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Cohesive Collaboration for Co-Planning

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

Importance of Co-Planning

The importance of planning cannot be overstated. When identifying 22 high-leverage practices for K-12 special education teachers, McLeskey et al. (2017) pointed to collaboration with professionals to increase student success as the very first. Collaboration calls for “use of effective collaboration behaviors (e.g., sharing ideas, active listening, questioning, planning, problem solving, negotiating) to develop and adjust instructional or behavioral plans based on student data, and the coordination of expectations, responsibilities, and resources to maximize student learning” (McLeskey et al., 2017, p. 17).

Collaboration cannot occur without co-planning. Co-planning is essential for co-teachers to identify their roles and the co-teaching methods that best meet the goals of a given lesson (Murawski & Lochner, 2011).  But given numerous job responsibilities and unanticipated schedule changes, many teachers struggle to find meaningful co-planning time. In a recent case study, for example, Brendle, Lock, and Piazza (2017) found that co-teachers did not consistently function as a collaborative partnership to co-plan, but instead planned somewhat independently without true cohesion. This is highly unfortunate, for although the roles of the general and the special education teacher vary, strong collaboration helps both teachers grow in their instructional skills, increase trust and respect within their partnership, and develop comfort with co-teaching (Friend, 2018). Thus, cohesive collaboration for co-planning requires that both teachers utilize their strengths and expertise to develop an effective lesson to meet the needs of all students in the classroom.

Friend (2018) recommended that during the planning meeting, both teachers decide how to group students, how to navigate potential challenges and misunderstandings that may arise for students, and which co-teaching approaches to use. Similarly, Murawski (2009) emphasized that co-planning is about making proactive decisions as a team. Proactive planning ensures initial delivery of content that allows students to understand, be engaged and motivated, and, ultimately, learn what is being taught. In order to engage in proactive planning, both teachers should come prepared for meaningful discussion connected to their expertise. For example, the general education teacher typically provides content expertise and curriculum goals while the special education teacher offers expertise on specially designed instruction (SDI).

Tools the Special Education Teacher Can Use to Contribute to Co-Planning

Special education teachers can contribute to the co-planning session with a list of individualized education program (IEP) goals active in the classroom and a list of accommodations based on students’ individualized needs. In the September Link Lines article Power Tools: IEP Planning for Specially Designed Instruction, Jones and Littleton (2018) provided an example of a matrix for IEP planning/recording for an inclusive classroom with step-by-step directions for implementation. Using the matrix during co-planning reminds both professionals of individualized student needs and makes them designate the time to ensure SDI is provided during the week. Additionally, the matrix helps teachers develop an efficient means for data collection during and after instruction.

Further, an accommodations list reminds both teachers of any changes needed to instruction and/or assessment in order to provide access to the content and ensure equitable opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge. Talking through the accommodations together may help general education teachers identify other students who may require adjustments, but who do not have IEPs.

Other Resources for Effective Co-Planning

  1. Co-Planning for Student Success considerations packet consists of resources designed for co-teaching partners to improve their planning practices, including tools such as the co-planning meeting agenda and lesson plan template.
  2. VDOE Excellence in Co-Teaching Initiative provides trainings on co-planning through the Real Co-Teachers of Virginia website. E-workshops include trainings for elementary and middle-high teachers and provide videos of planning sessions and well as lesson plan templates.
  3. Stetson and Associates (2016) developed collaborative teaching resources, including an instructional design tool that invites both the general and the special education teacher to think through the instructional supports students need to master a lesson.
  4. Knight and Sulzberger discussed effective co-planning strategies and ways to remove barriers in the planning process in their article “Remove the Barriers of Time and Space: Strategies for Effective Co-Planning” in the November/December 2013 issue of Link Lines.

Although co-teaching partners may not have four hours in one day to sharpen their axes through planning, as suggested above in the quote by Abraham Lincoln, it is critical that they find time to cohesively plan in order to meet the needs of all students in their classroom. Accessing the resources in this article will help teachers focus their co-planning time, set them up for stronger collaboration, and enhance the effectiveness of their co-teaching for students.


Brendle, J., Lock, R., & Piazza, K. (2017). A study of co-teaching identifying effective implementation strategies. International Journal of Special Education, 32(3), 538-550.

Friend, M. (2018). Co-teach! Building and sustaining effective classroom partnerships in inclusive schools (3rd ed.)Washington, DC: Author.

Jones, S., & Littleton, S. (2018, September). Power tools: IEP planning and specially designed instruction. The College of William and Mary T/TAC Link Lines. Retrieved from

Knight, B., & Sulzberger, L. A. (2013, November/December). Remove the barriers of time and space: Strategies for effective co-planning. The College of William and Mary T/TAC Link Lines. Retrieved from

McLeskey, J., Barringer, M-D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., Lewis, T., Maheady, L., Rodriguez, J., Scheeler, M. C., Winn, J., & Ziegler, D. (2017, January). High-leverage practices in special education. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center.

Murawski, W. W. (2009). Collaborative teaching in secondary schools: Making the co-teaching marriage work! Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Murawski, W. W., & Lochner, W. W. (2011). Observing co-teaching: What to ask for, look for, and listen for. Intervention in School and Clinic, 46(3), 174-183.

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