Collaboration and Co-Teaching: What's the Difference?

Collaboration and Co-Teaching: What's the Difference? from #collaboration #coteaching #education #teaching
At last weekend's Minnesota English Learner Education (MELED) Conference, I attended a number of sessions on collaboration and co-teaching. I spend most of my time this year in a co-teaching partnership, and I was looking forward to learning some new skills and strategies to take back into the classroom. While I did gather some great ideas, I also realized that there is some confusion in our field as to what exactly we mean by 'collaboration' or 'co-teaching'. The phrase 'collaboration and co-teaching' often appears as a set collocation within academic conversations. It also happens to be the title of one of the more commonly referenced books in these circles, Collaboration and Co-Teaching by Honigsfeld and Dove.

Because of the frequency with which these words are used together, I have often seen the terms 'collaboration' and 'co-teaching' used interchangeably. In fact, the co-taught class sections at my school are informally referred to as the 'collab' sections. Having spent a significant amount of time co-teaching over the last several years, however, I think it is worth creating a clear distinction between these two terms. While the terms are closely related, there are some significant differences.

Co-teaching is an intentional partnership of two teachers who share responsibility for the planning, instruction and assessment of a set group of students. There are multiple models of co-teaching, ranging from the more passive "One Teach; One Observe" to the more active "Team Teaching". Depending on the sources used and the titles given, the number of co-teaching models can vary from five to eight. What does not vary, however, is that both teachers have a shared responsibility for all aspects of education within the class. In a true co-teaching model, both teachers have a defined role and are actively engaged in the classroom.

Collaboration, on the other hand, can be more broadly defined as two or more educators working together towards a common goal. As an EL teacher, I can collaborate with teachers across multiple subject areas without being actively involved in their classrooms. Collaboration may involve aligning curriculum so that my Academic Language class reflects the linguistic needs of a particular subject area or helping to scaffold assignments and assessments for a mainstream teacher. At its core, collaboration means working with other educators to support student needs together.

Co-teaching, therefore, is an example of teacher collaboration, but it is not the only way that teachers can collaborate with each other. Some teachers have created a distinction between vertical and horizontal collaboration. Vertical collaboration generally refers to efforts to align curriculum and instructional strategies from one grade level to the next. Horizontal collaboration describes collaboration that occurs within groups of teachers of a particular grade or content area. It is also sometimes referred to as teacher teaming, but should not be confused with the co-teaching model of Team Teaching mentioned above. Along with co-teaching, each of these types of collaboration can positively impact the educational outcomes.

It is clear from these examples that the relationship between co-teaching and collaboration is far from simplistic. Collaboration is a necessary condition of effective co-teaching, but it is not sufficient. For co-teaching to truly be effective, research has shown that several other factors must be considered. In their book, Collaboration and Co-Teaching, Honigsfeld and Dove identify several components that are essential for a healthy co-teaching partnership, including joint planning and professional development, reflective practice and a shared vision for a collaborative and culturally responsive school classroom.

Simply placing two teachers together in a classroom, even two experienced and effective teachers, is no guarantee that co-teaching will be effective. It takes time and energy for two teachers to co-plan, co-instruct and co-assess. The ACSD Teacher Impact Grant I received this year is helping to focus attention on professional learning opportunities for co-teachers, including dedicated time for peer observations and partnership planning time. For more examples on how my grant is being implemented, along with examples from grant recipients across the nation, you can follow along on Twitter under the hashtag #ASCDTIG.