D discussion ......................................................................................... .. .......................... 132
Views of Co-teaching.......... .... ................. ........................... 132
Properties and Results of Co-teaching ............ .............................133
Individual Differences and Ensuing Relationships ........... ..................................137
Im plications ............................................ .... ......... ............................................................. 138
Im plications for R esearch.........................................................................................139
Implications for Practice............ .... ................... ...... .............. 141
Teacher education and professional development ........................................141
School-based personnel ....................................................................................143
C conclusion ....................................................................................... ......................... 144
A IN TERV IEW PRO TO COL ...............................................................................................146
B C O D E S .............. ........................................................................................................ 1 4 8
C EXCERPT FROM RESEARCH JOURNAL..................................................... ...............150
L IS T O F R E F E R E N C E S ............................................................................................................. 152
B IO G R A P H IC A L SK E T C H .......................................................................................................157
LIST OF TABLES
1-1 D ata collection tim line ............................................................................................... 60
4-1 Co-teachers' practices of co-teaching.............................................................................99
LIST OF FIGURES
5-1 Co-teachers' perceptions of co-teaching..................................128
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
EXPERIENCES OF CO-TEACHING: CRAFTING THE RELATIONSHIP
DIMPLE MALIK FLESNER
Chair: Mary T. Brownell
Cochair: Diane Yendol-Hoppey
Major Department: Special Education
As inclusive practices become more prevalent due to new legislative requirements and
increased accountability demands, collaboration among professionals is considered essential for
meeting the needs of all students. Cooperative teaching between general and special educators
presents one viable approach in efforts to serve students with disabilities in the general education
classroom. Although two individuals working together and sharing responsibility for a diverse
group of children holds promise, there is lack of knowledge about how co-teachers'
understandings of working together inform their practice of working together.
The purpose of this study is to describe how four pairs of general and special education
teachers in different elementary schools conceptualized and enacted co-teaching. With the
guidance of constructivism, the following research questions framed the study: (a) How do co-
teachers conceptualize co-teaching? (b) How do co-teachers enact co-teaching? (c) How do co-
teachers utilize their individual and shared knowledge as they co-teach? Grounded theory
methods were used to analyze co-teachers' understandings and collaborative practices; data
sources included teacher interviews and observations to develop a theory of co-teaching.
The grounded theory establishes core themes of co-teachers' work together, including
foundational beliefs for beginning co-teaching, properties for enacting co-teaching, and results of
applying co-teaching. The common foundations include belief in inclusion, communication of
goals, value of each other, and willingness to collaborate. The shared properties encompass focus
on students, negotiation, creation of parity, and utilization of unique skills. Finally, the results of
the relationship consist of each pair's commitment to co-teaching and their integration of
knowledge and skills. Because each dyad practiced the properties and results to varying degrees,
they crafted different partnerships; ranging from symbiosis and coordination to accommodation
and tentativeness. The grounded theory along with detailed descriptions of each pair will be
useful in helping to recognize issues surrounding teacher understandings and experiences in
order to maximize the potential of co-teaching. This investigation will add to the literature base
on co-teaching and has implications for researchers, teacher educators, and school personnel.
Political and social forces are coming together in a way that demand school professionals
increase the rigor and quality of the education they provide students with disabilities. Increasing
academic standards, legal mandates that students with disabilities participate in the general
education curriculum, and greater pressure to include students with their general education peers
has challenged teachers to provide a more demanding and simultaneously inclusive education.
Educating students with disabilities in this context requires the type of innovative thoughts and
actions that is born out of intensive, professional collaboration.
The 2004 amendments to IDEA and the reauthorization of Title 1 of the Elementary and
Secondary Act (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) specifically entail that students with
disabilities have access to and make progress in the general education curriculum. This
legislation establishes a more comprehensive accountability system to hold schools and districts
responsible for the performance of students, requiring annual tests in grades three through eight
and at least one test in high school. Test scores must be reported for subgroups of students,
including students with disabilities, to ensure that all students meet the performance criteria
determined by the state to be proficient. If any subgroup in a school does not make adequate
yearly progress (AYP) toward proficiency, the school is labeled as in need of improvement. Low
performing schools face reduction in funds, loss of students to voluntary transfers, public
exposure, and in some cases, closure, while high performing schools are rewarded financially
(National Center of Educational Outcomes, 2006). Such consequences put greater pressure on
schools and teachers to bridge the achievement gap for students with disabilities.
In addition to increased accountability demands, there exists a strong expectation that
students with disabilities be included in regular education classrooms. As 55.46% of students
with disabilities received special education services in general education classrooms for more
than 80% of the day in 2002-2003 (U.S. DOE, 2003), the push for inclusion has intensified.
However, placement in inclusive classrooms, alone, does not guarantee participation and
progression for students with disabilities (Pugach & Warger, 2001). Instead, the effectiveness of
traditional, large-group teaching approaches is in question (Hourcade & Bauwens, 2003).
General and special educators are discovering the need to share their knowledge toward a
common goal within this context of greater accountability for student outcomes and more
rigorous standards (McLaughlin, 2002).
While teachers receive a research-based common body of professional knowledge in their
training programs, it is presumed that general education and special education teachers possess
expertise and experience in different areas (Adams & Cessna, 1993; Bauwens, Hourcade, &
Friend, 1989; Dieker, 2001; Frederico, Herrold, & Venn, 1999). Basically, general education
tends to focus on subject matter knowledge and pedagogy, while special education emphasizes
knowledge of individual differences and underlying process abilities, alternative means of
instruction and assessment, and behavioral strategies and interventions (Vaughn & Linan-
Thompson, 2003). To meet the challenge of inclusion as well as fulfill new legislative
requirements, these two educational fields must come together to address individual student
needs. Such collaboration enables general and special education teachers to share knowledge and
embrace responsibility for the education of all students. Thus, particular teaching interests and
expertise can be used to address specific student needs (Cook & Friend, 1995; Dieker, 2001).
Specifically, classroom teachers receive help from their special education colleagues in
developing, delivering and evaluating effective instructional programs (Karge, McClure, &
Patton, 1995: McCrory-Cole & McLeskey, 1997) as well as aid in curriculum planning,
including modifications, re-teaching, enrichment, and communication with families (Walther-
Thomas, 1997). For example, the special educator may contribute more to child-study meetings,
behavior modifications, and arranging individualized instruction. General education teachers
offer their special education partners information about teaching specific content and about
grade-level curriculum. For example, the general educator may contribute more in large group
instructional and curricular options (Frederico et al. 1999). However, as they collaborate around
students' individual needs, this knowledge becomes more collective (Baker & Zigmond, 1995;
Pugach & Wesson, 1995, 2002).
Gaining momentum in the last two decades as one innovative and feasible approach to
inclusive education and collaboration is cooperative teaching. Cooperative or co-teaching is
defined as two or more professionals jointly delivering instruction to a diverse group of students
in a shared classroom space (Friend & Cook, 2000; Hourcade & Bauwens, 2003). Bauwens,
Hourcade, and Friend (1989) described this as a practical merger between general and special
education in which direct educational services and supports are provided for students with
disabilities within the general educational setting. Special educators are expected to move with
their students into the general educational environment, redefine professional roles, and establish
partnerships with other teachers (Bauwens et al. 1989; Weiss & Lloyd, 2002, 2003).
Individual classrooms and entire school districts are recently using collaborative teaching
to solve many of the challenges associated with serving students with disabilities in regular
education settings (Gerber & Popp, 2000; Walther-Thomas, 1997). Feedback from general and
special education teachers suggests that co-teaching offers a promising method of sharing
responsibility for all students, providing the support needed in operating inclusive schools
(McCrory-Cole & McLeskey, 1997; Pugach & Wesson, 1995; Snell & Janney, 2000; Walther-
Vaughn, Schumm, and Arguelles (1997) described five basic models ofco- teaching in the
classroom. The models are flexible in that they are chosen to meet the needs of the students and
the instructional task. The first, one teach-one assist, means that both teachers are present yet one
leads in delivering instruction, while the other observes or drifts around the room to monitor or
assist students individually. In the second model, station teaching, similar to the center approach,
both teachers divide the content to be delivered and each teacher assumes responsibility for
teaching part of it to smaller groups of students who move between stations. The third model
described in the literature is parallel teaching, which allows both teachers to teach the same
lesson simultaneously but divides the class into two heterogeneous groups for instruction. The
fourth model is alternative teaching in which one teacher works with a smaller group of students
to provide review, guided practice, or enrichment. Finally, team teaching means both teachers
share the instruction to all students, requiring joint responsibility for the shared lesson and
allowing teachers to be creative and interactive in their lesson delivery.
Bauwens and Hourcade (1995) also identified three specific, yet flexible ways co-teaching
can be implemented; they are team teaching, complementary instruction, and supportive
learning. Team teaching refers to jointly planning and initially presenting information, and then
using specific roles for various follow-up activities. Complementary instruction means one
teacher leads as the other teacher complements the instruction with learning strategy lessons. The
third model, supportive learning, includes one teacher developing and implementing content
while the other teacher develops alternative activities and adapts instruction accordingly to meet
the needs of students with special needs. Qualitative and descriptive studies of co-teaching
indicate that there is great variety in the implementation of co-teaching programs and models
(Boudah, Schumacher, & Deshler, 1997; Dieker, 2001; Reinhiller, 1996; Weiss & Lloyd, 2003).
Since Bauwens, Hourcade, and Friend's seminal paper coining the term cooperative
teaching in 1989, the number of articles appearing in the professional literature describing this
model has increased rapidly (Friend & Cook, 2000; Hourcade & Bauwens, 2001; McCrory-Cole
& McLeskey, 1997; Pugach & Wesson, 1995; Walther-Thomas, 1997). Three comprehensive
reviews of the co-teaching literature show that co-teaching, more often than not, resulted in
increased teacher learning opportunities and improved educational outcomes for students in
inclusive classrooms (Murwaski & Swanson, 2001; Reinhiller, 1996; Welch, Brownell, &
Sheridan, 1999). Reinhiller (1996) found that special and general education co-teachers incurred
benefits of instructional improvement, renewed enthusiasm, and efficient communication.
Welch, Brownell, and Sheridan (1999) also reported positive teacher attitudes and satisfaction
with the cooperative teaching partnership. Furthermore, Murwaski and Swanson (2001)
conducted a meta-analysis to determine the overall effectiveness of co-teaching as an
intervention. They found moderate achievement gains for students with disabilities as a result of
participating in co-teaching situations.
Empirical evidence exists to make a case for the positive influence of co-teaching on
teacher learning. As teachers engaged in the collaborative relationship, they combined their
individual strengths and talents in order to expand their personal knowledge bases (Hourcade &
Bauwens, 2001) and grow in their assimilation of skills (Abell, 2000; Austin, 2001). Special
educators cited increased content knowledge, and general educators noted the benefits to their
skills in classroom management and classroom adaptations. This growth and pooling of
knowledge contributed to the enhancement of classroom activities and the ability to take risks in
a safe environment (Abell, 2000; Vaughn, Hughes, Schumm, & Klingner, 1998).
Additionally, research specifies that teachers experienced increased personal and
professional growth. Teachers found co-teaching to be a singular source of professional
development and support for developing a nurturing community (Murata, 1996). The
collaborative relationship allowed them to enhance each other, and as the co-teachers learned
from each other, they grew and developed together (Rice & Zigmond, 2000).
Moreover, research reveals that when general and special education teachers pool their
knowledge, they are better able to address student needs (Pugach & Wesson, 1995; Salend &
Johansen, 1997; Welch, 2000). Most special education students progressed at or above district
expectations in the general education classroom, receiving better scores and making appreciable
improvements on curriculum-based measures (Gerber & Popp, 1999; McCrory-Cole &
McLeskey, 1997; Self, Benning, Marston, & Magnusson, 1991; Waldron & McLeskey, 1998).
Students without disabilities also benefited, in that they received more help and small group
instruction to contribute to academic progress (Gerber & Popp, 1999; Pugach & Wesson, 1995).
Studies show that students taught employing this cooperative model made social progress
as well as academic progress when teachers worked successfully together. Results pointed to
improved self-esteem, peer relationships, teacher interactions, and social outcomes for all
students (Gerber & Popp, 1999; Pugach & Wesson, 1995; Vaughn et al. 1998; Whinnery &
King, 1995). Students with and without disabilities' perceptions and attitudes were positive about
this collaborative model (Luckner, 1999; Pugach & Wesson, 1995). The classroom climate was
nurturing and focused on giving and receiving help; children felt a sense of community and
opportunities for caring and being cared about existed within the classroom (Walther-Thomas,
Challenges of Working Together
Despite the obvious value of co-teaching, it was not easily achieved. Previous research
showed that effective communication (Luckner, 1999; Minke, Bear, Deemer, & Griffin, 1996)
was necessary for co-teaching, as openness fostered moral support and motivation (Luckner,
1999). Communication about responsibilities, commitment to the relationship, and reflection and
ongoing evaluation of the partnership were important facets in the collaborative approach
(McCrory-Cole & McLeksey, 1997; Welch, 2000). General and special educators had to learn
how to integrate their roles (Karge et.al, 1995; Trent, Driver, Wood, Parrott, Martin & Smith,
2003) and restructure the teaching procedures used within and across roles.
Although research makes a case for the affirmative impact of co-teaching on instructional
practice, many issues about the potential of co-teaching for teacher learning and sharing remain
unclear. Evidence exists to show that teachers did not learn from working together, particularly
when philosophical differences, pedagogical styles, and backgrounds were not addressed or
negotiated (Abell, 2000; Boudah, Schumacher, & Deshler, 1997; Dieker, 2001; Karge et al.
1995; Marks & Gersten, 1998). Often, roles and responsibilities were not equally distributed and
shared because of differing experience and knowledge levels.
Special education and general education co-teachers agreed that general educators often
contributed more than their special education partners in these inclusive classrooms (Austin,
2001; Rice & Zigmond, 2000). This may have been due to the fact that the special education
teacher was considered the visitor in the classroom, and the general education teacher was
sometimes regarded as the main teacher with expertise in the overall subject matter and content
being delivered. Although the co-teaching arrangement does not mean that both groups of
educators become experts in the other's discipline (Bauwens & Hourcade, 1995), it seemed that
teachers struggled to devise strategies for communicating as well as understanding the
perspectives of their partners (Salend & Johansen, 1997), so that knowledge could become
generative (Abell, 2000).
In fact, some established, widely-accepted models of co-teaching contribute to lack of
parity in the relationship, as they require one teacher to lead the majority of the class while the
other teacher works with only a few students. One teach-one assist teaching and alternative
teaching depend on one of the co-teachers to carry the bulk of the workload. The most
collaborative approach, team teaching, involves both teachers sharing instruction for all students,
requiring joint responsibility for the shared lesson and allowing teachers to be creative and
interactive in their lesson delivery (Vaughn et al. 1997).
Descriptive studies of co-teaching indicate that the subject matter being taught, age and
maturity of the students, and the knowledge of the teachers often determine the variations to co-
teaching models ((Boudah et.al, 1997; Dieker, 2001; Reinhiller, 1996; Weiss & Lloyd, 2003).
However, few studies have investigated why some individuals work well together in utilizing the
most collaborative co-teaching approach and others do not, or why individuals choose to team
The different ways in which co-teaching is enacted is evidence of the different ways
teachers conceptualize their relationships and how roles evolve as a result of teachers'
understandings and beliefs about what it means to work together. Because both teachers enter the
co-teaching partnership with expertise and experience in their respective areas, they possess
differing views about teaching and learning (Trent et al. 2003). Struggles within the co-teaching
relationship are often related to conflict over professional beliefs and practices (Abell, 2000;
Dieker, 2001; Trent, 1998). Achinstein (2002) argues that conflict is central to teacher
collaboration and that how teachers manage conflict, whether they suppress or embrace their
different beliefs, defines the potential for teacher learning and change in practice.
In fact, the larger body of research in collaboration reveals that different understandings
and beliefs about teaching and learning and inability to manage these differences greatly impact
individuals' work together. Five studies found that collaborative structures, by themselves, could
not foster and maintain teacher sharing and learning.
Abbate-Vaughn (2004) found that teachers in teacher professional communities, in which
work together was intended to advance meaningful change in teaching practices, carried such
different beliefs, values, and ideals about school curriculum, student discipline, and teacher
learning that much of their common time was spent defending their own visions rather than
negotiating or defining group goals. In a study of teacher learning cohorts, Brownell and her
colleagues (2006) found that personal qualities and background knowledge determined teachers'
acquisition and use of practices learned in collaborative groups. Teachers with a strong
knowledge base and whose beliefs closely aligned with the strategies were most likely to adopt
them; in contrast, teachers who lacked prerequisite knowledge or experienced dissonance in their
belief systems struggled in their attempts to adopt an innovation and would abandon it.
In an unpublished dissertation, Ryan (1999) found that teachers in middle school teaching
teams who held different conceptions of individual teaching roles, beliefs, and responsibilities
about instruction and curriculum varied in the extent to which they engaged in collaboration
within their specific contexts. Dissimilarities in beliefs caused teachers to resist collaboration and
adhere to their own instructional styles, learning little from teachers who held different
viewpoints and maintaining one conception of teaching. In addition, Marks and Gersten (1998)
found that teaching pairs who were classified as high levels of collaborative engagement and
who made significant changes in classroom practices shared common beliefs and attitudes; while
those with low level engagement did not share similar philosophies and could not find common
ground. Marks and Gersten (1998) concluded that for collaboration to be meaningful and
beneficial, coaches must consider the agendas and beliefs of those involved in the collaborative
Furthermore, Peterson, McCarthey, and Elmore (1996) found that teachers seemed
challenged to change practice, despite opportunities and supports for collaborative dialogue
around literacy instruction. When teachers held different conceptions of literacy pedagogy, they
had difficulty working together and learning from each other.
Statement of Problem
Research in collaboration has established, at least minimally, that philosophies about
instruction and knowledge affect how teachers work together. However, we know very little
about how a person's conception of what it means to collaborate or work together affects what
they do. In effect, individual teachers have a well-defined, engrained belief of what is means to
work together, and these beliefs drive what they are able to learn from each other as well as what
they are able to teach the students in their classroom (Richardson, 1996). Researchers must study
how teachers begin, develop, and maintain collaborative relationships in various contexts.
Collaboration is not simply the pooling, or even blending, of knowledge and practices to
reconstruct tasks; rather, it involves much more fundamental reconceptualizations and
reconstructions-those of personal and professional identities and discourses (Abell, 2000). For
this reason, the individual role of the teacher needs to be critically analyzed and examined. This
includes past experience and understandings as well as prior learning such as type of preparation,
knowledge base, skill level, previous experience working with others, and teaching philosophy
Co-teaching studies have not looked explicitly at how teachers' prior knowledge and ideas
about collaboration affect their work together; there are many unanswered questions about how
general education and special education teachers' differentiated knowledge and views influence
their collaborative relationship. How do preconceived beliefs and conceptualizations of working
together affect how teachers with differing backgrounds actually collaborate? How do teachers'
differentiated knowledge and skill influence their collaboration? In practice, it is not easy to
achieve symbiosis as teachers try to co-construct new identities and meanings, and study of the
co-teaching relationship and how it evolves is warranted (Trent, 1998; Trent et al. 2003).
To date, much of the literature on co-teaching is practical in nature, with limited in-depth
evidence to support theoretical positions, as noted by one review of the literature on cooperative
teaching (Welch et al. 1999). Much of the research literature that does exist tends to treat co-
teaching as an intervention and looks pointedly at treatment outcomes for teachers and students.
Numerous articles and books talk about the importance of working together, yet the research
does not examine the process of learning to work together. Some papers discuss teacher survey
and self-report data, but these methods are not specific enough to get at the nature of the co-
teaching partnership and how it develops. Thus, while the research lays out the outcomes of co-
teaching, it does not explore process issues. Although having two teachers simultaneously in the
classroom offers great power and promise (Bauwens & Hourcade, 1997), little research
investigates co-teaching in order to understand how two individuals with differing knowledge
bases and understandings of collaboration come to work together and share responsibility for a
diverse group of children.
It is valuable to explore collaborative teaching from the "inside out," which means to study
the values, meanings, and actions of co-teachers engaged in the process. Research based on the
experiences of educators involved in cooperative teaching is needed. To gain in-depth
understanding of how teachers conceptualize working together and the evolution of this
conceptualization, through thoughts and actions, qualitative methods must be utilized. Such
studies of co-teaching pairs may provide in-depth information about how the complex, multi-
faceted set of thought processes and understandings individuals bring to the classroom interact
and integrate. To realize the potential of co-teaching, researchers must respect its evolutionary
nature and study it as a process through qualitative data analysis.
Purpose of Study
The purpose of this investigation is to describe co-teachers' conceptualizations of co-
teaching and how these conceptualizations are enacted. Conceptualization in this study is defined
in terms of teacher beliefs and meanings about co-teaching, as well as how these beliefs and
meanings are to be put into action. This research hopes to elucidate how teachers with different
backgrounds and educational expertise conceptualize their work together and how they carry out
this work. Specifically, this investigation examines what general and special education teachers
think, believe, and do in the process of working together. Missing from the co-teaching literature
is information on the types of skills, knowledge, and understandings general and special
educators enter the co-teaching situation with in order to effectively work together in inclusive
classrooms. There are issues of ownership, teaching space, role delineations, philosophical
differences, use of language, and prior knowledge. Why do some teachers work together in ways
that are mutually beneficial and others do not? How do they use their individual and shared
knowledge as they co-teach? What kind of understandings do teachers bring to the table that
enables them to profit from working together? Why is this learning and sharing important to the
most collaborative co-teaching approach?
Although particular schools and school districts are embracing the co-teaching approach
(McCrory-Cole & McLeskey, 1997; Snell & Janney, 2000; Walther-Thomas, 1997) and unified
teacher education programs are utilizing the co-teaching models in student field experiences
(Gerber & Popp, 2000; Hudson & Glomb, 1997), few studies have been conducted to look at the
intricacies involved in being a co-teacher. In fact, Murwaski and Swanson (2001) stated that the
sheer dearth of research in the area of co-teaching emphasizes the need for future research. There
is lack of empirical data about how co-teaching relationships between general and special
educators are established or even description of the process of working together.
Findings from this study will be useful in helping educators and researchers understand
professional development issues and create activities that build on teacher understandings.
Perhaps, if we can understand teachers' conceptualizations about working together and
enactment of these conceptualizations, we can maximize the potential of co-teaching. This
research will be guided by the following central question: How do co-teachers conceptualize co-
teaching? Specific questions used to direct data collection and analysis include: 1)How do co-
teachers enact co-teaching? 2)How do co-teachers utilize their individual and shared knowledge
as they co-teach?
Successful co-teaching is predicated on the assumption that teachers will be able to work
together in ways that are productive. Such productivity is measured by the extent that individuals
learn from each other and pool their knowledge, as they reconstruct context and tasks in order to
meet the diverse needs of children (Abell, 2000). Proponents contend that co-teaching is an
effective use of the specific and unique skills each professional brings to the classroom; the skills
of general educators and special educators are brought together to create teaching approaches
and instructional strategies that could not occur if just one teacher were present (Cook & Friend,
1995; Pugach & Wesson, 2002). Teachers engaged in the co-teaching relationship are presumed
to be able to combine these individual strengths and talents in order to enhance and expand their
personal knowledge bases, as well as help all students (Hourcade & Bauwens, 2001). Therefore,
the expectation is that co-teachers will know how to blend their knowledge, abilities, values,
preferences, teaching styles, educational philosophies, and cultural perspectives to better serve
their students. Moreover, being successful means that co-teachers plan and reflect together,
discussing and negotiating program objectives, curricula, assessment, teaching, as well as
classroom management techniques, schedules, and grading criteria; and finally, that they enact
what they have agreed upon in ways that recognize both members of the teams' contributions
(Gately & Gately, 2001; Salend et.al, 2002).
However, the degree to which teachers can work together successfully is based on several
key ideas underlying the co-teaching approach. To understand the potential of any strategy, it is
important to break down its parts and examine the reasoning behind the particular strategy; to
explore the ideas that guide professionals in their decisions to implement and persuade others in
the endeavor. Position papers and co-teaching guides highlight specific ideas that support co-
teaching, yet a theory of co-teaching does not exist. In fact, the degree to which these ideas have
been or can be achieved has been understudied, leaving the field with only superficial
understanding of how collaboration works and the conditions under which it is effective.
Therefore, it is important to examine research aimed at understanding the ideas underlying this
collaborative approach. Based on the growing literature base in co-teaching, the researcher
asserts that five major ideas support the successful enactment of co-teaching. These ideas are:
Teachers are able to learn from each other; co-teaching involves pooling of
complementary knowledge and practices to reconstruct work.
Teachers can better address student academic and social needs; co-teaching includes
increased instructional and curricular options and arrangements for all students.
Teachers can cultivate collaborative skills; co-teaching involves learning and
developing highly sophisticated problem-solving and negotiation strategies.
Teachers are motivated to work together; co-teaching includes an inclusionary
attitude, a humanistic stance, and a sense of efficacy.
Teachers have certain contextual conditions in place for collaboration: co-teaching
requires facilitation of the process through appropriate supports and resources.
Idea 1: Teachers Can Learn from Each Other.
Research indicates that teachers learned from each other as they engaged in this
collaborative instructional model by integrating knowledge, increasing opportunities for
professional and personal growth as well as exploring new roles. Austin (2001) demonstrated
that in a co-teaching relationship teachers grew in their integration of knowledge. Teachers' self-
reports reveal that special educators learned more about group instruction and curricular options,
and general educators learned more about individualized instruction and behavior modifications
(Abell, 2000; Austin, 2001; Frederico, Herrold, & Venn, 1999). As co-teachers thought and
talked about teaching and learning in ways not available individually (Abell, 2000), they report
that their repertoires increased.
Through co-teaching, general and special educators learned how to integrate their roles
(Karge et al. 1995; Trent et al. 2002) and restructure the teaching procedures used within and
across roles. When two individuals with distinct skills worked in a coordinated way (Snell &
Janney, 2000), the entire class was addressed. "In this arrangement, teacher roles were not
differentiated, and for the time that both teachers were present in the room, special and general
educators were indistinguishable to an observer" (Baker & Zigmond, 1995, p. 171). Research
shows although role delineation, specificity, and clarity described the dynamics in the initial co-
teaching relationship, as teachers openly communicated and shared knowledge, interchangeable
roles and refined instructional practices emerged (Trent, 2003).
Although empirical evidence exists to make a case for the positive influence of co-teaching on
teacher practice, some studies had potential teacher problems and tensions as well. If
philosophical differences and pedagogical styles were not addressed or negotiated, teachers
seemed challenged to successfully work together (Abell, 2000; Achinstein, 2002, Boudah et al.
1997; Dieker, 2001; Karge et al. 1995; Marks & Gersten, 1998). The special educator was
viewed as the expert on curriculum adaptation and remediation, who came in solely for the
purposes of offering exclusive aid to children with special needs (Rice & Zigmond, 2000). This
expertise was not enmeshed with the general educators' knowledge and abilities, but instead used
separately (Weiss & Lloyd, 2002, 2003), which was problematic to teacher growth and learning.
Missing from the literature is information about the processes underlying successful
knowledge integration. What individual factors facilitate or hinder teachers learning from each
other? How do philosophies, knowledge bases, past experiences working with others, and
individual characteristics play a role? How do they establish parity and harmony within the
classroom when they come in with differing past experiences and levels of knowledge? How do
teachers blend skills and areas of expertise, take risks, respect and trust each other's
professionalism, experiment with new teaching methodologies, and confront differences in order
to learn and grow together? Or do they? Why is this learning important to the co-teaching
Idea 2: Teachers Can Better Address Student Academic and Social Needs.
Research reveals that students achieved better overall academically and socially in co-
taught environments (Pugach & Wesson, 1995; Salend & Johansen, 1997; Welch, 2000).
Students with and without disabilities experienced improved self-esteem, peer relationships,
teacher interactions, and social outcomes (Gerber & Popp, 1999; Pugach & Wesson, 1995;
Vaughn et al. 1998; Whinnery & King, 1995). The inclusion of students who have difficulty
learning and adjusting created an appreciation of differences among people, increased sensitivity
to others, and provided an opportunity for sustained interaction between students who may not
otherwise come together (Pugach & Wesson, 1995; Vaughn et al. 1998). Students with
disabilities tended to feel good about themselves and accepted by their peers, as research
documented that the stigmatization associated with being pulled out for special services was
reduced (Kluwin, 1999; Pugach & Wesson, 1995; Waldron & McLeskey, 1998). In addition,
students were part of a classroom community as diverse needs were accounted for and
appreciated and specific skills developed (Luckner, 1999).
Studies show that students taught with the cooperative model made academic progress as
well as social progress. Student performance increased appreciably, and the majority of special
education students progressed at or above district expectations without being labeled or pulled
out (Gerber & Popp, 1999; Self et al. 1991). Students with disabilities received better grades,
making significant gains on curriculum-based measures (McCrory-Cole & McLeskey, 1997;
Waldron & McLeskey, 1998). Furthermore, students without disabilities also enhanced their
academic progress as they received more teacher help and small group instruction (Gerber &
Popp, 1999; Pugach & Wesson, 1995).
The ability to profit from co-teaching arrangements, however, is not always a given. When
Murwaski and Swanson (2001) quantified the co-teaching literature in terms of the magnitude of
treatment outcomes for students, they determined the findings encouraging, yet limited in scope.
Moreover, looking at the quantitative effects of co-teaching on student academic and social
progress treats co-teaching as an intervention, rather than the process that it is. Missing from the
literature is information about how teachers come to understand and address student needs
together and why some co-teaching situations produce change and others do not. While there is
discussion of how students perceive the co-taught classroom and instructional arrangements and
groupings, as well as some data on academic and social measures, the research does not indicate
how those positive effects are achieved as teachers work together. How does the presence of two
teachers engaged in collaborative efforts supplement classroom instruction and benefit students
with and without disabilities? What kinds of thinking and actions do co-teachers engage in to
better address student needs?
Idea 3: Teachers Can Cultivate Collaborative Skills.
Teachers engaged in collaborative efforts often received training and support from peers,
administrators, university teacher-researchers and professors, and staff development personnel
(Fennick & Liddy, 2001; McCrory-Cole & Waldron, 1997; Self et al. 1991; Trent, 1998;
Waldron & McLeskey, 1998). In some research studies, teachers were specifically trained in
inclusion and the co-teaching model before implementing it within the classroom (Boudah et al.
1997; Karge et al. 1995; Self et al. 1991; Welch, 2000). This training focused on understanding
roles regarding integrating curriculum and instruction, relating to one another, and interacting
with students (Boudah et al. 1997), as well as learning how to plan, reflect, and evaluate as a
cooperative teaching pair (Welch, 2000). Co-teachers report that training helped them to
cultivate the skills and knowledge necessary to engage in co-teaching in order to include a
diverse group of learners (Boudah et al. 1997; Fennick & Liddy, 2001; Self et al. 1991, Welch,
Research demonstrates that teachers can also be prepared at the pre-service level to
improve collaboration. In the effort to prepare teachers for inclusive education, unified or
collaborative teacher education programs have been developed throughout the nation (Blanton,
Griffin, Winn, & Pugach, 1997). These programs seek to provide education majors with the
needed interpersonal and collaborative skill instruction and field experiences that can prepare
them for the academic and behavior challenges emerging in the classroom (Hudson & Glomb,
1997). Pre-service training at the university level focused on engaging in group projects,
attempting the various co-teaching models during student teaching, understanding specific
accommodations, and planning with a partner. Thus, offering prospective co-teachers the
opportunities to cultivate collaborative and accommodation skills prepared them for the
challenges associated with teaching in today's schools (Gerber & Popp, 2000; Hudson & Glomb,
1997; Trent, 1998).
Although studies suggest the need for professional development activities at the pre-
service and in-service level as well as consistent reflection and evaluation of the co-teaching
approach, there is little data on how collaborative skills might evolve within the co-teaching
relationship, and how the evolution of such skills might effect the teachers' partnerships (Abell,
2001; Trent et al. 2003). Missing from the literature is information about whether teachers who
possess these skills engage in greater collaboration with their partners. Can teachers learn to
utilize these highly sophisticated skills so that the nature of their conversations change and the
ways in which they work together are enhanced? Continued in-depth case study research can
help elucidate the complexity of multiple implementation efforts and help to identify
characteristics and attributes of teachers that contribute to improved outcomes for students
served in cooperative teaching classrooms (Trent et al. 1998).
Idea 4: Teachers Are Motivated to Work Together.
Teachers possessed specific attributes, knowledge, dispositions, and skills that motivated
them to collaborate with other professionals in order to meet the needs of an increasingly
heterogeneous population (Minke et al, 1996; Murata, 1996; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1996).
Olson and Chalmers (1997) identified general education teachers who were the most skilled at
including students with disabilities and collaborating with other teachers in their classrooms.
Characteristics of these teachers included the following: described their own personalities as
tolerant, reflective, and flexible; accepted responsibility for all students; described a positive
working relationship with special educators; reported adjusting expectations for integrated
students; and indicated that their primary inclusionary attitude was showing interpersonal
warmth and acceptance in their interactions with students.
The literature shows that motivation to work together also came from external sources
(Weiss & Lloyd, 2002, 2003). The influences of professional, community, and administrative
groups persuaded teachers to participate in co-teaching efforts at their grade level (Weiss &
Lloyd, 2003). Professional sources included collaborative courses and staff development
meetings with other teachers who had effectively implemented co-teaching. Community sources
involved parents whose children progressed through school in co-teaching programs and wanted
these programs to continue, as well as national requirements that all students pass state-mandated
curriculum and tests. Additionally, administrative pressure reaffirmed the professional and
community sources that the teachers noted. Teachers' propensity for collaboration may be
motivated by the realization that it is necessary to meet the demands of the profession (Baker &
Zigmond, 1995; Gerber & Popp, 1999; Snell & Janney, 2000; Weiss & Lloyd, 2003).
While the research on teacher motivation to collaborate presents many possible sources of
motivation, internal and external, there are many unanswered questions. Other components,
including ability to work together, to establish parity and integrate roles, and to meet the needs of
diverse students, are important in creating an effective learning environment and motivation to
teach together. The assumption is that co-teachers are motivated to collaborate around issues of
philosophical differences, problem-solving strategies, instruction and curriculum, planning and
assessment, and classroom social dynamics. Missing from the literature is whether motivation to
work together is enough to successfully co-teach. Does intrinsic versus extrinsic teacher
motivation affect how well co-teaching will be implemented in an inclusive setting? If so, in
what ways? In addition, how do different types of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards influence the
large-scale implementation of co-teaching? How do school and district environments put in place
the right types of rewards? How do the teachers' individual skill level and prior knowledge and
experiences affect motivation to work together?
Idea 5: Teachers Have Certain Contextual Conditions in Place for Collaboration.
Research supports the notion that certain contextual support structures must exist in order
to put collaboration and co-teaching into effective practice (Murata, 1996; Trent et al. 2002;
Weiss & Lloyd, 2003). Schools committed to changing their traditional programs to models that
facilitate dialogue, collaboration, and problem solving among professionals must plan
accordingly (Walther-Thomas et al. 1996). Studies show that investment in long-term support
efforts to foster meaningful change and proactively address problems that emerge naturally as
part of the collaborative process, must be made (McCrory-Cole & McLeskey, 1997; Pugach &
Wesson, 1995; Waldron & McLeskey, 1998). Building level issues include gaining school and
community support, recruiting willing and qualified co-teachers, visiting model sites, conducting
staff development sessions, and making appropriate decisions regarding student placements,
teaching assignments, caseloads, and scheduling (Walther-Thomas et al. 1996).
The most persistent problems co-teachers reported in collaborative efforts were related to
contextual conditions (Boudah et al. 1997; Dieker, 2001; Fennick & Liddy, 2001; Jung, 1998;
Trent, 1998). These problems involved scheduled planning time, student caseloads, resources,
and administrative support (Walther-Thomas, 1997). After intensive study of collaborative
teaching in elementary, middle, and high school programs, Gerber and Popp (1999) generated
recommendations about delivery of services, communication, and administrative support
necessary for implementation of co-teaching. The service delivery recommendation included
defining collaboration, establishing limits of effective collaboration when resources are
overtaxed, maintaining multiple service delivery options, and ensuring program continuation.
Communication goals dealt with informing parents and reporting success to multiple audiences.
Finally, it was suggested that administrators create strategic scheduling, allow planning time,
have only voluntary participation, and annually evaluate the collaborative teaching programs
formally and systematically.
Co-teachers in Lehr's case study (1999) identified specific areas of administrative support
as essential to accomplishing their collaborative teaching goals and made frequent references to
the connection between administrative support and the degree of success or struggle they
experienced. Participants outlined factors that could substantially improve administrative policies
and better support the success of collaborative teaching, including voluntary participation,
adequate planning time and resources, collaborative training, and high visibility of collaboration.
Furthermore, research suggests that administrators can foster a school climate of collaboration
and teacher sharing by treating collaboration as an opportunity for professional growth and
making dialogue an important component of school culture (Gerber & Popp, 1999; Jung, 1998;
Karge et al. 1995; Lehr, 1999; Waldron & McLeskey, 1998).
In special education, scholars advocate the importance of collaborative efforts and suggest
contextual conditions that must be in place for teachers to work together (Friend & Cook, 2000;
Hourcade & Bauwens, 2003). Missing from the literature base is research on how schools
promote this culture of collaboration, how schools move from isolated environments to collegial
ones, and how schools explore the intricacies of their particular setting in order to instigate
change. The idea is that if teachers are expected to share classroom space where they work
together to integrate roles and make insightful decisions about students, contextual conditions
can encourage and expedite this process. How are collaborative practices engendered and co-
teachers given the ideal conditions in which to work? How do working conditions or contextual
issues support parity among teachers and students? What kinds of teacher qualities and teacher
leadership are necessary to work through contextual barriers to collaboration?
Implications of Literature
As revealed in this comprehensive literature review, empirical research in co-teaching has
focused on teacher and student outcomes. The ideas outlined above have shaped these research
studies and affected what has been learned. This work sheds some light on teachers'
understandings of working together and the ideas that underlie those understandings.
However, these ideas have not been thoroughly studied, as there are many unresolved
issues about co-teaching and how teachers conceptualize this collaborative approach. The
research asserts that as teachers work together, they assume different roles and engage in
different actions in the co-taught classroom (Weiss & Lloyd, 2002, 2003). The individual role of
the teacher within the co-teaching partnership must be explored. This includes background
knowledge and skills, previous experiences collaborating with other peers, educational
philosophy, and work ethic. Additionally, issues of power and parity arise when teachers from
different backgrounds enter upon a collaborative relationship. These issues shape the roles and
actions of individuals in co-teaching, affect motivation to work together, and guide expectations
for themselves, each other, and their students (Trent, 1998).
Research based on the voices and real-life experiences of educators involved in
cooperative teaching is needed. This research can document and compare the experiences co-
teaching teams and identify the obstacles they encounter as well as the solutions they employ to
achieve a symbiotic relationship and effectively serve their students (Salend & Johansen, 1997).
Can teachers learn how to negotiate, compromise, and integrate knowledge, or are these abilities
simply the result of organic relationships that naturally evolve? And, when they do integrate their
knowledge, what is the result? Is it always the same result, or do teachers need certain types of
knowledge in place before they even begin to benefit from each other?
Successful co-teaching, as it is defined, is not easily achieved. "Genuine, sustained teacher
collaboration that produces continuous reflection on practice and constructive action is still rare"
(Brownell, Yeager, Rennells, & Riley, 1997, p. 341). In fact, the larger body of research in
collaboration suggests that individual teachers respond differently to focused collaborative
efforts because of prior beliefs and understandings (Brownell et al. 2006; Marks & Gersten,
1998; Peterson et al. 1996). These collaboration studies have focused exclusively on the
practices of general education teachers (Abbate-Vaughn, 2004, Ryan, 1999). Although Marks
and Gersten (1998) did include the special education perspective, the special educator was
brought in as a consultant, which dissolved parity. Furthermore, while the literature gets at the
idea that conceptualizations of working together somehow impact enactment of work together,
research does not look squarely at these teacher conceptualizations.
Teachers enter their professions with a strong and enduring set of beliefs and attitudes
about teaching and learning, and these understandings greatly influence how they approach any
cooperative teaching effort. These teacher perceptions are, in all likelihood, based on personal
life experience, teachers' own schooling and instruction, and formal knowledge (Richardson,
1996). In fact, given the often physically and socially isolated nature of schools (Rogers &
Babinski, 2002), it is not surprising that teachers do not know how to effectively work together
and may not possess solid conceptualizations of what it means to co-teach with another
individual. The collaborative teaching approach encompasses the views of both special and
general education in the inclusive classroom. It is a glaring omission of the literature to ignore
these co-teachers' conceptualizations of co-teaching. Co-teaching studies must look explicitly at
how teachers' perceptions about collaboration affect their work together. There are many
unanswered questions about how general education and special education teachers' differentiated
knowledge and ideas about working together impact their collaborative relationship and their
The purpose of this qualitative investigation is to describe co-teachers' conceptualizations
of co-teaching and how these conceptualizations are enacted in the inclusive classroom.
Empirical data collected from general education and special education teachers involved in co-
teaching partnerships is used to develop constructivist grounded theory. Such grounded theory
provides insight into how co-teachers construct co-teaching, and findings can be used to
maximize the potential of this collaborative approach.
To gain in-depth understanding of how co-teachers conceptualize and enact their work
together, constructivism is utilized. In constructivism, individuals are viewed as active agents,
developing their own understandings of and knowledge about the world through experiences
with their environments (Crotty, 1998). In these understandings and knowledge, different people
may construct meaning in different ways, even in relation to the same phenomenon.
Constructivism is the view that all knowledge, and therefore all meaningful reality, is contingent
upon human practices; constructed in and out of interaction between human beings and their
world, and developed and transmitted within an essentially social context (Crotty, 1998).
According to constructivism, individuals construct meanings as they engage with the world they
In the present research, teachers are actively engaged in developing and enacting their
conceptualizations of working together. Teachers' perceptions and interpretations of teaching, or
their conceptualizations, are guided by their prior knowledge and experiences. Teachers come
into classrooms with beliefs and attitudes about teaching, which have been developed through a
lifetime of schooling and experience (Richardson, 1996). These images of teaching greatly
influence how teachers approach their co-teaching relationships. Furthermore, teacher
understandings of their partners' knowledge influence the process and development of their work
together, as well as direct their actions and decisions in the classroom. These understandings are
developed over time and evolve through ongoing interactions.
Constructivism assumes multiple social realities, recognizes the mutual creations of
knowledge by the viewer and the viewed, and aims toward interpretive understandings' of the
participants' meanings (Charmaz, 2000; Crotty, 1998; Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Constructivist
perspective recognizes that the researcher creates the data and ensuing analysis through intensive
study with the researched. The discovered reality arises from an interactive process and its
temporal, cultural, and structural contexts. The researcher frames the study and interprets the
interactions, so that the researcher is part of what is researched rather that separate from it. What
a researcher views shapes what he or she will define, measure, and analyze (Charmaz, 2000).
In this study, the researcher describes co-teachers' perceptions of co-teaching. The
constructivist approach does not seek truth that is single, universal, and lasting. Researcher's
attention to detail in the constructivist approach sensitizes them to multiple realities and the
multiple viewpoints within them (Charmaz, 2000). Theoretical sensitivity exists, as concepts that
represent the phenomenon are identified without pre-determinate biases (Glaser & Strauss,
1967). The researcher examines how different variables are grounded, how they are given
meaning and played out in the participants' lives (Charmaz, 2000; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The
variables that affect co-teachers' work together, and their meanings and actions, take priority, as
the researcher seeks to interpret how these teachers construct their reality. The researcher
transforms these variables into theories. These theories grounded within the data tend to enhance
understanding, offer insights, and provide meaningful guide to action (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).
Teachers conceptualize their work together in different ways; these conceptualizations
become a framework for grasping co-teaching and how to enact it in the classroom. Based on
these conceptualizations, teachers utilize their individual and shared knowledge as they co-teach
in the inclusive classroom. Constructivism as a theoretical perspective facilitates individual
meaning-making, perceptions, and reflections as crucial elements. Hopefully, by better
understanding what co-teachers think, believe, and do, educators can use this information to
foster collaborative work among other general and special education teachers.
The purpose of qualitative research is to gain in-depth knowledge that leads to greater
understanding social phenomena, rather than to corroborate predetermined assumptions
(Creswell, 1998). The research approach rests on assumptions that reality is socially constructed
and that variables are complex and interwoven. To understand the nature of constructed realities,
qualitative researchers interact and talk with participants about their perceptions. Qualitative
research methodology requires the close examination of a studied experience in its natural setting
and produces vivid and detailed descriptions of the experience (Merriam, 1998). Researchers
attend to the uniqueness of and uncover a complex, holistic nature of the experience while
considering its dynamic interactions within settings (Creswell, 1998; Glesne, 1999).
Qualitative inquiry is descriptive and inductive in nature, searches for patterns, and may
result in the formulation of hypotheses and theory. The qualitative researcher's analysis has
explanatory and descriptive power, revealing a story about people, processes, and situations.
Therefore, qualitative research is appropriate to study how teachers conceptualize co-teaching, as
a theory of beliefs about collaboration and collaborative actions develops.
Four co-teaching pairs were asked to participate using a purposeful criterion sampling
method. The purposeful sampling method is appropriate for recruiting group of teachers who
demonstrate particular traits and work in similar environments. This study focuses specifically
on co-teachers who work in inclusive elementary level classrooms in a midsize school district in
North Central Florida. Each co-teaching pair consists of a general education and special
education teacher with differentiated knowledge bases; they must work at an inclusive school,
plan together, co-teach together on a regular basis, utilize the team teaching approach in their
classroom, and be perceived as effective teachers by their colleagues. Studying this distinct
group of teachers helps to understand a specific phenomenon, co-teaching, in a rich and deep
In order to enlist co-teachers who meet the particular criteria outlined above, district-level
inclusion specialists and building administrators were contacted to gain insight into both site
locations and participant selection. These inclusion specialists and school principals
recommended a distinct group of co-teaching pairs, which they perceived as effective
collaborators. The teachers were recruited with the aid of the school board under the permission
of the University of Florida Institutional Review Board (UFIRB). The researcher contacted
potential participants via email and phone at their respective school sites. Decisions for
participation were strictly voluntary.
Based on the results of the selection procedures, four pairs of teachers were identified as
effective co-teaching dyads for this study. In the following section, detailed information about
each teacher and each pair is summarized.
Kay, 33 years old, and Rachel, 25 years old, co-taught together for the first time during the
study. They taught fifth grade reading and language arts to fourteen students from 10:30 to 11:40
am everyday. In her second year of classroom teaching, Kay was the general education teacher in
the relationship. She had a bachelor's degree in science in communication sciences and
disorders, a master's degree in speech language and pathology, and was earning a specialist's
degree in curriculum and instruction. Kay worked as a paralegal where she collaborated with
other law colleagues and as a speech pathologist where she facilitated other teachers in their
classrooms before she began co-teaching. She had not enjoyed her past experiences working with
others because she felt she contributed more than her peers. Also in her second year of classroom
teaching, Rachel was the special education teacher in this relationship. She was certified in
elementary education and special education with an ESOL endorsement. Rachel participated in
triad teaching and partnership work during her teacher education program. She enjoyed working
with others in different capacities and looked forward to new experiences.
Last year, both Kay and Rachel co-taught with another fifth grade teacher who treated
them as aides. They were very disappointed in those relationships, so they decided to work
together and make a difference in the current school year. In preparation for co-teaching, Kay
conducted research about the cooperative models and reflected on her collaborative experiences
in an inquiry project. Also focused on the relationship, Rachel maneuvered her schedule with
other teachers as well as her planning period and lunchtime in order to conference with Kay
everyday about student goals and performance.
Cynthia, 35 years old, and Ted, 55 years old, co-taught together for the third time during
the study. They taught fourth grade reading to twenty-five students from 8:45 to 9:40 am
everyday. Teaching for seven years, Cynthia was the general education teacher in the
partnership. She possessed a bachelor's degree in elementary education and master's degree in
special education. Through her teacher education program, she participated in group projects and
collaborative studies. Although she did not like giving up control in her homeroom, she felt
collaboration was a necessary part of any job, so that individuals could improve their work.
Teaching for 32 years, Ted was the special education teacher in the relationship. He had a
bachelor's degree in psychology and master's degree in special education in the area of
emotional and behavior disorders. During his career, he had collaborated with general education
teachers in different functions, was willing to change roles to fit the needs of the classroom, and
liked working with others.
While Ted had co-taught with other teachers for ten years and went into four different
classes each day, Cynthia was accustomed to teaching in isolation and being the only teacher in
her classroom besides college interns. In order to meet diverse student needs within their
inclusive school, Cynthia and Ted chose to work together and plan for co-teaching. Cynthia
attended workshops and in-services on inclusion and collaboration, while Ted supported his
partner's ideas and teaching format as they learned about each other.
Amy, 60 years old, and Erika, 25 years old, co-taught together for the first time during
the study. They taught fourth grade writing to twenty students from 9:45 to 10:15 am everyday
and 1:00 to 1:40 pm everyday except Wednesdays. In her 17th year in the classroom after
teaching for eleven years, taking a twenty-year hiatus, and coming back for the past six years,
Amy was the general education teacher in the relationship. She was certified in reading and
writing for kindergarten through twelfth grade. Upon her return to the field, she had been an
active fourth-grade team member, co-taught with different special education teachers for six
years, and enjoyed working with others. In her first year of teaching, Erika was the special
education teacher in this partnership. She held a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a
master's degree in special education with an ESOL endorsement. During her unified teacher
education program, Erika participated in a co-teaching pre-internship as well as interned in a co-
taught classroom; she enjoyed working with other teachers.
Placed together by their principal, Amy and Erika met each other when they began co-
teaching. They learned about each other's area of expertise when they started their work
together. Amy was accustomed to taking the lead over the special education teacher, while Erika
had learned to share responsibility and establish parity. They established a routine that worked
for their time schedules and their students.
Sarah and Lynn, both 28 years old, co-taught together for the first time during the study.
They taught third grade mathematics to sixteen students from 11:30 to 12:30 on Tuesdays,
Wednesday, and Fridays and writing from 1:00 to 1:45 on Mondays and Thursdays. Entering
her first year of teaching, Sarah was the general education teacher in this partnership. She
possessed a bachelor's degree in elementary education and was earning on a master's degree in
special education. Sarah worked with a partner leading an outreach project and co-taught during
her pre-internship in a unified teacher education program. From these positive past experiences,
Sarah looked forward to co-teaching. Continuing in her fifth year of teaching, Lynn was the
special education teacher. She held a degree in special education in the area of specific learning
disabilities. Since joining the field, Lynn established a successful co-teaching relationship with
another general educator and was enthusiastic about working with a new teacher.
Put together by their principal, Sarah and Lynn met each other the summer before they
began working together. They learned about each other's educational background and prior
collaborative experiences when they started co-teaching. Sarah hoped to develop an equitable
relationship, while Lynn wanted to give Sarah room to grow and lead as a beginning teacher.
They established a routine to fit their class's needs.
Data was collected over the latter part of the school year, 2006, specifically in March,
April, and May, as shown in Table 1-1. I conducted interviews and observations throughout this
In-depth interviews in qualitative data analysis aim to make sense of the topic under study.
Because they allow the researcher to gather data while reducing researcher bias, interviews are
the primary source of data in constructivist research (Kvale, 1996; Siedman, 1991). Research
interviews vary on a series of dimensions. For the participants to reveal their innermost thoughts
and feelings on the particular experience, this study employed a semi-structured interview
format. Such a format allows a certain sequence of question formulations, yet also embraces
flexibility during the interview process to focus on issues relevant to the participants (Kvale,
1996). Drawn from the broader research questions, the interview questions are more contextual
and specific (Glesne, 1999). In this qualitative study, the researcher explained the purpose and
posed direct questions from the beginning of the interviews.
I interviewed each teacher four times during the data collection period. My interview
protocol is included in Appendix A. These interviews aimed to reveal the nature of the co-
teaching relationship and underlying beliefs and perceptions. In addition, the interviews allowed
me the opportunity to ask detailed questions associated with co-teachers' planning and
instructional practices. Each interview lasted approximately 30 to 45 minutes and was conducted
in each teacher's classroom before or after school or during planning period.
The first two interviews established the context of the participants' experiences and beliefs
about working with a partner and asked participants to reconstruct details of their ongoing
experience with their co-teacher at their particular school. The first background interview
focused on meanings of working together, co-teaching, and collaboration, while the second
background interview concentrated on the current co-teaching situation and how skills and
knowledge were utilized and shared.
The next interview followed a formal classroom observation and probed on details of the
lesson, how roles and responsibilities were distributed, and how decisions were made. The last
interview concluded the study, encouraging the participants to reflect on the overall meaning
their co-teaching experience holds for them. I hoped to explore the nature of the co-teaching
relationship and how it works through these interviews.
The purpose of observations is to allow the participants to reflect and make sense of the
data. I brought my notes and shared what I observed with the co-teachers after each observation,
so we could construct the findings together. Participants were formally observed during the last
few months of the school year. Scheduled ahead of time, four hour-length observations were
conducted with each co-teaching pair. Two of these observations comprised co-teaching lessons,
while the other two involved co-planning sessions. Field notes were taken and researcher
reflection was included with each observation. During observations, teacher behaviors, teacher
interactions, student reactions, and descriptions of classroom environment were recorded.
Following one classroom observation of co-teaching, a formal interview was conducted
about the progression of the lesson. After all observations, field notes were elaborated on based
on informal conversations with the participants about their instructional lesson or their planning
session. By watching the co-teachers in their classrooms and talking with them after
observations, I hoped to capture how they enacted perceptions of working together and how
these actions varied or progressed during different situations.
Furthermore, the participants were asked to provide any materials they perceive as relevant
to co-teaching and discuss their importance in planning or teaching. These documents included
lesson plans, meeting minutes, student work, and teacherjournals. Participants' use of these
artifacts during co-planning conferences provided further explanation of how they
conceptualized their roles and responsibilities in the classroom.
In this study, data analysis is guided by grounded theory methods, which have changed
over the years. Glaser and Strauss (1967) view the method as positivist with objectivist
underpinnings, assuming a reductionist inquiry of research problems and an objective reality
where a neutral observer discovers data. Positivism can be characterized as a world composed of
observable facts in a measurable reality existing external to people (Glesne, 1999). The
researcher treats data as something separate from him or her, implying that data are untouched by
a researcher's interpretations (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
Charmaz (2000, 2005) argues that what one knows influences, but does not necessarily
determine, what one finds. A constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2005) adopts grounded
theory guidelines but does not subscribe to objectivist or positivist assumptions. Constructivists,
instead, portray a world in which reality is subjective, contextualized, and changing (Glesne,
1999). Charmaz (2005) explains that constructivism does not presume that data simply await
discovery in an external world; rather, what observers uncover depends upon their prior
interpretive frames, background experiences, and interests as well as the research context,
relationships with participants, and modes of generating and recording empirical materials. Thus,
constructivist grounded theory places an emphasis on research participants' experiences. In this
view, subjective meanings emerge from experience, and they change as experience changes
(Charmaz, 2000, 2005; Crotty, 1998).
Constructivist grounded theory represents a reality that emerges from the details of the
data, through microanalysis and constant comparisons. Theories grounded within data tend to
increase understanding of a certain experience (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Constructivist
grounded theory is especially important to this study because little is known about how co-
teachers understand co-teaching and how they utilize their differentiated knowledge when they
implement co-teaching in the classroom. By focusing on the data from these co-teachers,
grounded theory enables researchers to develop an empirical explanation about how co-teachers
conceptualize their work together.
Grounded theory methods comprise specific analytic strategies. Grounded theorists code
emerging data as it is collected; three key phases of open coding, axial coding, and selective
coding exists (Charmaz, 2000; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). A list of codes is provided in Appendix
B. Open coding is the analytic process through which concepts are identified and categories that
represent the concepts are made. A concept is a labeled occurrence, an abstract representation of
an event, object, or action/interactions that a researcher identifies as being significant in the data.
Once concepts accumulate, the analyst groups them under more abstract explanatory terms, or
categories. To further clarify, categories are developed in terms of properties and dimensions.
Properties are the general or specific characteristics or attributes of a category, and dimensions
represent the location of a property along a continuum or range. Patterns are then formed when
groups of properties align themselves along various dimensions; thus, the researcher has the
foundation and beginning structure of theory building (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).
For open coding in this study, as interviews were transcribed and observations conducted, I
wrote initial codes in the margins or on pieces of paper. These codes, called in vivo codes, were
derived from actual words used by the participants. Codes were attached to the smallest section
of text that related to the topic under study, ranging in size from a few words to a few sentences.
Some of the open codes from the data include: optimism; strengths and weaknesses; student
benefits; different roles; administrative support. After each interview and observation was coded,
questions, reflections, summations, and emerging themes were recorded for use in further data
collection and analysis.
Axial coding is the process of systematically relating concepts and categories generated in
open coding in order to form more specific understandings of the studied experience. When
theorists code axially, they look for answers to questions such as why or how come, where,
when, how, and with what results, and in so doing they uncover relationships among the
categories. Because linkages among categories can be very subtle and implicit, an organizational
scheme, or paradigm, that can be used to sort out and organize the emerging connections is
helpful (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The basic components of the paradigm are the conditions,
actions/ interactions, and consequences. Conditions represent the structure of circumstances or
situations that the studied experience occurs in. Actions/ interactions are strategic or routine
responses made by individuals to issues or problems that arise under those conditions.
Consequences explain the outcomes of actions/interactions. Although investigating these three
components of paradigms allows the analyst to draw hypotheses from the data, constant
comparison must be utilized to ensure that all possible incidents or cases are accounted for
For axial coding in this study, I fit my codes into relationships that included the co-
teaching experience under study, causal conditions, action strategies, intervening conditions, and
consequences. These axial codes encompassed co-teachers' practices of co-teaching within the
inclusive classroom and the resulting relationships. Some axial codes include: use different co-
teaching models; talk outside of class; plan together; listen to partner's views. When all data
were collected and coded, the codes were compiled into a list and refined until the list was non-
repetitive and non-overlapping.
Selective coding is the process of integrating and refining the theory. A central category,
which is internally logical and consistent across the data, is chosen to represent the main theme
of the research. Cognitive diagrams and hierarchical structures can illustrate relationships
between the central category and other categories. Once theory building is outlined, a theory
should be refined through reviewing its schemes for internal consistency. Negative case analysis
strives to make theories fit all cases, so that possible outliers simply represent variations of the
theory. A theory that is grounded in data should be recognizable to researcher and participants,
and although it may not fit every aspect of their cases, the larger concepts should apply (Strauss
& Corbin, 1998). When no contradictory cases are found after extensive data searching, the
hypotheses are considered more credible.
For selective coding in this study, I looked for core concepts both within and across cases
in order to encapsulate the data. These selective codes incorporated common properties and
results of co-teaching. The properties defining selective codes include: focus on students;
negotiation; creation of parity; integration of knowledge. All coded data for the four co-teaching
pairs were found within these main concepts.
Two key elements of analysis in grounded theory are memoing and theoretical sampling.
Memos are the basis for selective sampling and coding, and begin immediately during data
collection. Memo writing helps to spark the researcher's thinking and encourages examinations
of the data and codes in new ways; it helps to further define leads for collecting data as the
researcher elaborates processes, assumptions, and actions (Charmaz, 2000). Memos can be both
analytical and descriptive, as they come to solidify thoughts and ideas. I kept a notebook of my
reflections about theory development as I immersed myself in data collection and analysis. Based
on these reflections and thoughts, I asked specific and probing questions during informal
interviews, integrating these memos into analysis, as the research progressed.
Theoretical sampling is the process of data collection for generating theory whereby the
analyst collects, codes, and analyzes data and decides what data to collect next and where to find
them, in order to develop the theory as it emerges (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Theoretical sampling
aims at uncovering diversity by facilitating the identification of a full range of possibilities that
are theoretically relevant to working theories. This process continues throughout data collection
until no new information is discovered, until there is theoretical saturation. I constantly reviewed
my data and analyzed my emerging themes throughout the process, continually questioning any
Reliability and Validity
Basically, quality criteria for qualitative research are concerned with how accurately and
meaningfully qualitative inquiry reveals a reality; that is, reliability and validity. Numerous terms
describe the concepts of reliability and validity including credibility, dependability,
trustworthiness, and consistency (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). However, the underlying constructs of
quality criteria remain the same in the pursuit of accuracy and authenticity in qualitative
In a qualitative inquiry, the replicability of research findings is considered evidence of
reliability (Merriam, 1998). The notion of reliability assumes that repeated measures of a
phenomenon producing the same results establish the truth of those results. However, Merriam
(1998) explains that human measurements and observations can be repeatedly wrong or
inaccurate due to naturally occurring errors. Thus, instead of trying to achieve replicability in
qualitative research, Lincoln and Guba (1985) replace the term reliability with dependability or
consistency, which is achieved through the careful documentation of procedure used in
generating and interpreting data. In the present study, all decisions made in the process of
collecting and interpreting data were carefully recorded along with the purpose and rationale.
Such documentation ensured the reliability of this research by providing evidence that the data
collection and analysis process was methodologically rigorous and sound.
Internal validity is concerned with how congruent the research findings are with reality,
referring to the plausibility of the data and interpretations (Glesne, 1999). Merriam (1998)
identified several strategies to enhance internal validity within a qualitative study. For the current
research, I incorporated these techniques of member checks, peer reviews, triangulation, and
clarification of researcher bias to establish the internal validity of my findings. First, the primary
method of establishing validity in grounded theory studies is through member checks. The
present research represents the participants' stories, with the researcher as the messenger of their
voices and experiences. As I discussed observational data with them and painted a portrait based
on their viewpoints, participants were directly involved in the research process. The co-teachers
gave feedback throughout the study's progression, which provided a chance to increase the
sensitivity of the data. Further, I shared interview transcripts, descriptions, and drafts of the final
report with research participants to verify that I was representing them and their interpretations
correctly (Glesne, 1999). Second, peer reviews help find relevance among the specifics of the
data for internal validity. A debriefing team provides an external outlet to further protect against
researcher bias and allows immersion into professional discourse (Piantanida & Garman, 1999). I
talked weekly with colleagues who were also using qualitative methodology, and I regularly met
with my committee members about my emerging findings (Glesne, 1999).
Third, the studied phenomenon is examined in a more comprehensive manner through
triangulation. To study the experience of co-teaching, I used multiple pieces of evidence for data
triangulation. These include formal and informal teacher interviews as well as co-planning and
co-teaching observations. Fourth, to clarify researcher bias, it is necessary to provide a
subjectivity statement in order to give readers information for determining if the researcher's
interpretation is not only grounded in the data, but is also produced through a rigorous process
that ensures integrity in the research results. I noted any past experiences, biases, assumptions,
prejudices, and orientations that may shape or influence my approach to the experience under
investigation and the interpretation of data. I explained my personal stance in a subjectivity
statement and kept a researcher's journal throughout the data collection and analysis process.
These influences and preconceptions were then be bracketed in order to fully understand the
experience from the viewpoint of the participants and not impose an a priori hypothesis
External validity is focused on the generalizability of findings to similar situations or
contexts (Merriam, 1998). Although qualitative inquiry tends to seek out an in-depth
understanding of a specific experience, rather than the universal features that can be applied to
most situations, generalizable patterns and perspectives can be yielded through thick
descriptions, multiple cases, and comparisons across cases. In addressing the external validity of
my findings, I subscribe to the belief that the general lies in the particular; that is, we can transfer
or generalize to similar situations subsequently encountered (Merriam, 1998). In this study,
multiple teachers with various backgrounds were recruited to represent variations within the
research; and a thick, explicit, rich, and detailed description of people, places, and interactions
that occur within the inquiry is included to elucidate the potential usefulness of my findings for
researchers, teacher educators, and school personnel.
Role of Subjectivity in Qualitative Research
While biases can be set aside, a researcher's own rooted ways of knowing and thinking do
still seep in, requiring those preconceptions to be explicitly explained. Thus, my subjectivity
must be disclosed because my own values interact with the way I might interpret what co-
teachers say and what they do (Peshkin, 1988). Admitting up front that research is presented as
interpretation and that the researcher is an instrument of data collection seems a hallmark of
qualitative research. Interpretation is not only recognized, but necessary.
For my interpretations to be believable, it is necessary to reveal my own ideas about co-
teaching and collaboration to understand it through the voices and actions of the co-teachers.
These biases and assumptions can threaten the quality of the study, so they must be explained in
a subjectivity statement that includes personal experiences and background knowledge. This
statement should help readers understand my position and views toward co-teaching and provide
them the information necessary to critically review the study.
My Personal Stance
I entered this inquiry with certain ideas about collaboration and teaching. First of all, I hold
a social constructivist worldview. I believe that as humans, while we do not create the natural
world, we must make sense of this world through engagement with the objects and people
around us. Invaluable in this construction of meaning is language; thus, our conversations with
each other, our dialogue, dictate how we view and process our environment.
In fact, I had a negative experience as a co-teacher largely due to my constructivist
principles, which opposed the philosophies of my co-teaching colleague and other school staff
Lack of parity in the co-teaching relationship as well as our insufficient negotiation skills
significantly affected this work together. I had only a few years of teaching experience, and my
general education partner had taught alone for ten years. From my perspective, she had a well-
defined view of what teaching was like, and my view was not valued or understood. Thus, I was
treated like a special education aide. My duties were reserved to counseling children with
behavior problems, making test accommodations for students with reading disabilities, tutoring
struggling students in math, and leading some small groups, while my partner usually headed the
entire class. My co-teacher and I did not know how to communicate, overcome our differences,
and learn from each other in order to integrate our differentiated knowledge. We rarely utilized
the team teaching approach; instead, we focused on parallel or station teaching.
Working with a traditional teacher and nontraditional students meant trying to overcome
many obstacles. Because student diversity was rejected, rather than enhanced, and teacher
sharing was disregarded, rather than valued, inclusion and collaboration were not evident at this
middle school. Of course, by enlisting a co-teacher in the classroom, the school seemed to be
moving toward a collaborative model of teaching that would benefit diverse learners.
Nevertheless, technical structures of increased time and resources, staff development, and
administrative support were not in place. Moreover, the school climate was not conducive to
open communication and respect for contrasting viewpoints.
Immediately following this experience, I entered the PhD program at the University of
Florida. I am part of a unified program at the doctoral level, Florida Leadership in Teacher
Education, in which the focus is on how to prepare teachers for collaboration and inclusive
education. I wanted to learn more about collaboration and how to work with other teachers;
hence, my central focus during my coursework and primary area of research has been co-
teaching. I am a strong advocate for collaborative programs; I believe that elementary and
special education teachers should be educated together through a program designed to help them
learn to collaborate in order to teach all students. I co-taught a collaboration and inclusion
seminar and worked with pre-service teachers for two years in the endeavor to help myself and
prospective teachers become more collaborative.
Furthermore, as an Asian female, I am particularly interested in how teachers
accommodate for student diversity. With an increasing number of children from varying cultural,
social, linguistic, and ethnic backgrounds in today's schools, teachers must possess a repertoire
of instructional and curricular strategies to reach all learners. Teachers' perceptions and lack of
cultural responsiveness can result in psychological discomfort and low achievement in students.
Therefore, teachers must be trained to meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse
students within their classrooms through multicultural sensitivity and pedagogical competence.
Long-term, well-planned, constructive problem solving is necessary to prepare teachers to be
effective in today' classrooms.
These assumptions are not fatal flaws in a qualitative study, but instead must be explicitly
confronted. I kept a researcher's journal with weekly entries to articulate my personal thoughts
and emotions in an attempt to confront my own biases. This was particularly important because I
did not want my knowledge of co-teaching to lead the participants in revealing their
understanding and use of co-teaching. Excerpts from my journal are included in Appendix C.
Regardless of the strategies outlined to establish reliability and validity, there are
limitations inherent in the present research that must be addressed. Grounded theory research
comes with its own limitation, in that it assumes that the entire data set must be included. Even
negative cases are accommodated and adapted to be included in analysis, which can be
problematic from a methodological sense. In this way, data was not constrained so that the
epistemology guides the data. Nevertheless, creating codes and categories as the researcher
derives themes creates a way to organize and interpret the voluminous data (Glaser & Strauss,
In addition, the data was collected with only a small sample of elementary-level general
and special education co-teachers in a midsize school district in North Central Florida, so it
would be inappropriate to generalize these findings to all co-teachers and schools not represented
in the sample. However, the information-rich descriptions should provide insight into how to
maximize the potential of co-teaching in similar contexts.
Furthermore, keeping researcher bias out of the study was sometimes difficult. The
researcher also had to decide how and in what way personal experiences would be introduced
into the study. Through the use of a reflective journal as well as peer debriefing and peer
examinations, I tried to overcome any difficulties.
Another limitation regards the data collection process. The interviews are vulnerable to
self-report bias by the participants and observations are subject to multiple interpretations. I
urged the co-teachers to speak honestly and freely about their experiences during interviews in
order to ensure accurate findings. Additionally, I interviewed each co-teacher after observing
them co-plan or co-teach to ensure I was seeing things correctly and to continually bring their
voice into the study.
Table 1-1. Data collection timeline
Week of School
March (Week 1)
March (Week 3
April (Week 1 and
April (Week 3 and
May (Week 1 and
May (Week 3 and
Overview of project provided
Informed consent forms provided
Background Interviews 1 and 2 scheduled with each participant
Interviews 1 and 2
Transcribe Interviews 1 and 2
Observations #1 and #2 scheduled with each co-teaching pair
Interview 3 scheduled with each participant
Observations # 1 and #2
Informal interviews following observations
Transcribe Observations #1 and #2, Interview 3, and informal
Observations #3 and #4 scheduled with each co-teaching pair
Observations #3 and #4
Informal interviews following observations
Transcribe Observations #3 and #4 and informal interviews
Interview 3 scheduled with each participant
Transcribe Interview 3
Completion of analysis and first draft of remaining chapters
Completion of revisions
Submission to committee
CONCEPTUALIZATIONS OF CO-TEACHERS
The purpose of this chapter is to describe four pairs of co-teachers' conceptualizations
about working together and how they put these conceptualizations into practice. The co-teachers'
understandings were collected through interview data, and enactments of these understandings
were constructed with the researcher through observations and follow-up interviews. In this
grounded theory study, selective codes include the shared understandings and properties of co-
teaching, while axial codes include the varied enactments of these understandings and properties.
Table 4-1 illustrates these properties and enactments of the different co-teaching dyads,
highlighting the selective codes and axial codes found through grounded theory analysis. As the
table shows, each pair possessed the same selective codes, yet the axial codes varied across
dyads. The first column of the table targets these common selective codes, while the other
columns describe each pair's various axial codes. Specifically, the second column shows axial
codes of the symbiotic enactments, the third column shows the coordinated enactments, the
fourth shows the accommodating enactments, and the fifth shows the tentative enactments. One
pair had several enactments of each property, while another had less and the other pairs had even
fewer. Basically, the symbiotic enactments were much greater than the tentative enactments. In
effect, the symbiotic enactments encompassed the same enactments as every other pair as well as
particular actions in which the others did not engage.
This chapter presents an extensive discussion of the properties and enactments from the
table in conjunction with data examples of the study's findings. Rich, thick description of each
dyad's beliefs and practices of co-teaching are provided within this discussion. Each
collaborative relationship is represented as a different metaphor, symbolizing how
understandings were enacted in various ways. Because qualitative research yields a multitude of
information containing complex meaningful structures, metaphors can be used to explicate
clearly structured patterns within the massive results of data analysis (Schmitt, 2005). This
grounded theory analysis uncovered many different codes across pairs, and the different
metaphors illustrate the depth and breadth of each relationship based on these codes. For
example, because one pair's interviews and observations yielded several codes about the
enactments within each property, their relationship has a different name than the pair that
possessed less codes within each property. The researcher chose to utilize such metaphors as a
powerful way to communicate the variations in the partnerships each dyad crafted. Essentially,
these metaphors are designed to help the reader create images of the different ways in which co-
teaching can be conceptualized and enacted.
Kay and Rachel: Yin and Yang
The relationship Kay and Rachel shared captures the metaphor of Yin and Yang,
symbolizing that co-teaching appreciates the uniqueness and honors the unity of the two
teachers. In Eastern thought, yin and yang represent two opposite, yet complementary forces or
principles, whose interactions impact all aspects and phenomena of life (Adams & Cessna,
1993). In the same way, Kay and Rachel had distinct, yet blending and essential roles in their co-
teaching classroom, based on their skills and knowledge. The yin and yang metaphor includes
the following ideals: they are interdependent and exist only together; they support each other and
are usually held in balance; and part of yin is yang and part of yang is yin as there are traces of
one in the other. The next two sections on beliefs and actions address the symbiotic relationship
Kay and Rachel established.
Beliefs about Co-teaching
Kay and Rachel defined co-teaching as two teachers with specific and distinct strengths
working together in ways that benefit students with and without disabilities. They believed it is
an effective method for helping all children in their fifth grade reading and language class bring
up their skills as well as for closing the achievement gap between regular education students and
special needs students. While substantial growth may not occur in one year, these co-teachers
believed some strides could be made and student improvement increased over time, if they
effectively worked together.
However, both Kay and Rachel had recently endured a negative experience while trying
to collaborate with a colleague at their school. They co-taught with the same teacher a year
before the study only to find their collaborative relationships lacking. Although this teacher
allowed them to come into her classroom at the principal's suggestion, she was not open to
trying new strategies or listening to constructive feedback. She usually created the lesson plans
and expected Kay and Rachel to carry them out. Therefore, while the teacher supported the
concepts of inclusion and collaboration in theory, she did not possess the qualities necessary to
put these concepts into practice.
From this experience, Kay and Rachel felt strongly that teachers must share certain
beliefs before successful co-teaching could even begin; these beliefs were important for laying
the groundwork for a collaborative partnership. Their understandings of co-teaching included a
willingness to collaborate and a positive outlook, open-mindedness and communication, and
mutual respect of each other's abilities.
Kay and Rachel found that teachers must be willing to collaborate and work with each
other around the needs of children for inclusion to be successful. This willingness stemmed from
wanting to move away from the isolation of the four classroom walls and to work with more
types of children; Kay and Rachel believed in the importance of partaking in a wide variety of
teaching experiences and felt intrinsically motivated to work with all students. Kay believed that
"co-teaching cannot be pushed upon individual teachers; it is powerful only if people that want
to do it find each other, and then, they can form and build that relationship" (3.17.06). This
power came from a positive outlook on the co-teaching prospect at its conception. According to
Rachel, "both teachers should actually enjoy working with other people and have positive
thoughts going in; they have to be willing to make it work and believe that it can work"
Without these positive feelings about collaboration and inclusion, Kay and Rachel felt that
co-teaching could not be put into action. These beliefs helped to establish the framework for a
Otherwise, the relationship is problematic, and does not help you, the kids, or the school.
Lack of belief in co-teaching, lack of buy-in can make the co-teaching situation negative.
Negative personal feelings can develop and then, you are unable to work with the other
teacher at all (Kay, 3.17.06).
In addition, the partners must be open to each other's viewpoints and perspectives and be
able to communicate about multiple issues. Kay and Rachel believed that good co-teachers
should have the shared goal of reaching all children, and communication around this common
goal was key to developing a successful partnership. "You want to work with someone who has
similar ideals; it is challenging to work with people who are set in their ways. But, you have to
communicate about where you are going and how to get there" (Kay, 3.17.06).
Keeping an open mind and communicating when they disagreed did not seem to be a
formidable task for these co-teachers. From the beginning of their partnership, they did not
experience strong conflict over approaches to instruction or behaviors of student. When they had
different ideas about how to proceed or resolve problems in the classroom, they remembered
their ultimate goal of helping kids and stayed open because it was beneficial to their students.
You have to be good about just giving things a try. We are willing to experiment with new
strategies and methods, and then, evaluate it together and make decisions. Only if we are
being honest and communicating can we develop interesting, engaging activities together
for the kids (Rachel, 3.16.06).
These characteristics of openness and ability to communicate around goals helped to lay the
framework for their co-teaching partnership.
Furthermore, mutual respect of each other's skills and knowledge was an important facet
of the Kay and Rachel's collaborative relationship. Each teacher valued the background
knowledge that the other brought, and they were eager to learn from each other when they started
their work together. "I thought I could learn a lot from Rachel. She had been through the special
education program at the college, so she knew about special needs and making accommodations,
" according to Kay (3.17.06). Rachel also believed in Kay's abilities and respected her thoughts
and ideas. "I knew that I could grow from working with Kay. She is better equipped in language
strategies and instruction because she is also a speech pathologist, and I appreciate her skills. I
realized that her strength was my weakness," (Rachel, 3.16.06)
Again, the attitude of mutual respect of different prior knowledge and experiences was
vital because this quality helped the children in their classroom. "The students can get the best of
both of us. In terms of what we brought to the table, as far as education and experiences. Day to
day, they find someone to connect with," according to Rachel (5.25.06).
I know that Rachel is a good person and cares about the kids. I value her opinions. She
helps me think about children differently. She is more attuned to student engagement and
attitudes, while I look more at test scores. I want things to happen quickly, and her attitude
helps me step back and look at the bigger picture; to see different possibilities (Kay,
This respect for each other's knowledge and abilities was necessary to work together.
After their experience of trying to work with another teacher at their school where they
did not feel equal, Kay and Rachel believed that the intrinsic qualities of willingness,
communication, and mutual respect discussed in the preceding section were necessary for laying
the groundwork for effective co-teaching. "I believe you learn from all experiences, good and
bad. I ask myself what I can do different. I am lucky I have been able to establish common
ground with Rachel. We can put our beliefs into good practice" (Kay, 3.17.06).
The Practice of Co-teaching
Putting their co-teaching beliefs into practice was a complex, yet positive venture. Kay and
Rachel had to cooperate and manage complications together, as the school year progressed. Their
goal was to integrate knowledge in order to best serve students, and this integration took work
Co-teaching takes more time and effort than teaching alone. It has to be orchestrated
perfectly. I thought another person would make my job easier, but it takes a lot of
commitment to get two people on the same page and coming up with an idea that will work
well for both of us and help all kids (Rachel, 5.25.06).
These co-teachers' practice and discussions were focused on their teaching and their
students. In order to organize engaging activities for students, Kay and Rachel came prepared
with many classroom supplies for their planning sessions. They brought instructional materials,
including the kaleidoscope reading book, spelling words, and interventions teacher's guide, as
well as student data and informal notes taken during the previous lesson, to one co-planning
meeting. "We evaluate our co-teaching lesson's success by student response, informal
assessments like timed readings or running records, test results, and anecdotal observation,"
according to Kay (4.11.06). They discussed how to help different children comprehend and move
forward; making adjustments to content, form, and presentation, as necessary.
In order to meet the needs of wide array of ability levels in their classroom, Kay and
Rachel planned and reflected together about student performance everyday. During lunch,
planning period, and before and after school, they discussed daily student needs and evaluated
past instruction. Rachel noted the importance of taking all possible moments to communicate
outside of class.
We had to creatively use our time. We stopped eating in the teacher's lounge after the first
two weeks of school. We would even go out of our way to find each other for five minutes.
We just found opportunities to talk in every free moment we had. It was difficult because I
was so involved in what I was doing with so many kids in other fifth grade classrooms that
needed support, and Kay was so involved all over the school in different classrooms, but
we just did it (Rachel, 3.16.06).
Moreover, the individual needs of students drove the type of co-teaching approach Kay and
Rachel enacted in their lessons. They had extensive knowledge of co-teaching pedagogy and
used this knowledge to decide which model would best suit their students for each session they
taught. After the researcher observed a team teaching lesson, Kay elaborated on the basis of their
decisions to teach in different ways.
We take into account the situation, the lesson, the students, and their particular needs. If we
talk through all of this successfully, we choose a co-teaching model or structure that fits
the situation. We have learned what works best under most conditions through trial and
error. It would be a disservice to kids, if we did not use co-teaching to its full capacity
Both teachers were motivated to employ the co-teaching model that best served the
children, regardless of whether one might take on more of the workload or put more time into
gathering information. "Usually, we choose team teaching, so we share equal responsibility; but
sometimes, it is better to divide the students or for one of us to take the lead on a particular
subject. It balances out in the end," said Rachel (4.13.06).
During co-planning conferences, Kay and Rachel negotiated and compromised, as they
discussed specific parts of the lesson, focusing on student engagement and grasping of concepts.
They shared personal concerns and listen attentively to each other's viewpoints, often offering
constructive criticism, if necessary. In a follow-up interview, Rachel commented on their ability
to work together cooperatively.
Our discussions change everything we do. We can talk through differences and come
together about how the classroom should operate. If one of us sees something differently,
we are not afraid to say it. We can say that yours sounds better than mine or mine sounds
better than yours. Sometimes, we just go with whoever is feeling stronger about an issue
Kay also recognized that they were able to talk through differences and come up with
solutions readily. "We brainstorm together about all sorts of issues. Neither of us is set in our
ways, and we actually want someone else to tell us how to do it better. We just do what makes
sense" (Kay, 4.25.06). During their co-planning meetings, each teacher usually proposed ideas to
which the other teacher added her own insights or analysis. As new thoughts were stimulated, the
ideas changed and Kay and Rachel were more satisfied with the end result.
Furthermore, creating parity and modeling a peer relationship was important to Kay and
Rachel. After their negative experience the previous school year when a colleague did not treat
either of them as an equal partner, they believed it was important to develop an equitable
relationship and convey this equality to their students. This pair felt comfortable communicating
about lesson components and instructional decisions during the actual delivery of the lesson.
They laughed together and asked each other questions in front of their class. While teaching,
students were involved in the co-teachers' active dialogue, as children also supplemented the
topic with thoughts and personal experiences. During an interview following a classroom
observation, Rachel stated "We have companionship as colleagues and are able to establish a
learning community because we model give and take for the students" (4.13.06). Kay agreed,
"We have realistic expectations of each other and know that we are both trying our best; and the
students see us that way--as equal partners who are giving it their all" (4.13.06).
Kay and Rachel drew on each other's abilities and integrated their knowledge through their
work together. They utilized Kay's language arts and phonics background and Rachel's special
education and reading background, in order to better meet individual children's needs. They
believed they both possessed significant content and specialized knowledge, which could equally
contribute to student success. This belief in the importance of their distinct abilities allowed them
to further create parity as they delivered their co-taught lessons.
For most of the school year, a typical co-teaching planning session involved Kay
verbalizing and taking the lead on different types of language and grammar strategies; and a
typical co-teaching lesson included Kay introducing the language part of instruction and guiding
students through it. When asked why they planned and co-taught in this way, Rachel noted the
importance of utilizing her partner's skills.
Kay has so much language knowledge. She is able to teach language concepts so our
students understand them, and she knows a lot about the most effective practice for fluency
and how to make that happen in our room. She enjoys teaching it more and knows more
Further, at the time of the study, Kay was taking education classes toward her specialist's
degree at the local state university, so she and Rachel incorporated the new ideas that she learned
into their lesson plans. Rachel commented on how they put Kay's growing knowledge into
practice, as they co-taught different lessons together. "Kay is bringing research-based strategies
for us to try. She is also very detail-oriented and organized from her experiences working one on
one and working with small groups of kids" (Rachel, 4.11.06).
The same co-teaching planning session highlighted above involved Rachel verbalizing and
taking the lead on different types of reading strategies and making modifications to student
materials; and this lesson included Rachel introducing the reading part of instruction and guiding
students through that. Kay mentioned the significance of drawing on her partner's abilities in the
Rachel reads the stories aloud, questions students for comprehension, and calls on them to
read. She enjoys this part of the reading curriculum and knows how to teach it. She also
has the special education perspective, so she can make modifications for students as she
goes along (Kay, 3.17.06).
Additionally, Rachel's background in special education contributed to making
accommodations for struggling students and decreasing behavior problems. Kay elaborated on
how they were able to put an effective management system into place as well as reach individual
students where they were at because of Rachel's experience. "Rachel has a good understanding
working with students with diverse needs. She has great behavior management skills and ideas
and can provide appropriate rewards and accommodations" (Kay, 3.17.06).
While Kay and Rachel often took the lead on specific parts of instruction based on the
unique skills they came into the co-teaching situation with, these skills became shared
knowledge over time. As they discussed different aspects of teaching and learning and put their
co-teaching into practice, they learned from each other and integrated their abilities. By the end
of the school year, Kay realized that she often helped plan and teach lessons in her partner's
recognized area of expertise.
I definitely learned a lot from our work together. We cross over and share so the strengths
have evened out. I could go into another classroom and teach reading. Working with
Rachel has given me the confidence to work with a wide variety of learners. She has taught
me about behavior and making accommodations for kids. She gave me ideas and ways to
do it (Kay, 5.25.06).
The co-teaching relationship evolved into a more natural one as the year progressed; they
combined their strengths to create rich instructional environments. They had a true commitment
to making their partnership effective. Rachel noticed that time had allowed their relationship to
develop and become more innate and equal, as they integrated their skills.
Over the past school year, our co-teaching relationship has become more instinctual and
natural. At the beginning, it was more planned out. Like "Are you going to say this? Am I
going to teach this?" By the end, we had a flow, did not have to nail things down because
we had integrated a lot of our knowledge. I know so much about teaching language now. If
I did not do or say something, Kay would. If I did, then she could interject with helpful
ideas on the same subject, too, so the kids would better understand or look at a different
way. We just committed ourselves to make this work (Rachel, 5.25.06).
In a conclusion interview, Kay explained that she and Rachel have been able to
complement each other and change in meaningful ways. By combining areas of expertise and
sharing responsibility, they developed larger repertoires of skills and grew as professionals.
I knew collaboration was invaluable to helping low kids, but I have learned so much from
co-teaching with a peer. You cannot argue with the fact that you increase your own
knowledge when you work with someone else. You assimilate their skills, when you work
closely with them and observe their teaching. This experience has helped me grow as a
person and a teacher (Kay, 5.25.06).
As the data showed, Kay and Rachel represented the symbiotic pair, likened to the yin and
yang metaphor. They balanced each other in the co-taught classroom, with the pair learning to
merge their roles, so their relationship became fluid and natural. Kay and Rachel enacted
different practices together in order to enrich and enhance their partnership and meet their ideals
of commitment to collaboration, learning from each other, and integration of knowledge.
Cynthia and Ted: The Dance
The relationship Cynthia and Ted shared captures the metaphor of the Dance,
symbolizing that the elements making two individuals effective partners while dancing are
present in their collaborative relationship. There exists rhythm, fluidity, and automaticity
between the two teachers when they share the classroom (Adams & Cessna, 1993). Cynthia and
Ted had developed a sense of accord and rapport over time that allowed them to move and
progress well together. Ultimately, one teacher usually led while the other followed, yet the roles
could change as the lesson unfolded and as the need arose. When engaged in the dance, the
support teacher was able to sense the other's thought and direction, so that they could emphasize
and strengthen the topic; and the lead teacher was able to release control to their colleague. The
next two sections on beliefs and actions address the coordinated relationship Cynthia and Ted
Beliefs about Co-teaching
Cynthia and Ted defined co-teaching as general education and special education teachers
participating in and sharing all elements of the inclusive classroom. These elements comprise
planning, instructing, and evaluating for student growth. They believed collaborative teaching is
a way to reach more students, as distinctive types of expertise are used to present content and
manage behavior. Because children respond to differently to various adults, Cynthia and Ted
believed having two teachers with unique skills provided their students more opportunities to
During the study, Cynthia and Ted were in their third year of co-teaching together. They
possessed different background experiences and came into the situation with certain ideas.
Cynthia taught alone for four years, felt that she had a strong sense of what should be going on in
her homeroom classroom, and had difficulty giving up any control over her teaching and her
students. Conversely, Ted had been collaborating with general education teachers for ten years,
spent 75 percent of his school day co-teaching in different classrooms, and had to mesh his
teaching style with three other teacher personalities besides Cynthia's specific style.
These co-teachers agreed that the first year of co-teaching with someone was the most
challenging. Nevertheless, they were able to establish common ground through hard work and
energy. Cynthia and Ted recognized that beginning co-teachers need certain beliefs in place in
order to carry out collaborative teaching to its fullest potential. These beliefs were significant in
laying the groundwork for their own co-teaching, which improved and developed over time.
These teacher understandings focused on believing in inclusion and being willing to work to
make it happen, communicating about every aspect of the classroom structure, and valuing the
other's abilities and talents.
Cynthia and Ted found that co-teachers must believe that inclusion can work and be
willing to participate in carrying it out. They worked in a very collaborative atmosphere, as their
principal was a supporter of inclusion and encouraged the faculty to share work and ideas.
Therefore, teachers began mainstreaming students with disabilities and co-teaching ahead of
others in the county, and their elementary school became recognized as a model school. Cynthia
and Ted were part of this effort and believed that inclusion was the best approach for students
with and without disabilities.
Number one, research has shown that when special education students are put in a more
inclusive setting, the achievement gains outweigh self-contained rooms. Besides, it is a
more realistic setting for what the rest of their schooling will be like. For non-ESE
students, they get accommodations and a variety of ways to learn, too; the curriculum is
not lowered for them, but they get the benefit of different explanations and delivery of
assignments (Cynthia, 3.24.06).
Ted assented that all children can benefit from inclusion and collaboration. "Kids are
getting tougher with a more diversity of problems. There are a lot of students not identified for
ESE services that are just low. Teachers working together in the inclusive classroom help them,
too" (Ted, 3.24.06).
Even though Cynthia and Ted taught in a collaborative environment, they believed that
teachers had to be willing to work together and that not everyone could work in an inclusive
classroom. "You cannot force collaboration. Someone either wants to work with you or they
don't, and things can change every year" (Ted, 3.24.06). Cynthia felt that the term co-teaching
could be misleading to some teachers because it only existed for fifty minutes of her school day,
and she was responsible for thirty students without another teacher in the room for the other five
hours. "All my kids have different needs. I have to reach out for help and talk to other teachers
when I do not have Ted. You have to be willing to collaborate all the time when you choose
inclusion" (Cynthia, 5.27.06).
Without this belief in inclusion and collaboration, Cynthia and Ted felt that co-teaching
could not work. This understanding was an essential component for laying the groundwork in
Furthermore, these co-teachers believed communication was invaluable for a successful
partnership. They felt it was important to explain their own teaching styles and philosophies and
to find a classroom structure that fulfilled both their needs "I cannot expect Ted to read my mind.
I have to tell him my pet peeves and the little things that are important to me in the classroom
and then, figure out what is important to both of us" (Cynthia, 3.24.06). This meant letting go of
preconceived thoughts and assumptions, as they tried to work together. Ted said, "A good
partner is someone who does not believe their way is the only right way to do it. They share their
feelings, but have to be able to listen and allow the other person to try new things" (3.24.06).
Of course, Cynthia and Ted believed in communicating about struggling students, in order
to best serve their class.
When ESE kids are first identified, these kids and their parents are depressed and do not
see any way out of the situation. I believe our goal is to start the cycle of success in the
inclusive classroom. We give each other, the students, and the parents a road map to
success; so, we have to communicate openly to get everyone on the same page and have
that vision of success, too (Ted, 3.24.06).
Cynthia agreed that open communication allowed them to work well together and helped
the children achieve more. "Sometimes we have to talk about a specific student and what to do
with him or her. Often, they respond better to one of us, so we talk about what we need to do
differently" (3.24.06). This communication laid part of the framework for creating an effective
Moreover, to work together successfully, Cynthia and Ted believed that each teacher had
to value the other's unique abilities.
I knew that my classroom could benefit from Ted's expertise. He is a seasoned special
educator who has years of experience working with a variety of students. You cannot
match that. He knows all the laws and about IEPs and modifications (Cynthia, 3.24.06).
Ted had positive feelings about working with Cynthia, also; in fact, he approached her
about co-teaching when another colleague retired.
I knew that Cynthia was a talented teacher, so I would not have to do as much coaching,
conferencing, changing around as I do in my interactions with other teachers. She is
always going to different workshops and researching different ideas. At this stage in my
career, after 32 years of teaching, I am not up to date on new approaches or inclined to find
them, and Cynthia brings new energy with her (Ted, 3.24.06).
Their separate strengths helped to lay the framework for working together in the co-
After working together for two years before the study, Cynthia and Ted knew what kinds
of understandings were instrumental in helping them collaborate successfully for a third year.
Discussed in the preceding section, these beliefs centered on believing in inclusion and
collaboration, communicating openly, and valuing each other. "We have a good professional
relationship. We have similar beliefs about education, in general and politically. We feel the
same about how the world works, which matters and affects how you are as a practicing teacher"
The Practice of Co-teaching
Putting their beliefs into practice was a process over time. Cynthia had to get used to
having someone else teaching with her; and at first, Ted found that she was curious, yet very
rigid and cautious. "The general education teacher has their space invaded, so Cynthia and I have
to talk about what the expectations are and how I can help carry the load" (Ted, 3.24.06). As she
worked closely with him, Cynthia was able to let go of some control and share it with her
partner. "I have become more flexible. Ted made me realize it was okay to let go because I am
not the only one who knows the content and what to do with it" (Cynthia, 6.01.06).
This process was fostered with the co-teachers' focus on helping their students achieve to
their greatest potential. "Definitely, during the time period when Ted and I co-teach, we can meet
all students at their reading and writing level, but we have to discuss different issues as they
come up" (Cynthia, 3.24.06). They began the school year planning on Thursday afternoons, but
other meetings and responsibilities took over, so they usually spoke during any spare moments
when they could find each other.
We do what we can to communicate about students that need more than we seem to be
giving them. Most of what we need to change comes from informal observations of
whether the kids were engaged and moving along with their peers. We then plan
accordingly, if it is necessary. But, we have a good system going already (Ted, 5.27.06).
The researcher observed Cynthia and Ted planning for a specific student's individualized
education plan meeting. They discussed the ways they were incorporating the child's goals into
the classroom and how certain accommodations were helping the other students as well.
"Sometimes, Ted knows more about what the student needs and sometimes, I do. So, we listen to
each other and explore our options," reported Cynthia in an interview following this observation
The children's needs also determined the type of co-teaching model generally used in this
inclusive classroom. Although they used team teaching at times, especially when they were able
to specifically plan for it, the model usually employed was one lead-one support. Because Ted
came into her homeroom class and left before the entire class period was over, Cynthia was the
lead. In an interview following a classroom observation, she explained how their roles are
divided up in the co-teaching approach, in order to best serve the class.
It is better for the kids to have the continuity with me during the entire lesson. He has to go
into another teacher's class at 9:45 and the language arts portion continues until 10:30.
But, Ted facilitates for the time he is here, and I could not get through to all these kids
without him. At times, he does take the lead and I support. Like today, he took over
explaining venn diagrams while I helped some individual students (Cynthia, 5.11.06).
During their quick planning conferences for co-teaching, the teachers enacted negotiation
and active listening skills. They discussed how the day's lesson went and what could have been
done differently to help move any struggling students along. With only few minutes left, they
briefly talked about the next day's lesson. Cynthia explained her ideas, and listened to Ted's
input. She agreed with his insights and incorporated them into the written lesson plans she
brought with her. Ted did not bring any materials with him and relied on Cynthia to take notes.
In a follow-up interview, Ted elaborated on how he and Cynthia have an easy manner of
communicating about how to teach certain topics and how to help particular students, and they
always manage to come to some sort of agreement.
We may have different ideas sometimes, but we respect each other. We do not take it
personally if the other person does not necessarily like the idea. If one of us suggests
something in a stronger way, we will try it. And if something does not work, we try again
with a different way; it is not like "I told you so." We back each other up and are very
allowing of the other. It is like a friendship; you just compromise because it is important to
the relationship (Ted, 5.11.06).
Even though they enacted different parts, Cynthia and Ted tried to create parity and make
their roles as equal as possible when they co-taught. "I am the support, but I have an active role
and feel that I am on equal footing with Cynthia; the kids respect me and come to me, too" (Ted,
3.24.06). Cynthia wanted to show the students that they were equal partners, also; they
comfortably talked over each other as well as interjected and called on different students with the
lesson flowing. "The modeling aspect of inclusion is a large reason co-teaching is so popular.
We can role model two people working as partners, and the kids can learn to cooperate and work
together, too" (Cynthia, 6.01.06). They talked directly to each other in front of the students
during their reading lessons, with Cynthia calling Ted, "Mr. B." Her partner shared personal
accounts during pauses in her lesson delivery to help strengthen the topic for the class.
It took a few years for this equality and cooperation to occur, however, because their daily
interactions were limited. Based on Ted's previous work with other general educators and on
Cynthia's past experiences teaching alone, they had to give the relationship time to take form and
become more comfortable. "Ideally, it would be amazing to see what we could accomplish with
this inclusive environment and our students, if we taught together all day. But, we have to carry
realistic expectations of how much each person can do," said Cynthia (3.24.06).
Although Cynthia trusted Ted, she had more responsibility because her name was on all
the paperwork, including report cards and comprehensive achievement test score sheets. During
an informal interview after a classroom observation, she revealed the pressure she experienced
and how she resolved it, in order to let Ted slowly share more of the classroom.
The general education teacher is held accountable for academic achievement because our
name appears on everything; so, I feel it is my duty to take more control. But, I realized
that Ted could only help me, especially with the low kids. Even though it is a limited space
of time, he can throw out different ideas and help bring up their reading scores. We can
share the work more when he is present (Cynthia, 5.11.06).
Cynthia realized the importance of using Ted's expertise and skills and integrating their
different knowledge bases. As they shared and worked together in the classroom, they could both
contribute their unique strengths to the situation. Cynthia had more knowledge of curriculum and
content strategies, while Ted knew more about modifications and special education. As the
special educator, Ted believed his duty was to help struggling students and fill in where Cynthia
needed him in that capacity; while as the homeroom general education teacher, Cynthia believed
she should handle curriculum planning and instructional delivery. They enacted co-teaching
based on these prior beliefs and understandings of roles.
"Cynthia usually makes the plan according to Sunshine State Standards and where the kids
need to be at different points in the year. I facilitate more with accommodating the struggling
kids" (Ted, 3.24.06). Cynthia agreed that she would plan the content and utilized Ted's skills at
the most critical time, during the actual delivery of the lesson, to benefit the most students. "He
knows how to work with the low group. He recognizes immediately what they need and gives it
to them on the spot" (Cynthia, 3.24.06).
A typical co-teaching lesson involved Cynthia writing an advance organizer on the board
and introducing the topic. Ted circulated and helped the students coming from resource room get
on task and follow along. He then got on the stool in front of the class and read the story aloud;
Cynthia interjected with connections from the book to social studies concepts and with different
questions. After the children put away their reading books, Cynthia began the language lesson, as
Ted grazed around the room, dealing with inattentiveness and behavior problems. After Ted had
a feel for the lesson, he interjected freely with examples to strengthen the topic and facilitate
The co-teachers outlined each person's unique contribution to the lesson in a follow-up
interview. "Cynthia was instrumental. She led the lesson and laid it out well. She knows the
entire general education curriculum these kids have to work with, so she can make connections
to other subjects. She is comfortable and enthusiastic in her delivery" (Ted, 4.27.06). "Ted's
special education skills were used. He made sure everyone was on target, helped students stay
attentive and focused. He was able to add examples and quietly re-teach whoever was not getting
it" (Cynthia, 4.27.06). In order to ensure that all the students understood, Cynthia and Ted
incorporated the strengths of each partner into the lesson.
Over their three years of co-teaching together, this pair learned from each other and
integrated some of their skills.
Co-teaching makes me a better teacher. I get ideas from each general educator I work with
and can use them later. In this situation, I am constantly observing my partner's actions
and learning about the curriculum and new instructional strategies. I can share these with
my other co-teachers and enact them in those classrooms (Ted, 3.24.06).
Cynthia agreed that she changed over time and that her knowledge base grew as a result of
her work with Ted.
I learned from watching him with low kids. Ted is firm, but gentle, so he gains their
respect in genuine ways. I have learned to do more gentle coaxing and prompting, rather
than launch consequences or punishment. I try some of his behavior accommodations
throughout the rest of the day with my class. I have acquired behavior management skills,
so that things do not escalate (Cynthia, 6.01.06).
Ted was retiring so this study was conducted during Ted's last year of classroom teaching.
In a conclusion interview, Ted summed up what the enactment of co-teaching meant to him.
In a perfect world, co-teaching means sharing all things, but the reality of putting co-
teaching into practice is not sharing everything because there is too much is going on and
each partner is different. My role as the special education teacher who comes in for part of
the day is to fill in gaps and act as a chameleon. I follow along with whatever the general
education teacher needs from me in order to help the kids (Ted, 6.01.06).
As the data established, Cynthia and Ted symbolized the coordinated pair, similar to the
dance metaphor. Cynthia usually guided the lesson and slowly gave more power to Ted as she
gained some security in the relationship; and Ted tended to follow her actions, reinforce her
directions, and take over the lead, if necessary. This pair emphasized the importance of the
process of working together and strengthening their partnership over time.
Amy and Erika: The Accompanist
The relationship Amy and Erika shared captures the metaphor of the Accompanist,
symbolizing that while one individual takes the lead, the other plays an engaging, yet subsidiary
part in the collaborative relationship. Working together allowed the co-teachers to create a well
constructed, synchronized, and interesting lesson for their students. When the vocalist can rely
on and trust the accompanist, their communication seems natural and the musical results are
much better. Although one teacher took the lead role, the accompanist could utilize their skills
freely, which inspired the vocalist. The accompanist metaphor includes the following points: in
order to completely support the lead, they must be fully aware of the vocalist's quality and style;
when filling and improvising around the vocalist, an accompanist must use good judgment and
their own unique abilities; the accompanist must possess knowledge of the composition before
the performance. The next two sections on beliefs and actions address the accommodating
relationship Amy and Erika established.
Beliefs about Co-teaching
Amy and Erika defined co-teaching as two teachers with specialized abilities working
together to stimulate new and creative ideas that help all children. These new ideas came from
the exchange of knowledge that each teacher brought to the partnership. They believed that the
more knowledge available, the more they could reach the students in their class. As two minds
worked together to develop innovative lesson plans and deliver instruction in an engaging way,
Amy and Erika believed that co-teaching generated additional dimensions to the same situation,
in order to serve the needs of students with and without disabilities.
These co-teachers had different teaching backgrounds when they entered their
collaborative partnership. Amy taught in an isolated regular education setting in the 1970s, left
the field for 20 years, and resumed teaching six years ago to find that collaboration and inclusion
were being pushed. She immediately started working with other teachers around the needs of
students with and without disabilities and enjoyed the teamwork she experienced. Erika was a
novice, first-year teacher at the time of the study. After completing a unified teacher education
program that emphasized collaboration and inclusion as well as incorporated a co-teaching pre-
internship and internship placement, she had learned about the benefits of collaborative teaching
and found working with another person to be helpful for her and for struggling students.
In effect, Amy and Erika had positive past experiences working with others, knew the
advantages of collaboration, and looked forward to co-teaching. From these background
experiences, they possessed particular understandings of what it takes to work with another
person and how significant these understandings were in laying the groundwork for a successful
partnership. These beliefs included a positive outlook on collaboration and inclusion, ability to
communicate, and appreciation of each other's skills.
Amy and Erika found that an effective partnership could not begin without positive
feelings about collaboration and inclusion. While Amy realized the gains of inclusion through
direct experience working in both separated and mainstreamed environments and Erika learned
about the rewards through college classes and mentor teachers' rooms, they were both motivated
to work together around the needs students with and without disabilities. The teachers wanted to
escape the stereotype of the sole educator in front of a homogenous student population who
closes the door of her classroom; and they understood that isolating teachers and separating
children did not work.
"Inclusion works. A child changes when they interact with other children without
disabilities. They do not know who is ESE and who is not" (Amy, 3.21.06). Erika agreed that
students with learning or behavior problems could achieve success in the inclusive classroom
and enjoy being with their peers. "The kids like the class better, keeps their attention more. They
are more on task and interested in activities" (Erika, 5.02.06). Moreover, Amy and Erika
believed that two heads were simply better than one.
How can there be any disadvantage to having two teachers? One teacher may see
something the other missed. Sometimes, you are so immersed in the details, that you
overlook the big picture; someone else can point it out. Two people can come up with
answers to problems better. I will have the person with me who witnessed what I did and
can think of solutions, too." (Amy, 5.02.06).
This idea that each could accomplish more by working with another individual had to exist
from the onset of co-teaching.
You need faith that collaboration works. Some people think that working with someone
else is too time-consuming and difficult. So, they do not even want to try it. The truth is
you can fill in for each other where the other may be lacking and get more done in less
time" (Erika, 3.21.06).
Amy and Erika's positive background experiences gave them the incentive to teach
together. They felt these optimistic feelings about inclusion and collaboration were instrumental
in establishing the foundation for a solid partnership.
Additionally, Amy and Erika believed that communication about teaching roles and
responsibilities as well as student learning and growth was imperative. "You have to talk and
exchange ideas. When you share thoughts, you get new ideas and new ways of doing things to
help the kids" (Amy, 3.21.06). Erika agreed, "A good partner is able to communicate well. You
want to feel like a co-worker, not like someone is the boss or an employee" (3.21.06).
Being in a co-teaching relationship meant communicating around various issues in order to
stay on track with everything related to the inclusive classroom. "You have to be on the same
page. When it comes to school, what you are teaching, what role you play, where materials are,
what certain students need at any particular time. Otherwise, you are off-beat" Erika commented
when asked what she thought it meant to work together (3.21.06).
Amy and Erika listened to each other's opinions and communicated openly about
troubling students. "I know I can come to Erika when I do not know how to handle a specific
student. We can discuss different approaches or come up with a strategy together" (Amy,
3.21.06). This ability to communicate with their partner laid part of the framework for these co-
Furthermore, Amy and Erika felt that appreciating each other's abilities and putting them
to use were important to the process of working together. Amy valued the knowledge that Erika
was bringing to students with disabilities.
Erika has knowledge of ESE kids, accommodations for writing disabilities. She can make
suggestions on teaching strategies so the special needs students get it. When a child needs
to be tested for special education services, she recognizes that, too. I knew my classroom
could benefit from her education (Amy, 3.21.06).
Erika also appreciated the distinct skills that Amy's background experience afforded her.
Amy has worked at this school for six years. She knows a lot about teaching writing; other
teachers on our team come to her for advice. She teaches it with a certain order and course.
She uses a format that the kids need to be familiar with for Florida Writes. She is very
knowledgeable about the content. I knew she could guide me with the materials so I could
understand the writing curriculum better (Erika, 5.31.06).
This appreciation of their partner's knowledge proved vital to utilizing their unique skills
and laying the groundwork for co-teaching. "Because we respect and believe in each other's
skills, we use them to help our students. Between Amy's special education background and my
writing background, our kids do well" (Amy, 5.02.06).
At the beginning of the school year, Amy and Erika looked forward to embarking on their
collaborative relationship. They held similar beliefs about the main facets for establishing this
relationship, including willingness to collaborate and include all children, ability to
communicate, and appreciation of each other's knowledge, as discussed in the preceding section.
"Each person comes in with certain qualities. Erika has the confidence to jump right into the mix.
We know where we have to be by the end of the year. So, we just do whatever we need to do to
carry out that goal" (Amy, 3.21.06).
The Practice of Co-teaching
Putting their co-teaching beliefs into practice was a satisfying endeavor. Amy and Erika
were able to establish a co-teaching relationship that worked for both of them, giving Amy the
freedom to take control of the majority of the planning, instruction, and evaluation and offering
Erika the ability to handle background features, contribute novel ideas, and accompany her
partner's lead. "Our relationship is good, in general. Erika comes in and helps during writing.
The morning is direct instruction and the afternoon is seatwork. She will do whatever is
necessary to help the kids succeed" (Amy, 3.21.06). Erika assented that she played a supportive
role in the relationship. "Writing is a difficult subject to truly co-teach. She handles most of the
instruction and I contribute creative details" (Erika, 5.31.06).
In order to serve all the students in their class, Amy and Erika concentrated their efforts on
student achievement. This meant strategizing together on inclusion planning days provided by
the administration, discussing the week's activities on Monday morning, and touching base
quickly each morning before the kids entered the building. Erika discussed how they
communicate around student needs and plan instructional activities, after a classroom
Every nine weeks, the inclusion planning days give us an opportunity to sit down together
and decide what to do, so we do not have to meet so regularly. We outline a rough plan. At
the beginning of the week, we may go over that plan. Each morning, she reminds me of
what is happening that day, and we talk about groupings and responsibilities. Basically, we
start with a rough draft, and then, as the time gets closer, we fine-tune it (Erika, 5.02.06).
The needs of the students decided the type of co-teaching model that was applied. The
lessons that ensued from their brief planning meetings were often alternative teaching structure.
"We have an established routine...if some kids are behind, then Erika pulls them to re-teach and
individualize instruction. I handle the large group and go on with other activities or let read their
stories to each other," Amy explained in an interview after the lesson (5.09.06).
Sometimes, one lead-one support and parallel teaching were used. A typical co-teaching
lesson involved Erika coming into the classroom after Amy had settled the students into their
seats. Amy gave an advance organizer, while Erika reminded them of the behavior rules and
procedures. Amy supplied the instructional content, as Erika circulated to help students who had
additional questions. If they divided the class into two groups, Erika took her group to the
adjacent room; she usually worked with the children who needed more one-on-one help, whether
they had disabilities or not. After thirty minutes of co-teaching with Amy, Erika left to work with
another teacher. Amy resumed activities with the rest of the class and handled both groups on her
own for the remainder of the writing period.
After the researcher observed a parallel co-teaching lesson, Erika conveyed her
dissatisfaction and some potential student problems associated with not being able to finish out
the entire period with Amy.
I know it is hard for the kids that I leave early because then they come back and have to
deal with a different teacher with different directions and expectations. Amy may not know
what I have said, so my group could have a difficult time finishing. We just do the best we
can in the time allotted to us (Erika, 5.02.06).
Amy and Erika's morning discussions showed their ability to communicate and
compromise around student issues. These five-minute meetings were designed to prepare them
for the day's co-teaching activities. Erika came into the classroom and asked about the game plan
for the day. Amy went over activities and showed her partner the writing prompts, which the
students had been working on when Erika left the day before to attend to another classroom.
Erika made some suggestions, and Amy listened to her ideas. They discussed which students
need extra help based on their writing content. Erika agreed to work with these students in a
small group; she took the worksheets back to her room and planned for the struggling students
before class started. "It has become a habit that we go over the plan in the morning and discuss
logistics and how to help certain kids. It gets us on the same page and focused on the students"
Erika explained during a follow-up interview (5.09.06).
Even though these co-teachers had unequal amounts of time with their students and
possessed different responsibilities, they worked to develop a semblance of parity. This included
introducing themselves as equal partners and modeling a peer relationship.
The kids know we are both their teachers. They listen to both of us and see us respecting
each other. Erika just jumps right in to whatever is going on, and I treat her as a valuable
partner. Everything is an important part of the total picture. I know I could not meet the
needs of all my kids without her help. We both play key roles (Amy 5.09.06).
However, Erika felt that although the students viewed the two of them as equal, they were
confused about her role. "Because I am new, younger than Amy, and usually pull kids aside, they
think I am still in college, like an intern. I know Amy is considered more of a teacher, especially
since this is her homeroom" (Erika, 3.21.06).
Creating parity was not an easy task with the different roles they held. Because of her
background working with other special educators that were content to support her lead as the
main teacher, Amy believed that co-teaching with Erika should progress in similar way.
However, Erika was in fact uncertain about the responsibilities that were supposed to be enacted.
"Sometimes, I was as unsure about my position as the kids were sometimes. I found myself
accepting the roles Amy had already established through her work with other special education
teachers (Erika, 5.31.06).
While one took the lead as the other supported, Amy and Erika realized they needed to
assume these different roles in order to utilize their unique skills and ultimately try to integrate
some of their knowledge. Amy believed that Erika's responsibility was to make accommodations
and modifications to the instruction she planned. She explained how she draws on her partner's
Basically, with FCAT writing, I plan the lesson and Erika gives me input. She strengthens
the topic with accommodations and modifications. I plug things in when she makes
suggestions about adjusting expectations, adjusting the rubric and goals for all students.
She knows how to make success possible for kids (Amy, 3.21.06).
Erika employed her co-teacher's strengths as well to help students understand the content;
she believed her partner knew much more about the writing curriculum and thus, let her take the
lead on instruction. "Amy knows the curriculum and what the final result should look like. That
is why she handles the planning and teaching of writing, while I add ideas to make the lesson
more creative or engaging" according to Erika (3.21.06).
In addition, because of her background in behavior problems, Erika managed the majority
of the discipline issues in the co-teaching classroom. She created behavior contracts between
Amy and her students to be used throughout the day; she also reinforced behavior rules while she
As these teachers worked together and utilized each other's strengths, they picked up
some of their partner's skills. "I learned about disabilities from my work with Erika. We had a
child with severe problems who did not know right and wrong. She instilled a behavior contract
and realized he had autism; I know to do more research" recalled Amy (5.31.06). Erika learned
about teaching writing after working alongside Amy. "I have learned about writing strategies
from watching Amy teach the subject and from us going over the materials together" (Erika,
Erika relocated to a different city the year after the study and began a new teaching
position. Although she found a resource room situation, she planned to collaborate fully with her
colleagues. In a conclusion interview, she reflected on her co-teaching practice and experience.
Because I am a new teacher leaving after only one year of co-teaching with a peer, I do not
know that I have gotten the full experience. Maybe, if I was able to stay longer, it would
grow and change into a different partnership. But, this relationship has taught me how
much you can help students if you work together, and I will continue to do that (Erika,
As the data demonstrated, Amy and Erika embodied the accommodating pair, with one
performing as the lead and the other as the accompanist. Amy was the lead teacher who planned
the activities and was front and center in the classroom, while Erika was the support teacher on
the side who added insights and features to the instruction; the product was a more engaging
lesson for the students. This dyad had an acceptable, yet not completely satisfactory partnership
in which more teacher growth could have been achieved.
Sarah and Lynn: The Understudy
The relationship Sarah and Lynn shared captures the metaphor of the Understudy,
symbolizing that while one individual plays the main role, the other regularly performs in a
smaller, supporting role within the collaborative relationship. The two teachers fulfilled
divergent duties as they set the stage for individual students to thrive, organizing their classes
around activities designed to keep children moving through the interplay. Basically, while one
teacher always led the class, the other possessed a helping role as she handled details to keep the
instruction running smoothly. The understudy focused on small groups, engaging certain
students with her specific talents and abilities. The next two sections on beliefs and actions
address the tentative relationship Sarah and Lynn established.
Beliefs about Co-teaching
Sarah and Lynn defined co-teaching as two teachers completely sharing responsibility for
the classroom with discussions focused around student growth and how best to achieve it. They
believed that unique abilities should be utilized to foster children's individual needs, with time
spent on small groups and one-on-one instruction. They felt that children in co-taught classrooms
could receive more attention as well as exposure to different teaching methods to meet the wide
range of ability levels and needs. Moreover, Sarah and Lynn believed that instruction should
become seamless and have a natural flow, as two individuals worked together.
Both teachers came into this situation with positive past experiences working with others,
so they were optimistic. Sarah led a successful college outreach program with a peer to help
students in high school who were at risk for failure; she also completed several group projects as
part of her education degree as well co-taught in her pre-internship with a partner with whom she
still socializes. Lynn had been co-teaching math and writing with a general education third grade
teacher for five years since she joined the faculty; she and this other co-teacher had established
an effective relationship that was previously studied by university researchers, and she looked
forward to working with another teacher in the same capacity.
Sarah and Lynn had high expectations for their work together; their positive past
experiences revealed that certain beliefs had to be in place before a successful partnership could
ensue. These beliefs were important in laying the groundwork for their co-teaching. They
believed that they both needed to be willing to collaborate and include all children, to
communicate around their shared responsibility of meeting all needs, and to respect and utilize
each other's skills.
Sarah and Lynn felt that co-teachers had to believe in inclusion and work together for
children to achieve success. Their school climate was highly conducive to collaboration; teachers
stopped in the hall to talk with each other and the walkways were plastered with thematic units
that grade-level teams planned together for their various classes. The administration provided
teacher incentives, workshops centered on accommodations and teaching strategies, committees
focused on school improvement, inclusion planning days, and many other opportunities for
faculty to collaborate. Although they received some extrinsic rewards, teachers at this school
seemed intrinsically motivated to collaborate for the purpose of helping their predominantly low-
income population of students succeed.
I was thrilled by how collaborative this school was. Everyone here truly cares about kids.
They work together to make magic happen. Teachers drive in from the other side of town.
There is a sense that being here is important. No one is locked in; they choose to work in
this environment. Lynn believes in inclusion; that is one of the most powerful factors for a
co-teacher to have (Sarah, 3.21.06).
Lynn agreed that believing in inclusion and collaboration were ideals set at the school, and
this standard encouraged her to work there as well. "My other teaching experiences were self-
contained and resource where I saw kids feeding off each other. I wondered what it would be like
if these kids were introduced to the general education setting with great role models" (Lynn,
3.14.06). Lynn found that inclusion works when she noticed a difficult student she taught in a
self-contained classroom during her practicum blossom the following year when that student was
included in the general education classroom. This cemented her beliefs in the importance of
placing students in the least restrictive environment and working together to inspire joy and
Essentially, these teachers understood the benefits of working together to include all
children and were willing to collaborate in order to meet their needs. "Teaching can be a lonely
profession if you allow it be; I do not want to isolate. Shutting the door is not an option anymore.
Maybe while my grandmother taught twenty years ago, but not today" (Sarah, 3.21.06). This
belief in inclusion and collaboration was part of laying the framework for the co-teaching
Additionally, Sarah and Lynn believed that co-teachers needed to openly communicate
with each other to help their students. They shared the aspiration of wanting to help students with
and without disabilities reach optimal goals, yet they understood that the path to achievement
could be different. Thus, communication around student needs was important. "In co-teaching,
you both are working toward a common goal and have to make decisions on how to get there.
You may have different methods or ideas, so you have to talk; even when it is difficult" (Sarah,
3.21.06). This meant that each partner had to be open-minded and willing to listen. "A good
partner is flexible and hears your ideas and is willing to learn from you. Besides helping the kids,
they can teach you, too, when they share their thoughts; so everyone wins" (Lynn, 3.14.06).
Being able to communicate around children's needs facilitated the teachers and students.
I could not figure out the needs of these my kids by myself. I have students in here from
beginning readers to fourth grade level. Some can barely add and subtract, and some are
ready for the fourth grade math. It is nice to bounce ideas off someone. The feedback I get
from Lynn is priceless compared to anyone else, even structured observations. She sees me
in the thick of it, and can communicate how to make things better in my instruction (Sarah,
This communication was part of the foundation for developing an effective co-teaching
Furthermore, Sarah and Lynn believed it was paramount to respect the other person and
use their skills within the co-teaching setting. The partners must value each other's abilities and
engage both their strengths in order to educate in the least restrictive environment. "Sometimes,
someone else can get through to struggling students better because they have different abilities.
The second person is a safety net; to help those kids from slipping" (Sarah, 3.21.06).
These co-teachers possessed different personalities and were eager to use each other's
talents to benefit their class.
I got a good vibe from Sarah right away. She brings a fresh just out-of-school attitude with
great theories and ideas, research and studying from college. She has lots of energy and
reminds me of things I forgot or never learned. She is determined to make things work and
her enthusiasm is contagious. I knew that I could learn from our work together (Lynn,
Sarah believed she could benefit from Lynn's background, also, and wanted to utilize her
partner's knowledge with her homeroom class.
Lynn has a degree in special education and a deeper understanding of what the low kids
need. She knows about disabilities, about accommodations and modifications and how to
implement them effectively. She can teach me about different approaches and strategies to
help all sixteen kids in my room (Sarah, 3.21.06).
This attitude of valuing and using the other's abilities to serve more children helped to
establish the framework for Sarah and Lynn's relationship.
Sarah and Lynn were entering upon a new co-teaching partnership and were excited
about working together. They held specific beliefs that they thought were imperative to make
their relationship succeed. As highlighted in the preceding section, these understandings dealt
with willingness to collaborate and include all children, communication toward goals, and
respect for each other's knowledge. "I feel positive and open-minded about working with Sarah.
It is tough to get used to someone else, no matter what-how they teach and set up the
classroom. But, you have to be willing to try because your work impacts each child" (Lynn,
The Practice of Co-teaching
Putting their co-teaching beliefs into practice was challenging for Sarah and Lynn. They
were able to achieve a level of partnership that they found acceptable, but they sought to improve
their work together and to become more communicative of their wants and needs. Because Sarah
was a first-year teacher, Lynn tried to give her as much space as possible to try new things and
experiment with her own ideas, so she often let her take control.
I was caught between helping too much or not helping enough because Sarah is just
beginning. I wanted her to feel secure in her own teaching before making too many
suggestions. I hoped to allow her to get a feel for teaching third grade without a lot of input
from me (Lynn, 3.16.06)
Unfortunately, Sarah craved Lynn's help more, but struggled to effectively communicate
this to her. She revealed her frustration after a co-teaching lesson with her partner.
My concept of what a co-teacher actually does seems different than my partner's. I think
we should do more together; instead she comes in everyday and plays a small role. But, I
admit that I have trouble approaching her and concretely giving her examples of problems
or laying out what I need (Sarah, 5.02.06).
Regardless of inability to communicate, Sarah and Lynn's focus was on their students.
Although the two struggled in their attempts to achieve unity and seemed unaware of each
other's inner discord, they did what they could to help the children in their class. "We have really
been able to help the children because there are two of us. My lowest kids do not qualify for
special education, just low IQ and low performing. We reached them because of the number of
hands" (Sarah, 5.24.06).
The researcher observed two co-planning sessions between Sarah and Lynn, yet both
teachers admitted these meetings were rare and scheduled for the benefit of the study. They did
express desire to continue planning together weekly because of how much it helped them feel
more in sync when they co-taught. They both brought their lesson plan books and tried to focus
their preparations around the needs of their class. Sarah also brought student data and discussed
ideas to help certain students, and Lynn added successful strategies that were employed in her
other co-teacher's classroom.
Sarah and Lynn generally engaged station teaching with small groups to give their students
more individualized instruction. These groups were their way to reach the most children and for
each teacher to instruct how they felt comfortable. Although they did not plan together for daily
lessons, they divided the mathematics unit into several sequences and decided groups together
based on student ability levels at the beginning of the school year.
At first, these co-teachers did try to discuss and negotiate certain issues in the classroom.
When they started working together, Sarah and Lynn took time to learn each other's views on
procedures and expectations of how the classroom should function, in order to best serve their
class. They found that they had different ideas about how to teach math. However, these co-
teachers were able to listen and compromise about math instruction when they openly talked to
Sarah had a lot of ideas about community building and children working in centers with
hands-on learning. She wanted to do more than academics. I let her do what she wanted
and supported her. Partway through, Sarah realized she was behind in math and told me
her worries. She asked for help, and we went a different way. We just had to see that
something was not working and then discuss it and change accordingly (Lynn, 3.16.06).
Nevertheless, they were unable to develop parity in their co-teaching practice over the
course of the school year. The researcher observed a typical station teaching lesson. Before they
broke the children up into groups, Sarah led the class in from recess, reminded them of the
materials they needed, and disciplined as necessary during the transition. Lynn immediately sat
down with her first group and focused on explaining time concepts, leading them through a
worksheet. Sarah used manipulatives to teach money to her group, while keeping tabs on a third
group working by themselves on problems she had written on the board. The groups rotated
twice during the period, so that each child worked with both teachers and worked independently.
When Sarah had to take a telephone call at the front office, Lynn watched over the entire class as
she answered questions from Sarah's group practicing with their manipulatives and from the
independent group completing word problems. Sarah returned, and they resumed their earlier
roles. At the end of the lesson, Sarah summarized the day's activities and gave out homework.
Sarah discussed the progression of the math lesson highlighted above in a follow-up
interview. She commented on the lack of parity in their enactment of co-teaching, but she had
hopes that it could become better and more equal with increased communication and time.
Generally, Lynn is responsible for just her group, while I manage the entire class. I am
trying to be realistic and be satisfied with this arrangement. At least, there is freedom in
that no one is telling me what to do. But, we do need more equal roles because I have too
much on my plate. I do not enjoy being the lead for planning and evaluation all the time. I
have to talk to her more (Sarah, 5.16.06).
Markedly, Lynn viewed their roles as comparable and thought the students saw them as
equal partners. Because of working as a co-teacher for five years in another classroom, she had
different expectations of the relationship after co-teaching for only one year with Lynn. "I am
introduced as their teacher, too, and our relationship will just build with time. The kids know we
are partners" (Lynn, 5.16.06). Furthermore, she was used to working as a small group instructor
in the other classroom. Lynn reported that her other co-teaching colleague was content with the
roles and responsibilities each of them took. As the special educator, Lynn was used to leading
remediation or supplemental activities, while the general educator engaged the students in
instruction and curriculum. This prior understanding led her to expect the same arrangement in
Sarah's homeroom class.
Regardless of their different conceptions of Lynn's enacted role and their parity as co-
teachers, Sarah and her partner were able to utilize each other's knowledge in order to include all
My co-teacher's approach to teaching is drill and practice, which is different than me; but
the kids need that so they are ready for the FCAT. She explains the material in a
straightforward way and gets them through. Lynn is concerned with getting them ready for
high-stakes testing and making sure they have seen all concepts. She likes to use
worksheets to give the kids an overview of the different concepts. She has a real
momentum with them (Sarah, 3.24.06).
Lynn wanted to apply the knowledge Sarah brought to the table as well, as they co-taught
Sarah is very student-centered. She talks to them in a real way and uses her own life
experiences to help students. She wants them to take ownership for their learning. She
likes hands-on math lessons and trying new kinds of things, so the students enjoy what we
are teaching them; that is different than my tactic of direct instruction, but they need
variety and more stimulating activities, too (Lynn, 3.16.06).
Besides utilizing their unique strengths, these co-teachers learned some tips from watching
each other in their work together. "Lynn's clear and concise explanations have helped me be that
way. She is calm and brings that out in me, too" commented Sarah (5.24.06). Lynn agreed that
she learned from working alongside Sarah. "She establishes good relationships with students and
parents. Sarah is constantly assessing the kids and calling parents. It reminds me to do more of
that" (Lynn, 3.16.06).
This study helped Sarah and Lynn to be more reflective about their relationship and the
ways to improve it. As they co-teach together in the future, they wanted their partnership to
flourish. Sarah discussed her gains from the researcher's interview process and her hopes for the
following school year.
This study included some thought-provoking questions. It made me really examine what I
wanted and how to get it. It made us plan together more and think about what it means to
be a partner. My work with Lynn has gotten better as a result of being part of this research.
I will make efforts to utilize her help more next year. I want more of her because she is so
good at what she does (Sarah, 5.24.06).
As the data verified, Sarah and Lynn characterized the tentative pair, while one played the
main role and the other was the understudy. Sarah was the primary teacher who spent more time
at her job, planning lessons, evaluating students, and managing the entire class, while Lynn was
a helper who kept her station going with her specific abilities. This pair strained to get past
superficial communication, was reluctant to offer each other constructive feedback, and
perceived their partnership differently from their co-teaching colleague.
Every pair shared commonalities, including beliefs about laying the foundation for co-
teaching and properties necessary to enact co-teaching. These beliefs and properties signify
selective codes uncovered in the data analysis process. The foundational beliefs were willingness
to collaborate and include all children, communication of goals, and mutual respect and value of
each other's abilities. The properties were focus on students, negotiation, creation of parity, and
utilization of each partner's unique skills in the effort to integrate knowledge. However, the co-
teaching pairs enacted these properties along various dimensions. These enactments denote the
axial codes found through grounded theory analysis. Based on the varied enactments and further
shaped by each pair's commitment to co-teaching, ability to learn from their partner, and
capacity to integrate their skills, divergent collaborative relationships resulted; from symbiosis
and coordination to accommodation and tentativeness. The following chapter discusses the
foundational beliefs, continuum of properties, and resulting relationships, expounding on the
grounded theory behind the data.
Table 4-1. Co-teachers' practices of co-teaching.
Properties of Co-
Focus on students
Creation of parity
1. Use different co-
based on student
2. Make time to talk
outside of class
3. Plan together for
4. Reflect together on
5. Analyze and evaluate
student data together
1. Listen to partner's
2. Openly share
3. Follow whoever feels
stronger or more
passionate about an
4. Give constructive
1. Introduce each other
as equal teachers
2. Model peer
3. Communicate openly
4. Have realistic
expectations of each
5. Give the relationship
time to develop
6. Share workload and
time put in equally
7. Employ team
teaching on a regular
1. Take different roles
in the classroom
2. Incorporate partner's
skills into lessons and
3. Each teacher plans
4. Each teacher leads
1. Use different co-
based on student
2. Make time to talk
outside of class
3. Plan together for
4. Reflect together on
1. Listen to partner's
2. Openly share
3. Follow whoever feels
stronger or more
passionate about an
1. Introduce each other
as equal teachers
2. Model peer
3. Communicate openly
4. Have realistic
expectations of each
5. Give the relationship
time to develop
1. Take different roles
in the classroom
2. Incorporate partner's
skills into lessons and
1. Use different co-
based on student
2. Make time to talk
outside of class
3. Plan together for
1. Listen to partner's
1. Use different co-
based on student
1. Listen to partner's
1. Introduce each other 1. Introduce each other
as equal teachers as equal teachers
2. Model peer
1. Take different roles 1. Take different roles
and responsibilities and responsibilities
in the classroom in the classroom
2. Incorporate partner's 2. Incorporate partner's
skills into lessons and skills into lessons and
classroom routines classroom routines
THE GROUNDED THEORY OF CO-TEACHING
The purpose of this chapter is to describe a grounded theory for how general and special
education teachers understand and enact their conceptualizations of co-teaching. The grounded
theory emerged from data that was focused on teacher perceptions about their work together and
the practices that contribute to this work in the co-taught classroom. These understandings and
enactments were discussed in chapter four with metaphors showing the various levels of co-
teaching partnerships that ensued for each dyad. Developed through cross-case analysis, the
grounded theory revealed how four pairs of co-teachers constructed their co-teaching.
The grounded theory in this study provides an analytical explanation about what teachers
believe about co-teaching and what they do in their practice. Using interviews and observations,
I identified core themes associated with the co-teachers' constructions about working together.
As the data from the teachers' classes was compiled, these themes emerged through constant
questioning and comparing. The development of the themes and their links to each other within
the co-teaching relationships comprise the grounded theory, an interpretive scheme on the nature
of co-teaching as conceptualized and operationalized by four co-teaching dyads.
Figure 1 depicts the themes of foundations, properties, and results of co-teaching; and how
they are related to each other based on the perceptions of the different pairs. The foundations of
co-teaching, the square shapes at the top of the figure, explain the pairs' shared beliefs about
laying the groundwork for collaborative teaching. The properties of co-teaching, the circular
shapes in the middle of the figure, center on the pairs' shared practices in enacting collaborative
teaching. The results of co-teaching, the shaded rectangular shapes at the bottom of the figure,
elucidate the factors associated with crafting a successful co-teaching partnership. While the