Conceptual Co-teaching Relationships: A model for teachers and students

Having more than one teacher working within a classroom is increasingly commonplace. Perhaps there is an assistant, a co-teacher, a bilingual teacher, English support, Learning Support or Enrichment support personnel — all of which add value to the learning possibilities for the students.

Slide from Nicky’s workshop

Often co-teaching relationships are defined as a “push-in” arrangement, in which a general education teacher partners with a specialist who may be certified in teaching English Language Learners (ELLs), students with learning disabilities, or some other distinct population. A co-teaching team works in the general learning classroom.

General education teachers working with specialists in this “push-in” model often work in one of the following structures described by Friend and Cook (1996):

One teach, one observe: One teacher delivers instruction while the other observes student learning. Usually the observer collects data on student understanding so that the co-teaching team can better plan future instruction. Sometimes, specific students are watched closely so that the teachers can determine new strategies to use with them.

One teach, one assist: One teacher takes the lead in providing instruction while the other moves around the classroom, assisting struggling students. This help is not limited to students with special needs; the assisting professional is there to serve whomever needs support.

Parallel teaching: The class is divided in two groups and the same material is presented simultaneously by both teachers. The teachers plan the two groups deliberately to maximize the success of all students; this is not simply a “pull-out” or intervention group sitting in the same room.

Station teaching: Both teachers are actively involved in instruction as students are divided into groups and rotate from one station to the next. There may be stations where students work independently or with a paraprofessional in addition to the two stations the co-teachers facilitate.

Alternative teaching: One teacher takes a small group of students and provides them more intensive or specialized instruction that is different than what the large group receives from the other teacher.

Team teaching: Both teachers teach the content at the same time in tandem or “tag team” fashion.

However, as evidenced above, historically the focus within co-teaching relationships has been on learning experiences, and what needs to be done, and sometimes the important conversations about the beliefs, values, and cultural differences behind teacher’s practices are missed. This workshop was facilitated by Nicky Bourgeois and was grounded in a model she developed called Conceptual Co-teaching, and explores how to build the relationships needed for successful co-teaching practice.

Slide from Nicky’s workshop.

Grounding our practice in theory helped us engage in conversations that were more open. In this workshop we were able to move forward with a shared narrative of contemporary practice.

Building cultural capacity within our teaching relationships and shifting our paradigms leads to greater equity within our teaching practice.

As you enter your learning community on Monday morning, we challenge you to ask yourself the five questions that Paul Gorski for EdChange and the Equity Literacy Institute recommends for assessing our equity practice:

1. In what ways do I advocate for equity?

2. In what ways do I identify sources of disparities in families of different cultures?

3. Is color-blindness possible? And, if so, is it desirable when it denies people what may be important dimensions of their identities?

4. What is the “other”? And why do we view it as such?

5. How am I committed to equity in my own classroom- for all who enter?

I would love to hear about the ways in which you build successful co-teaching relationships at your school. To learn more about Nicky’s model please visit her website at:

To learn more about LEVEL5 please visit

Friend, M. & Cook, L. (1996). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals. White Plains, NY: Longman.