Dance Lessons: Preparing Preservice Teachers for Coteaching Partnerships

Spring, 2010

Source: Action in Teacher Education, 32 no1, 26-38 (Spring, 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Recent legislative mandates, such as Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act and No Child Left Behind, calling for improved access to the general education curriculum for students with disabilities. One outcome is the increased collaboration required between both general educators and special educators as they work together in increasingly inclusive classrooms to ensure positive outcomes for all learners (National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 2002; President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002).

One approach to supporting special education students in inclusive classrooms is to pair general education and special education teachers in coteaching partnerships. However, preservice teachers have not been adequately prepared for collaborative teaching in inclusive classrooms (Dieker & Murawski, 2003; Fennick & Liddy, 2001).

To address this disconnect, the authors describe a cross-departmental collaboration created to bridge the experiences of general and special education preservice teachers and provide a context for coteaching at the preservice level.


Choreographing the Dance: A Description of the Coteaching Project

A project team formed to explore collaborative and coteaching possibilities for the courses in the following semester. The authors, the project team, consisted of four members: one faculty member and one doctoral graduate assistant in the elementary education program and one faculty member and one doctoral graduate assistant in the special education program.

Two key goals emerged that guided the overall design of the coteaching project.
First, the authors wanted to place a group of elementary majors and a cohort of special education students together in one cotaught university-based classroom management course.
The second goal was to create coteaching opportunities in inclusive K-5 classrooms.
Taking it a step further, the authors also wanted to create coteaching pairs of elementary and special education majors.

Data were collected through the authors' blogs, reflections, personal observations, meeting notes, and recorded discussions along with students' reflections and course assignments.


Finding the Right Dance Partner: Compatibility in Coteaching Relationships

Finally, the compatibility of the coteachers is paramount to successful coteaching partnerships (Rice & Zigmond, 2000; Scruggs et al., 2007). Characteristics noted as components of effective coteaching relationships include compatibility in terms of teaching style and philosophy, ability to communicate well, and flexibility (Arguelles et al., 2000).

Considerations for building relationships
To enhance the classroom community and build relationships across the two majors, the authors identified two key factors.
One way to facilitate continued relationship building is to locate a classroom that meshes with the group's teaching style and course goals, given that this also had a tremendous impact on the overall group climate.
In addition, activities such as individual/partner goal setting and strengths/weaknesses reflections would engage the coteaching pairs in important relationship-building conversations before the field experience. Because effective coteaching partnerships are built on trust, it is critical to have a conversation with all the coteaching pairs regarding confidentiality.


Preparing to Dance Again

The authors claim that teacher educators have an obligation to model coteaching and prepare general and special education teachers for the collaborative experiences they may have as in-service teachers in K-12 classrooms. The authors are confident that the pairing of elementary and special education majors in a classroom management course, as well as in a cotaught field experience, provides preservice teachers powerful "dance lessons" that would not have been present in traditional preservice teacher education coursework.

The authors' project reflections suggest that although their cross-departmental collaboration was a positive experience, they learned key lessons that provide valuable insights in enhancing future iterations of this project. In the end, the auyhors suggest that cross-departmental collaboration is a key to providing relevant, real-world learning for preservice teachers.

Arguelles, M. E., Hughes, M. T., &. Schumm, J. S. (2000). Co-teaching: A different approach to inclusion. Principal, 79(4), 50-51.

Dieker, L. A., & Murawski, W. M. (2003). Co-teaching at the secondary level: Unique issues, current trends, and suggestions for success. The High School Journal, 86(4), 1-13.

Fennick, E., &. Liddy, D. (2001). Responsibilities and preparation for collaborative teaching: Co-teachers' perspectives. Teacher Education and Special Education, 24(3), 229-240.

National Association of State Directors of Special Education. (2002). Legislative priorities. Retrieved February 1, 2010, from

President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education. (2002). A new era: Revitalizing special education for children and their families. Retrieved February 1, 2010, from

Rice, D., & Zigmond, N. (2000). Co-teaching in secondary school: Teacher reports of developments in Australian and American classrooms. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 15, 190-197.

Scruggs, T. E., Mastropieri, M. A, & McDuffie, K. A. (2007). Co-teaching in inclusive classrooms: A metasynthesis of qualitative research. Exceptional Children, 73(4), 392-416.

Updated: Jun. 18, 2011