Co-Teaching: Collaborative and Caring Teacher Preparation

January 1, 2020

Source: Journal of Teacher Education. Volume: 71 issue: 1, page(s): 135-147

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The author who served as a teacher educator at a large urban university, was encouraged by her teacher education program’s service area partners, superintendents and principals, to prepare her teacher-candidates to collaborate.
She was charged with leading a co-teaching initiative in her elementary education department.
Using the lens of care ethics, this 3-year study explored what happened as co-teachers developed their collaborative relationships with one another.

This qualitative case study took place over three academic years in one large urban Elementary Education teacher preparation program.
As part of a joint Masters–credential program, teacher-candidates enrolled in two 15-week-long practica.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) was a central program focus as faculty undertook a 7-year project integrating SEL throughout their coursework (Swanson et al., in press).

Over 3 years, co-teaching was introduced to 241 participants in six workshops per year. One hundred seventy-one participants were teacher-candidates; 70 were mentors, 40 of whom served twice and seven of whom served 3 times. A field placement director paired mentors with candidates in 12 local districts based on their needs to draw new teachers. To learn the coteaching model and attend co-teaching workshops, mentors received an extra US$200 per semester, more than doubling their university compensation.

Data Collection
Qualitative methodology allowed for examination of multiple perspectives and an iterative data collection process (Merriam, 1998/2007).
Data gathered influenced the development of the co-teaching program.
Data included recorded and transcribed co-teaching observations, surveys, and interviews.
Twenty videos of self-nominated co-teachers’ lessons were collected and transcribed, offering a window into practice.
Those who were video-ed completed 15-min recorded and transcribed debriefs.
Twenty-nine 30-min interviews with self-nominated co-teachers (16 candidates and 13 mentors) supplemented an understanding of co-teaching practices and uncovered interviewees’ perspectives.

Many co-teachers described switching successfully to a coteaching model (87% = 209 out of 241)
While co-teachers who adopted the new model did not always co-teach, they learned from attempts when they did.
They found that co-teaching required facing hierarchical dynamics in relationships and sharing power. Sharing power was critical to developing caring relationships; when they did not share power, relationships were strained.
Fraught relationships impeded co-teaching, confirming research on the centrality of teachers’ relationships for co-teaching in both certified and mentoring contexts (Friend et al., 2010; Murawski, 2009).
In strong partnerships, co-teachers described modeling caring relationships for students explicitly through dialogue, a critical dimension of care ethics (Noddings, 2002).
Their experience reveals how caring collaboration played out.

Co-teaching served as catalyst to care

The increased shared teaching tasks and attendant reliance with co-teaching gave many co-teachers the opportunity to practice a care ethic.
Within care ethics, reciprocity and mutuality characterize caring relationships (Noddings, 2002).
Relationships are the center of a care ethic; through relationship, they learn how to care (Noddings, 2002).
The author reports that co-teachers consistently described that co-teaching required they be “more engaged,” “trusting,” “responsible,” “closer,” and “connected” to their co-teacher.
This surprised candidates.
Despite having learned about care ethics the semester prior to student-teaching, candidates held preconceptions of teaching free from complicated relationships with colleagues and students. Co-teaching involved unpacking unrealistic criteria of effortless relationships (Friend et al., 2010; Murawski & Dieker, 2013).
The difficulty of developing caring relationships challenged candidates’ preconceptions.
Mentors described depending on candidates in co-teaching more than they did in the traditional model and this contributed to practicing caring.
The author notes that when the co-teachers described developing robust relationships in which they practiced caring—they learned to address taken-for-granted power disparities in the student-teaching practicum.

Co-teachers acknowledged power dynamics
Co-teaching relationships in student-teaching demanded recognizing power dynamics.
Given the hierarchical nature of their context, the co-teachers repeatedly described needing to navigate power to develop relationships.
As noted above, mentors evaluate their novice candidates.
Power dynamics in mentoring contribute to collegial competition and isolation (Friend et al., 2010), contrived collegiality (Brown & Levinson, 1987), and the lack of feedback required to learn from collaboration (Strong & Baron, 2004).
What we know about power-sharing is that it is rare.
Unsurprisingly, candidates who reported struggling to find opportunities to co-teach also described failing to address power to develop a co-teaching relationship.
Approximately two pairs yearly or ~7% in all reported having not co-taught at all due to time and relational restraints. Co-teachers characterized these strained relationships as “formal,” “distant,” and “inflexible.”
A close examination of these cases—through surveys and interviews—revealed that candidates reported needing time to develop expertise and encouragement to engage. Mentors described their “hesitancy” and “discomfort” in intervening, reflecting the traditional mentorship model in which mentors are less involved.
Analysis revealed one pivotal way co-teachers connected and developed strong relationships—through facing their power imbalance.
Candidates described negotiating power as required by increased involvement (required to co-teach). Being “brutally honest” about the unrealistic criteria of perfection in teaching and the hierarchical dimensions of coteaching relationships interrupted “contrived collegiality” (Hargreaves, 2002) and paved the way for teachers to share power.

Co-teachers shared teaching power
Co-teachers revealed vulnerability to share teaching power.
Disclosing their vulnerabilities poised co-teachers to learn from meaningful feedback, a lost opportunity when teachers fail to collaborate (Strong & Baron, 2004).
Mentors welcomed candidates’ feedback and new ideas.
Candidates often explained needing to overcome a fear of “not being cut out for teaching” that undermined their willingness to try new things and made them less open to feedback.
Candidates engaged in co-teaching when mentors engrossed themselves in candidates’ particular teaching challenges.
The author notes that in video examples, co-teachers achieved parity in caring collaboration by balancing candidates’ lack of experience with their innovative ideas; mentors helped with differentiating and pacing, while candidates tried new ideas from which mentors learned.
In debriefs, candidates described welcoming mentors to chime in while they taught with a “supportive and helpful tone”; mentors in turn shared areas for growth.
For candidates, this involved taking feedback while teaching.
From the mentor’s perspective, this involved “letting go of my vice grip on my classroom and caring about both my students’ and my teacher-candidate’s learning.”
In an interview, a mentor revealed that “letting go of control” was not automatic and required compromise from both teachers.
Facing the discomfort to share power and give feedback while teaching led to co-teachers leveraging dialogue to model caring.

The author points out that this study expands the application of care ethics in the context of teacher relationships in which power needs to be shared.
Co-teaching between teacher-candidates and mentor-teachers presents a power differential, and thus, these processes inform co-teaching in a teacher preparation context.
These co-teachers’ stories may inform teacher collaboration in general and teacher preparation specifically.
Co-teachers acknowledged and mitigated hierarchy to develop strong collaborative relationships.
Experience in caring collegial relationship occurred.
In co-teaching teacher preparation, mentor-teachers and teacher-candidates gain experience working together in caring collegial relationships.
The author notes that in this study, the mentors and candidates balanced teaching power in front of students, asking one another to share alternate interpretations of ideas. Instead of wielding power by correcting one another with disregard for another’s attempts to teach and learn, these co-teachers opened avenues for each other to share alternate explanations and ways to solve problems.
Reflecting the research on how teacher relationships contribute to resilience (Benard, 2004) and career satisfaction (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Boe et al., 2008), the mentors described how caring collaboration helped them renew their commitment to teaching.
The author concludes that co-teachers’ caring relationships represent promise for teacher preparation that can interrupt competitive and isolating climates that hinder teacher learning. Successful coteaching creates and models ethical relations.
This enactment of care opens the possibility of positioning caring as a primary purpose of education.

Benard, B. (2004). Resiliency: What we have learned. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation . (2015). Teachers know best: Teachers’ views on professional development. Retrieved from
Boe, E., Cook, L., Sunderland, R. (2008). Teacher turnover: Examining exit attrition, teaching area transfer, and school migration. Exceptional Children, 75, 7-31.
Brown, P., Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language use. London, England: Cambridge University Press.
Friend, M., Cook, L., Hurley-Chamberlain, D., Shamberger, C. (2010). Co-teaching: An illustration of the complexity of collaboration in special education. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 20, 9-27.
Hargreaves, A. (2002). Teaching and betrayal. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 8, 393-407
Merriam, S. (2007). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. (Original work published 1998)
Murawski, W. (2009). Collaborative teaching in secondary schools: Making the co-teaching marriage work! Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Murawski, W., Dieker, L. (2013). Leading the co-teaching dance: Leadership strategies to enhance team outcomes. Alexandria, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Noddings, N. (2002). Educating moral people: A caring alternative to character education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Strong, M., Baron, W. (2004). An analysis of mentoring conversations with beginning teachers: Suggestions and responses. Teaching and Teacher Education, 20, 47-57.
Swanson, P., Rabin, C., Smith, G., Briceño, A., Ervin Kassab, L., Sexton, D., . . . Asato, J. (in press). Trust your team: Our journey to embed social and emotional learning in a teacher education program focused on social justice. Teacher Education Quarterly. 

Updated: Jun. 29, 2020