Co-teaching during distance learning: Tips for partnering virtually

As an experienced special education teacher, I’ve done my fair share of co-teaching. Each time, my roles and responsibilities have been unique to the situation. 

Over the past few weeks, my school district transitioned to distance learning. As it did, I found myself in a new type of partnership: virtual co-teaching. I had to figure out new strategies to provide an inclusive experience for students. 

Based on what I’ve learned so far, here are some tips for partnering with a co-teacher in your online classroom. 

1. Meet weekly (if not more). 

Virtual meetings using tools such as Zoom, Google Meet, or FaceTime are important for staying connected. While emails and texts can be easier to use, they can also be easier to misinterpret. Try to limit the use of emails and texts to quick check-ins or to share resources.

  • Set a regular time to meet each week. You might find that you need to meet more often online than you ever did in person.
  • Be positive and productive.
  • When you meet, plan out a week of lessons together, not just a day or two. This will give you time to create or put together proper supports and resources.
  • Stick to the plan unless you both agree it needs to be adjusted. There can be frustration and confusion for both you and your students if one teacher shifts direction without the other.

2. Make sure that both teachers can access all online platforms and resources being used.

Both of you should have access and editing rights to all platforms you’re using. This ensures that you both can share responsibilities and support all learners. When searching for online platforms that have shared administrator or educator access, check out the “class settings” under the teacher account. Or look for “collaboration” options under account settings.

  • Make sure both teachers are able to view student work. 
  • Take turns providing feedback. It’s important that students “hear” both voices. 
  • If an assignment comes from one teacher’s online account, share a pdf of the results with the other so you both can review the data.

3. Use “we” in your language. 

It doesn’t make sense for both teachers to be doing the same work at the same time. “Divide and conquer” is the best strategy for virtual co-teaching. But be sure that students know you’re both present and available for support. With distance learning, it can be harder for students to see collaboration in action. Go out of your way to point it out.

  • When giving general directions and stating expectations, use “We” statements, not “I” statements. “I” statements isolate the other teacher. They also make things unclear, such as who will be reviewing the work and who is available to offer support.
  • When sending emails to students and families, continue to use “we” statements and sign both names when appropriate. Be sure to cc your co-teacher and ask that families and students reply to both of you to keep everyone informed. 
  • When you give online assignments that ask students to respond to one another, you and your co-teacher should model it for students. For example, if my students are sharing ideas in a collaborative space like Padlet or Flipgrid, my co-teacher might write “Mr. Hodnett, that’s a great example. That reminds me of ... .” 

4. Establish a routine for getting work done. 

For co-teachers, a routine helps ensure that both teachers know and can plan for their responsibilities. It respects that both teachers may have obligations outside of the co-teaching partnership.

  • Establish who will post the daily to-do list for the students, using the same platform and format.
  • If you’re teaching online, decide who will lead “live” instruction vs. who will offer video or notes for support outside of class time. (Make sure live support happens at the same time daily or weekly for students.)
  • Develop a schedule for keeping track of daily/weekly assignments and attendance. This helps keep both teachers on the same page with student progress. It also maintains a shared sense of responsibility for all students. 

5. Decide how you’ll assess student growth. 

During planning sessions, decide on criteria for assessing student growth. This will help ensure that students get similar feedback, no matter who’s assessing their work. Also, remember to check for district guidance on grading policies during this time. 

  • Be clear about the expectations and grading criteria in your directions to students and families. 
  • Use rubrics that both teachers develop and review. 
  • Some students may need alternative criteria based on their Individualized Education Program (IEP). Both teachers and the student (and the family) should be aware of these modifications.

6. Share successes.

When a student succeeds, celebrate it together. These are the moments we’re missing in school. Sharing them will help us get through this time of transition in education. 

  • If you have a breakthrough in a videoconference with a student, let the other teacher know.
  • If a video response or image a student submits makes you laugh, share it with your partner.
  • When your co-teacher shares a student’s growth with you, send the student or their family a private message. Acknowledge their growth as shared by your co-teacher. This lets the student or their family know you’re both involved and you’re both proud of their hard work. 

Each co-teaching situation is unique, but they’re all partnerships. Planning regularly, sharing responsibilities, and using a team approach will help you meet the needs of all of your students. 

About the author

About the author

Brendan R. Hodnett, MAT is a special education teacher in Middletown, New Jersey, and an adjunct professor at Hunter College.