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    MTSS Practice MTSS for Secondary

    In my decade in the classroom, I worked with several co-teachers. Some were special education teachers, some para-educators, ELL teachers, and even gifted and talented teachers. Each year, the co-teaching relationship worked differently. And yes, some were more successful than others. But when we had planning time and appropriate facilitation, co-teaching benefited not only the students who required extra support but all the students in my classes.

    What is Co-Teaching?

    Co-teaching is an inclusive model of instruction that helps serve students with disabilities in the general education classroom. The typical co-teaching structure pairs a general education teacher with a special education teacher, a second general ed teacher, a paraprofessional, or even other support staff such as a school psychologist or counselor.  

    Effective co-teaching teams collaborate on instructional plans and strategies, and research shows that co-teaching fosters the data-driven decision-making that is core to MTSS.  

    There are several models for co-teaching:

    Models for Co-Teaching

    One teaches, One observes

    A model where one teacher leads the lesson, but the other teacher observes to collect data or gather specific information from the lesson.  The teachers would spend time reflecting after.

    One teaches, One assists

    One teacher is primarily responsible for the lesson, while the other moves about the room, assisting students as required. 

    Parallel Teaching

    Both teachers teach the same information to the class, which is divided into two groups. They would teach at the same time within the same space.

    Station Teaching

    The students are divided into small groups, moving between stations that cover different content. Each teacher will take on a group or station to lead or facilitate the group for learning.  This model works great for interventions and independent activities.

    Alternative Teaching

    One teacher takes charge of a large group of students, and the other works with a small group needing specialized attention.

    Team Teaching

    Both teachers facilitate learning for the large group, taking turns instructing. 


    How Co-Teaching Improves Tiered Supports

    Tier 1: Universal Differentiation 

      A co-teaching model aligns with an inclusive education model, keeping students who need additional support or receive special education services within the classroom for core instruction.  

    Doubling the number of teachers creates more opportunities to support students and higher quality learning experiences. For core instruction, a co-teacher allows for differentiated materials and activities. One teacher can work with a larger group on an activity floating around the room, while another works on the same activity with a small group of students. A co-teaching model aligns with an inclusive education model, keeping students who need additional support or receive special education services within the classroom for core instruction. General education students also benefit from having another teacher in the room for attention, feedback, and increased engagement during instruction. 

    Tier 2: Targeted Supports

    Co-teaching makes Tier 2 interventions possible at the secondary level. Most secondary schedules are rigid, assigning students to specific classes and teachers without a teacher floating from class to class for intervention time. If students need more intervention, they may require a schedule change. However, with co-teaching, interventions can take place within a general education classroom, and both teachers participate in the facilitation. 

    Co-teaching models like station or parallel teaching can be perfect for Tier 2 intervention. These models allow for differentiation and targeted small-group instruction without students missing out on core instruction.

    Tier 3: Intensive Interventions

      Co-teaching offers the advantage of collaboration. Managing a diverse group of students alone can be overwhelming for a single teacher. Having a co-teacher who contributes their expertise to address student interventions is incredibly beneficial in navigating these challenges together.  

    It’s challenging for solo teachers to give individual attention to students. Co-teaching allows for a lower student-to-teacher ratio and attention for students requiring intensive interventions. For example, with my co-teaching partners, I was able to sit down with one student to work through an assignment they didn’t understand. While I did that in the back of the classroom, the other teacher worked with students on a project. The "one teaches / one assists" model provides additional eyes on students, facilitating behavior observation and intensive intervention as necessary.

    Co-teaching offers the advantage of collaboration. Managing a diverse group of students alone can be overwhelming for a single teacher. Having a co-teacher who contributes their expertise to address student interventions is incredibly beneficial in navigating these challenges together.

    A note about co-teaching with a gifted teacher: The year I was assigned to co-teach my advanced ELA class with the gifted teacher, I was confused; why did I need another teacher in that class? It turned out to be one of my favorite co-teaching experiences. I could differentiate differently and create deep and enriching experiences for the students performing above grade level. Even students who weren’t identified as gifted had opportunities they would not have had otherwise.  

    Making Co-Teaching Work

    Co-teaching is a departure from the standard classroom setup that places the subject area teacher at the front of the room as the one who holds the knowledge.  Without careful structuring, the co-teacher may spend much of their time functioning as an assistant rather than a true partner in the classroom. (Wexler et al. 2018, 384)

    In addition, co-teaching can be complicated and takes extra planning time. Leaders should be intentional about whom to assign to co-teaching. Each teacher's personality impacts the environment and how well the co-teaching relationship works. 

    Co-teaching recommendations for leaders:

    • Build co-planning time into the schedule
    • Consider personalities when arranging co-teaching assignments
    • Create clear roles and responsibilities;
    • Provide opportunities for professional development in co-teaching and instructional strategies;
    • Mediate difficult conversations when needed
    • Provide coaching for co-teaching teams to increase effectiveness
    • Spend time observing and reflecting with teachers.

     Download this editable Co-Teaching Observation Worksheet

    Co-Teaching as an MTSS Hurdle Solution

    When a secondary school implements a Multi-Tiered System of Supports, there may be challenges with finding time and personnel to make interventions happen. Co-teaching is an option that brings supports right into the classroom.  

    Co-teaching makes MTSS more feasible at the secondary level, and both students and teachers benefit from the direct, ongoing collaboration co-teaching provides. My co-teaching classes were some of the most engaging and productive times within teaching. As the general education teacher, I learned how to better include students with additional needs, and I had someone to help provide support to students who needed it the most. 


    Macbook_StudentProgress-2The Branching Minds MTSS platform brings together data for co-teaching teams to plan interventions and support all students.

    Learn more about MTSS and Branching Minds by requesting a demo of our platform. 

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    Key Takeaways:

    • Co-teaching can address the challenges of traditional teaching models by leveraging multiple teachers' expertise.
    • Co-teaching offers flexibility in instruction and intervention, especially in secondary education settings where teachers may have large class sizes and limited time for individualized support.
    • Co-teaching ensures that students with disabilities receive support within the general education classroom alongside their peers, enhancing the learning experience for all students.
    • Collaborative professional development and support for co-teaching teams, including co-planning, mentorship, and reflection, are crucial for ensuring the success of co-teaching partnerships and maximizing the impact on student learning outcomes.


    Cassel, Sean. 2019. “How to Choose a Co-Teaching Model.” Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-choose-co-teaching-model/.

    Dieker, Lisa. n.d. “Collaboration | Cooperative Teaching | Special Connections.” Special Connections. Accessed February 13, 2024. https://specialconnections.ku.edu/collaboration/cooperative_teaching.

    Peery, Angela. 2017. “Co-Teaching: How to Make it Work.” Cult of Pedagogy. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/co-teaching-push-in/.

    Sparks, Sarah D., Kara Houppert, Laura Eisinger, and Mike Bradley. 2022. “Co-Teaching: Valuable But Hard to Get Right.” Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/co-teaching-valuable-but-hard-to-get-right/2022/07.

    Wexler, Jade, Devin M. Kearns, Christopher J. Lemons, Marisa Mitchell, Erin Clancy, Kimberly A. Davidson, Anne C. Sinclair, and Yan Wei. 2018. “Reading Comprehension and Co-Teaching Practices in Middle School English Language Arts Classrooms.” Exceptional Children 84 (4): 384-42. 10.1177/001440291877154.

    Murawski, Wendy & Lochner, Wendy. (2011). Observing Co-Teaching: What to Ask For, Look For, and Listen For. Intervention in School and Clinic - INTERVENTION SCHOOL CLINIC. 46. 174-183. 10.1177/1053451210378165. 


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    Tagged: MTSS Practice, MTSS for Secondary

    February 20, 2024

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