By Michele D. Crockett, Lillie Garcia, and Cindy Benge • Principal Leadership Article
Change is difficult. In addition to institutional barriers that may hinder any reform effort, innovation often works against prevailing wisdom. Co-teaching is no exception; the shift from traditional modes of working with teacher candidates (TCs) to methods that focus on preparing TCs to teach is the most significant barrier to overcome. Developing classroom teachers’ capacity for clinical supervision, the primary objective of co-teaching, is contrary to how teachers are accustomed to dealing with TCs. Even after they participated in co-teaching workshops, the teachers in our Co-Teaching Project (CTP) expressed difficulties implementing the co-teaching model. We regard these as “mind-shift” difficulties. They clustered around three questions: What is the purpose of co-teaching? Why utilize co-teaching strategies? What does working with a TC look like in the co-teaching model?
Co-teaching has become a promising approach for enriching the student teaching experience in university-based teacher education programs (TEPs). Its roots lie in special education involving two or more licensed special education teachers who work together to address students’ needs. Co-teaching in TEPs involves a classroom teacher and a TC who work collaboratively in all phases of teaching—co-planning, co-teaching, and co-assessing—to deliver instruction in a classroom. The co-instructional strategies are one teach/one observe, one teach/one assist, station teaching, alternative teaching, parallel teaching, and team teaching. Many teacher-education scholars regard co-teaching as an attempt to address an ongoing problem where university-sponsored TEPs lack connection between what is taught on campus and the realities of the school-based teaching practicum.
We sought to change significantly how field experiences in methods courses are conducted in our TEP. This focus resulted from frank conversations with the school principal and other district administrators at our professional development site (PDS). The superintendent and the PDS principal wanted the TCs to have more substantive experiences in the classroom before the student teaching practicum, which immediately follows the methods semester. Rather than create bulletin boards, grade papers, and run errands during their methods semester, they wanted TCs to participate in planning and teaching lessons. Moreover, the PDS principal stressed that she wanted every classroom to be a clinical classroom. In her words, “I want a laboratory school.”