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Co-Teaching During COVID-19

2 teachers online

Co-teaching can be an amazing way to ensure student success by using the expertise of two teachers working collaboratively in the same space. However, during this pandemic, sharing space has become infinitely more complicated. With social distancing when in a brick-and-mortar environment, adding expectations of teaching students online, and blending both options in hybrid environments, professionals face many challenges—from negotiating their classroom relationship, to sharing instructional responsibilities, to finding innovative ways to facilitate student learning.

This blog provides practical ideas and strategies for co-teachers as they create new pathways during this pandemic in both the approaches to teaching (virtual/hybrid/brick-and-mortar), as well as how they use the various co-teaching models within these approaches.

We provide ideas for each of the 3 most common approaches of co-teaching (alternative, station teaching, and parallel teaching; Friend & Barron, 2021).1 Here is a quick refresher of these three models:

1) Alternative teaching is typically when one teacher has a small group (either online or in socially distanced spaces), while the other teacher is working with a large group. The small group can be used for remediation or enrichment.

2) Station teaching is where teachers have students broken into small groups (again on or offline) and then they work with students on differentiated tasks. We see this model being critical for differentiation and specialized instruction to be provided by the special education teacher.

3) Parallel teaching is where students are split into two groups and both teachers teach the same content to their group but could use different approaches and strategies for their targeted group (again could be one group is face-to-face while the other even in a face-to-face setting is working online).  

No matter what occurs, co-teaching is ultimately about providing specially designed instruction to students aligned with their individualized education program goals and objectives. Remember that Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet can be used even in a face-to-face setting for students to collaborate or to differentiate instruction while still allowing social distancing. We also suggest teams use something like Flipgrid or Nearpod even in a face-to-face situation to allow students across the room to work together using earbuds.

Whether delivering services in a face-to-face, virtual, or hybrid model, we suggest teams start with straightforward targets for both instruction and assessment (e.g., counting to 100, naming the states of matter, completing a persuasive essay with all required elements). Having a clear academic target with an output measure (how the co-teaching team will measure learning - oral assessment, drawing, written summary, etc.) provides both teachers a vision for the goal for all students while allowing the special education teacher to consider the potential challenges based on students' specific area(s) of need and individual goals. 

In addition, especially in virtual and hybrid environments, the co-teachers should check in with each other (side-bar planning) at least 2-3 times during a lesson using chat, texting, written notes, or socially distanced conversations. One simple and effective system for this formative assessment is a check, plus, or minus for each student on the target output with both teachers providing input to overall student performance daily.  

We suggest teams consider how to ensure both teachers have active instructional roles, especially when they are in a virtual environment, perhaps by trying some of these ideas:

  • Once both teachers have determined the norms for the classroom setting, have one person manage students during a given class, helping students self-monitor or checking on engagement. The teacher in this role could include privately chatting with students to provide feedback and encouragement or monitoring student responses on apps that are part of instruction (e.g., Padlet, Backchannel).
  • Arrange for one teacher to gather data related to student responses. Ensure this role is alternated so both teachers have the opportunity to gather formative data, and students are provided with multiple styles of instruction.    
  • Provide specially designed instruction online by providing an offline opportunity, typically seen in a station teaching model. Have one station (that, group of students) leave the online platform for 10 minutes to complete a task and return with proof of completion while each teacher works with a small group online. When a group of students return online, one teacher can clarify questions and check progress from the offline group while the other teacher provides directions to the students moving next into the offline station.  This use of both offline and online environments allows for specially designed instruction to be provided more easily in a small group settings online with a smaller number of students.  We also suggest that if a student is really struggling allow that learner to stay for a repeat of an online session providing truly specialized instruction as an alternative to  sending working offline. 
  • Try an online tool, such as a virtual whiteboard, to add layers to the lesson or images to enrich the verbal directions and increase student participation.  One teacher could speak while the other uses the virtual whiteboard, or students could digitally annotate the whiteboard with brief responses. We like both and to allow students to work collaborative to see their work while online, too.
  • Provide frequent pauses in instruction (e.g., ask students to jot down ideas or look back at material just presented), so students who need time to process information have an opportunity. During this pause students who may need individualized scaffolding can receive it without missing instruction.    
  • Add movement by asking students to act out vocabulary words or do armchair push-ups to respond to a question.  They also can walk around their desk three times and then multiply by x number, lean right if you agree or left if you disagree, and so on. Movement is critical in all settings, but especially online environments.   
  • Determine the types of positive reinforcement that will be given to increase engagement.  For example, each teacher alternates who gives positive praise through sharing the screen of a digital "thank you note/card" with students who are actively engaged during class each day or sending a positive emoji via chat.

How do you move students in a brick-and-mortar setting with social distancing? In Figure 1, we have provided an image to help think about station or parallel teaching. We suggest using these color codes on the floor to provide for creative movement and grouping without students leaving their protected bubble. Of course, check with your administrator and possibly your public health provider to be sure these options are allowed.

If in a brick-and-mortar setting, think about how both teachers might move around the room (see Figure 1) and put students into groups, while limiting their movement.  We suggest using a compass model and letting students turn north and south to form 2 groups or to use 45-degree angles to get students into 4 groups, but not having students leave their social distancing circle. Using this approach, the 2 teachers can move to different groups within the co-teaching models while limiting movement of students.

Figure 1: Image of how to turn desks for co-teaching models with social distancing.


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We also suggest if you have some students online to pair them up with a face-to-face student to be part of a group, so they can be with you in a group. The pairs can be consistent through the length of the unit of study or can rotate by activity.

Our final thought is this: No matter the model of instruction being used (brick-and-mortar, hybrid, virtual), remember two key co-teaching factors in this changing world—consistency and establishing parity. We suggest what co-teachers do online (e.g., using a timer or a red folder to submit items online) occur in all environments. With teachers pivoting among different models, establishing routines is critical and keeping those consistent across environments  is just as important. We recommend co-teachers try not to make this mistake we have heard from some teachers: “For now I'll lead, but we will be equals when we get back to school." Expecting that change to occur may be wishful thinking.

Keep in mind that no matter the environment, equality of voice means equality in access. Co-teaching is not about teachers talking more; it is actually about using the expertise of both professionals to ensure all students, including those with disabilities, master the target output of the lesson no matter where, when, or how the instruction occurs.


Authors: Lisa DiekerMarilyn FriendShalece Kohnke; and Tammy Barron



Friend, M., & Barron, T.  (2021).  Specially designed instruction for co-teaching.  Marilyn Friend, Inc.

Posted:  11 January, 2021

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