Entering into the coteaching realm in higher education can be a daunting, intimidating, and/or bewildering concept. For the purpose of this article, we use the term coteaching without the hyphen because we are not referring to team teaching primarily seen in special education settings. Murphy and Martin (2015) define coteaching as “two or more teachers teaching together, sharing responsibility for meeting the learning needs of students, and, at the same time, learning from each other,” which best aligns with our scenario. A few illustrations of coteaching in higher education settings include coteaching as a mentoring experience (Cordie, 2020), a collaboration between disciplines (Rooks et al., 2022), and a rationale to better meet students’ learning needs (Salifu, 2020). Coteaching in a teacher preparation course has seen benefits (Steele, 2021; Drescher, 2017; Ricci & Fingon, 2018), which is a reason for us to explore the opportunity within our teacher education department.
Because one may face the challenge or opportunity to coteach with a colleague, we have established a formula that cultivated a positive reciprocal mentoring relationship and generated an effective student learning experience. Below is our formula consisting of five easy-to-replicate steps. The lens of our vignette, a course established to prepare pre-service teachers before their student teaching fieldwork, will guide you through the basic actions of each step.
Steps to a successful coteaching experience:
- Identify the need
- Plan collaboratively
- Nourish each other’s talents
- Execute equitably
- Future reflection
1) Identify the need
Your coteaching opportunity may emanate from varied circumstances depending on departmental needs, accreditation factors, and more. Since we were teaching the same course, we had loosely collaborated on the overarching course goals and fundamental coursework. From this, we realized the need for our undergraduate students to have an authentic teaching experience modeled in order to plan their own instructional learning sequences. We ascertained a seed idea that we knew would be beneficial to explore. Even though we have diverse backgrounds of expertise, we found common passions to delve into, which included the exploration of technology integration, equity/social justice issues, content area integration, and authentic learning experiences for preservice teachers. Therefore, another benefit emerged—an informal collaboration.
2) Plan collaboratively
Before planning, determine if you and your colleague share a similar teaching philosophy. This may be a hurdle that cannot be easily jumped. For example, we value an active learning, Constructivist, inquiry-based learning philosophy. With in-person planning being complicated to schedule, web conferences (i.e. Zoom) proved to be convenient and efficient. We adopted a divide and conquer planning model with concise check-in meetings where Google’s dynamic applications (i.e. Google docs) were valuable. In preparing together, it is essential to listen, remain open, take note, and restate ideas for clarification.
3) Nourish each other’s talents
In the planning process, we found identifying each other’s talents as a significant piece. Honoring those talents by dividing the work accordingly promoted efficiency. On the other hand, determining where one can revise and redefine for the other instructor also cultivates the mission of teamwork. From simple to more complicated aspects, we discovered ways in which we complemented each other’s instruction. For instance, our varied background from history and sciences to literacy equipped us with varied perspectives. To plan effectively, leave the self behind in order to feed off of one another’s talents, and in return, learn new instructional techniques.
4) Execute equitably
Now, the stage is set for the coteaching to be realized. The essential question remains, “Where do I fit into the equation?” This answer varies depending on your needs, but we found that clearly communicating beforehand is key. In our experience, we cotaught one section, and the other section, taught by only one professor, participated in the developed lessons. In our cotaught class, we prepared which activities would be introduced or managed by which professor and then found it helpful to ask if the other instructor had anything to add for clarification or extended conversation opportunities.
5) Future reflection
Effective teaching practices always have a reflective period post-instruction. Examining our next steps together was a critical piece to our process. We took notes during and after each class or activity and came together to investigate our students’ progress. At the end of the instructional sequence, students provided feedback on their experience, which also allowed us to explore future opportunities for collaborating.
Our students also had an opportunity to reflect upon this experience and describe how it might translate into their future classrooms. One student mentioned that it “demonstrate[d] how one can create an engaging classroom activity that involves multiple disciplines and is relevant to current events.” Another student noted this lesson “forced me out of my comfort zone.” Students also gained “exposure to new tech tools, modeling a mixture of lecture/whole-class, small-group, and individual approaches.” As we know, teachers often teach according to how they were taught. Our students noted it was “important to feel how students might perceive lessons and activities.” Overall, students felt it was a good exemplar of how to “establish a sense of a common goal among the class, example of a multi-day lesson plan, and an incorporation of multiple disciplines.”
When reflecting upon the pluses and deltas of a coteaching adventure, our experience proved to have more pluses than deltas. Not only did our students have the opportunity to interact with and learn from a colleague with diverse interests and knowledge, they also gained new understandings of instructional methods, technology-integration and more.
Dr. Eleni (Leni) Caldwell is a passionate educator who serves as visiting clinical professor in the Department of Education at Wake Forest University. She is a former elementary classroom teacher at an arts-integrated school and magnet school coordinator where she provided instructional coaching. Dr. Caldwell teaches courses related to instructional design, educational technology, exceptional children, and preservice educator clinical experiences. Her research interests include course modalities for teacher preparation courses, arts-integrated learning experiences for students with disabilities, and student engagement. She serves on professional boards such as her local Beta Mu chapter of Kappa Delta Gamma and the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators.
Dr. Debbie French is the assistant professor of science education at Wake Forest University. She is a former high school physics, engineering, and physical science teacher. Dr. French teaches elementary and secondary science education methods, general education courses, and a First Year Seminar on climate change. For the past twelve years, she has served as co-Principal Investigator on three National Science Foundation grants which provide professional development to K-16 faculty to use electric and acoustic guitars as an engaging vehicle to teach integrated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Her research interests include inservice STEM teacher professional development and preservice science teacher preparation.
Cordie, Leslie Ann et al. 2020. “Co-Teaching in Higher Education: Mentoring as Faculty Development.” International Journal on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 32, no. 1: 149-158.
Drescher, Talya. (2017). “The Potential of Modelling Co-Teaching in Pre-Service Education.” Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice 14, no. 3: 1-17
Inusah, Salifu. 2021. “Exploring Coteaching as a Trend in Higher Education.” College Teaching 69, no. 3 (October): 150-160.
Murphy, Colette and Sonya N. Martin. 2015. “Coteaching in Teacher Education: Research and Practice.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 43, no. 4 (July): 277-280.
Ricci, Leila A. and Joan Fingon. (2018). “Experiences and Perceptions of University Students and General and Special Educator Teacher Preparation Faculty Engaged in Collaboration and Co-Teaching Practices.” Networks: An Online Journal for Teaching Research, 20, no. 2. https://doi.org/10.4148/ 2470-6353.1260
Rooks, Ronica N. et al. (2022). “Co-teaching Two Interdisciplinary Courses in Higher Education.” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16, no. 2 (May). https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2022.160208
Steele, Jamie Simpson, Lysandra Cook, and Min Wook Ok. “What Makes Co-Teaching Work in Higher Education? Perspectives from a Merged Teacher Preparation Program.” Issues in Teacher Education 30, no. 1 (Fall): 4-31.