What is co-teaching?

Co-Teaching is defined as two teachers (teacher candidate and cooperating teacher) working together with groups of students; sharing the planning, organization, delivery, and assessment of instruction, as well as the physical space. (Bacharach, Heck & Dank, 2004)

The cooperating teacher (CT) is a classroom teacher who is willing to mentor the teacher candidate using co-teaching. The teacher candidate (TC) is a University of MN student in a licensure program.

Co-teaching teachers

Many teachers in our partner schools are familiar with co-teaching strategies introduced during professional development workshops for use when working with special education colleagues in the classroom. The seven strategies for co-teaching (Cook & Friend, 1995) remain essentially the same as originally implemented, however Washut Heck & Bacharach (2010) have adapted the strategies for practicing teachers to use while mentoring pre-service teachers during student teaching. The seven co-teaching strategies provide the framework for how the two teachers will engage in the shared work of planning, organizing, delivering, and assessing instruction. The classroom space and students will be shared in a way that makes it difficult for an observer to distinguish who is the teacher of record for the classroom.

What does co-teaching look like in practice? Read The Power of Two (opens new window) (PDF) story detailing the experiences of cooperating teachers and teacher candidates during the pilot of co-teaching in 2011-12.

For more information about pre-service co-teaching please see these resources:

What is a pre-service Co-Teaching? (opens new window) (PDF)

Due to state requirements for a variety of experiences at multiple levels, most secondary and K-12 programs cannot dedicate a teacher candidate to a single site for the full year placement. A pre-service math teacher, for example, must have experience at a middle school and a high school level. Therefore, most secondary and K-12 placements are between 8-14 weeks in length and occur multiple times during the academic year (fall and spring)

Co-Teaching is an attitude of sharing the classroom and students. Co-Teachers must always be thinking: “We are both teaching!” (Bacharach & Heck, 2011)

The goal of student teaching is for future teachers to experience all aspects of teaching and to become excellent classroom practitioners. With an attitude of sharing the classroom and students by co-teaching during student teaching, both the adults and students benefit.

The pre-service teacher is able to engage in the classroom more fully alongside a mentor teacher who remains actively engaged with the students as well. Unlike traditional student teaching models where the mentor teacher disengages with the classroom over a period of time, co-teaching retains the expertise and added value of the mentor teacher as an active participant with students throughout the experience. Let’s explore this shift in thinking further:

Teacher in classroom

Traditional student teaching models often identify a designated period of time for the student teachers to “solo” while the new co-teaching model for student teaching uses the idea of becoming a "lead" teacher instead. Both ideas have merit for different reasons.

In a traditional student-teaching model, a teacher candidate often observes the cooperating teacher for an extended amount of time. Little by little, the candidate takes on more responsibility, eventually "solo" teaching by planning instruction, assessing student work, and managing classroom routines. Historically, the cooperating teacher does not use co-teaching strategies to teach with the candidate in the traditional model.

In co-teaching, the pair (teacher candidate and cooperating teacher) is encouraged to co-plan and quickly incorporate the co-teaching strategies in their practice, providing more opportunities for the students to engage with both adults in the classroom. The mentor teacher remains engaged, using the strategies to support student learning and engagement. The co-teaching pair collaborates throughout the experience, with leadership in responsibility and decision-making shifting over time to the teacher candidate. Ultimately, the teacher candidate assumes leadership in all aspects of the classroom, including directing the activities of the cooperating teacher and other adults working with the students, for a pre-determined amount of time. It is important that the teacher candidate does have opportunities to solo teach too, but the goal is to co-teach once the candidate has established classroom leadership skills and students interact with both adults as their teachers.

SOLO teaching vs. LEAD teaching

Below you see several descriptions of teaching models. Sort these descriptions by clicking and dragging into the correct boxes.

  • You have dragged all of the descriptions out of the unsorted box.
  • Teacher candidates observe a great deal, often from a stationary position.
  • Gradually, teacher candidates take over a variety of tasks or portions of lessons.
  • At some point, the cooperating teacher hands over all responsibilities to the teacher candidate who becomes fully in charge (solo) for meeting the needs of all students.
  • Cooperating teachers partner with their candidates instead of 'handing over' responsibility.
  • Pairs collaboratively plan for instruction and evaluation.
  • Ultimately, teacher candidates become fully responsible for the classroom, but cooperating teachers remain actively engaged as co-teachers.
  • Teacher candidates assume the lead role, managing the classroom and planning instruction using co-teaching.

Traditional student-teaching model (SOLO teaching)

  • Drag the descriptions of SOLO teaching in a traditional student-teaching model into this box

Co-teaching model of student-teaching (LEAD teaching)

  • Drag the descriptions of LEAD teaching in a co-teaching approach to student-teaching into this box

Print out Solo vs. Lead Co-teacher handout (opens new window).

The timing of when the teacher candidate fully assumes the role as lead teacher is negotiated by the triad (cooperating teacher, university supervisor, and teacher candidate) and varies by classroom and situation. The cooperating teacher and university supervisor work together to gradually scaffold the teacher candidate into assuming the lead role in co-teaching. The supervisor, cooperating teacher, and candidates (called the "triad") also pre-determines in advance the length of time that the teacher candidate serves as the lead teacher. Licensures in elementary and secondary programs may have different requirements as to how long the candidate should serve as the lead teacher. In other words, this is a shared decision between the members of the triad and will be different for each candidate.

What is co-teaching?

Please check your understanding and knowledge by answering 5 True/False questions.


Cook, L. & Friend, M. (1995). Co-teaching: Guidelines for creating effective practices. Focus on Exceptional Children, 28(3), 1-17.

Washut Heck, T. & Bacharach, N. (2010). Mentoring Teacher Candidates Through Co-Teaching. Teacher Quality Enhancement Center. St. Cloud, Minnesota.

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© 2012, St. Cloud State University. Used with permission by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities’ Office of Teacher Education (OTE) for the CEHD Partner Network