Designing With Dragons: Co-Teaching, Managing, and Engaging

By Phil Kitchel posted 05-31-2022 06:00 AM


The classroom is a dynamic learning “cave” where teachers embrace their own styles to establish an engaging learning environment for all students. For many, this includes having a co-teacher to manage the classroom and deliver effective instruction. For us, developing an effective co-teaching relationship started by designing a dragon. “Ferny the Dragon,” a home-grown fantasy character, sparked a class theme that continues to serve as the catalyst of our co-teaching relationship, inspire how we manage the classroom, and engage students in learning. For more than 3 years, we’ve worked carefully on strategies and styles for co-teaching. “Studies show that [this] co-teaching can successfully meet the needs of all learners when the co-teachers have ample time to build a trusting relationship with one another” (Cassel, 2019).

The following points are suggestions based on what we’ve learned about designing a positive and productive co-teaching experience.

Developing Relationships

Start by meeting with each other to get to know one another’s teaching history, teaching styles, and preferences. The more you learn about each other, the easier it is to offer support. Spending time learning about interests outside school, such as family, hobbies, and so on is not time wasted; it creates a personal and professional bond. Differences such as age, personality, interests, and teaching styles will inevitably exist, but you can use these differences to enhance instruction and as opportunities to develop engaging experiences in the classroom that honor both of your personalities and teaching styles.

Defining Management Roles

Decide from the six co-teaching models how you both prefer to run the classroom and what roles to assume. Throughout the day, use multiple models to make the most of the co-teaching experience. Be clear on your responsibilities and which tasks both teachers can work on together—who will take attendance, run morning meetings, keep the gradebook, and so on. While some specific roles belong to the classroom and the special education teacher, respectively, consider switching roles to build confidence, expand skills, and extend your comfort zones.

Data Driven

Collect and examine critical information about your students. Start with IEPs, 504 plans, and any information from standardized testing. As the year progresses, add information from any district testing as well as your personal classroom assessments. You can glean vital information for instructional planning from informal reading inventories, initial spelling tests, and students’ writing samples. Share observations and anecdotal notes to continue communication and planning for instruction. This strengthens your co-teaching relationship and increases family involvement; having two teachers builds the success of the whole “cave”!

Differentiating Instruction

Plan instruction with your learners in mind. Use the co-teaching dynamic to prepare small, flexible instructional groups. Having two teachers means more opportunities to provide individualized and small-group instruction. Parallel and alternative teaching models work well for differentiating instruction. Both teachers can meet with all students and teach the same content simultaneously, or “one teacher teaches the bulk of the students, and the other teaches a small group based on need” (Cassel, 2019).

Designing the Engagement Piece

Design your classroom and instruction with a fun and engaging theme. Start with something that inspires: If both of you are passionate about the topic, it will be obvious during instruction and draw your students in. Create a space that students and teachers want to return to and learn in! Plan themes together, keeping the general education curriculum and individual student needs and interests in mind. When both teachers are fully engaged in the theme, students can enter a world of learning that will spark their wonder and joy.

Concluding Thoughts

Co-teachers are truly an instructional team that shares the responsibility of all aspects of the classroom with students at the center of their work. Our learning “cave” is an inviting, dynamic environment for students and is the result of much time and collaborative effort. Effective co-teaching takes time to develop and the dedication of both teachers to build the relationship successfully. Find your “dragon” to design with and excel with your co-teacher!

By Leana R. Malinowsky and Paul Garcia

Ms. Malinowsky has been a practicing educator in New Jersey since 2008. She teaches second-grade general education, special education, and ESL students. She is a certified Reading Specialist. She serves as the Associate Counselor for the Delta Rho Chapter of KDP.

Mr. Garcia is a special education teacher in Carteret, New Jersey. He has taught elementary students and has served as a literacy coach during his 28 years of teaching. His passions are improving his students' reading and increasing student engagement through class games.


Cassel, S. (2019, October 8.) How to choose a co-teaching model. Edutopia.

1 comment



06-01-2022 09:26 AM

I totally agree with this article! Co-Teachers are absolutely amazing! I think that teachers work together, they are modeling collaboration in the classroom!