January 16, 2012

Top Ten Reasons for the SLP to consider "Co-Teaching"

As a school-based SLP, the idea of "co-teaching" can take on many faces.  With this "top ten" list, I want to focus on the collaborative teaching method that I have embraced with several special education teachers in the last several years.  I am currently in my 10th year as a school-based SLP, and I have incorporated some form of collaborative teaching into my weekly therapy schedule the entire time.  In the beginning, I focused on going "in" to the early childhood intervention classrooms.  This seemed like the perfect place to start since almost every student in that class had some form of communication disorder that required speech therapy.  About 3 or 4 years later, a service was developed in our district that focused on providing specific, research/evidenced based interventions for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  It was at this point that I was able to take my co-teaching into another realm.  Since then, I have also become more equipped to provide speech therapy through an inclusion model in the general education classroom (but I'll save that list for another day.)
So, I suspect that many school-based SLPs must be shaking your heads at me right now, and wondering "how on earth could I fit in ONE more thing?!"  I also know that school-based SLPs constantly struggle to maintain high caseloads and multiple campuses (not to mention a large scope of practice.)  All I ask is that you take a minute to CONSIDER this list, you just might thank me for it later! 

10.  Sharing Materials--Let's keep it real here, I work in public education, budgets are tight, need I say more?

9. Sharing & Expanding Ideas--I can't say enough about how AMAZING it is to sit in a planning session with my co-teacher (Kelley) while we bounce lesson ideas off of each other.  Because we come from two very different perspectives on the students (mine: communication-based, hers: behavioral-based), the end result is usually something that neither one of us knew we had in us.  Also, I have to admit, after planning therapy for the other 90% of my caseload, my brain is often low on fuel!  I look forward to my planning sessions to get me on track and keep the creativity flowing.

8. Technology Access--Going back to the "budget" issue, I have almost always found that my teachers have access to many more technology tools than myself.  I think I do a pretty good job of making good use of what is available to me. . .but, WOW, what a whole different world it is when you can gain (and maintain) the attention of the entire "social thinking group" just by projecting our visual tools on a Big Screen.  School-based SLPs often joke about working in a "broom closet", and if this is true for you, consider a co-teach model for therapy with a partner on your campus, you just might see the light of day on occasion!

7. Two Brains each with Different "Smarts"--Ever hear the phrase "two heads are better than one"?  Well, if that doesn't say it all, consider this:  I am a speech/language pathologist and my focus is on communication (from every angle).  My co-teach partner is a special education teacher who specializes in working with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (among other things).  Each of us have been through very different types of specialized training and each with a slightly different focus.  The students that we work with often have a culmination of needs that are intertwined and that can rarely be pinpointed in isolation.  By inter-weaving our areas of specialty in the way we set up and carry out our lessons, it allows us to focus on the "whole" child, and this often eases our ability to generalize their skills into the classroom setting and beyond.

6. Collaborative Goal Setting--We have found this to be crucial in our co-teaching.  By collaborating on our goals, we are able to make sure we address every aspect of the child's needs.  Also, with the students we share, I rarely have the need to develop "separate" speech therapy goals because our focus is on social/behavior skills, part of which involves communication.  And that leads us to reason number 5. . .

This feels so TRUE some days!

5. The "division of labor"-- The "labor" in any group therapy session is multifaceted: it involves carrying out the lesson or activity using a specific intervention strategy, scaffolding appropriately for each individual child's needs, completing ongoing assessments of their skill level (a.k.a. data collection), and planning the next session according to their responses.  Using co-teach, my partner and I are able to divide these responsibilities by taking turns with each aspect weekly.  Since we have set aside a weekly planning session (we do this during a 30 minute lunch once per week), we make sure that we are on the same page with the goals and activities for each session and each student.  During the group, while one of us is teaching, the other one is taking data.  In many cases, although the "lead" takes on the responsibility of scaffolding, the other one is quickly on hand with an added visual tool, nonverbal cue, or verbal cue if the session is taking a "turn in the wrong direction". With this set up, we both feel that we are able to take data more effectively and plan more effectively for our desired outcomes.  Oh, and let's not leave out those "rough days" when I'm running low on fuel and can't seem to muster the energy for leading another group session. . .but you'll have to keep reading for more on this. . .   

4. A Cure for Scheduling Woes--I know, the word "scheduling" is that word that makes almost every school-based SLP and special education teacher cringe.  I am no stranger to that feeling (even 10 years later!) This can be particularly challenging when we have students who have A LOT of IEP time spent outside of their classrooms.  I have found that "making" and "sticking" to a shared schedule for these students eases the stress of the special education teacher, the classroom teacher (who really wants to see their student as much as possible), and myself; and ultimately it helps us maintain the Least Restrictive Environment. Scheduling, in general, is a constant challenge and it requires many "heads" to make it work like a well-oiled machine, but that is a topic for a different day. . .

3. Frequent feedback sessions--Aside from our scheduled planning sessions, just being in the same room together on a frequent and consistent basis allows us to be in constant collaboration with each other.  Since my responsibilities as an SLP require me to be all around the school and on a schedule to see students in 15-45 mintue increments back-to-back on a daily basis, with no built in restroom breaks, and only a 15-20 minute "working" lunch break (occasionally), and days when I need to travel to another school; having our co-teach sessions scheduled weekly allows me to "catch up" and stay "in the know" on each student.  Also, the special education teacher often sees these students on a daily basis in some shape or form, and is the case manager for the student, so this allows me to have a consistent picture of the "whole child" (which we all know ultimately impacts how they are progressing in the therapy environment).

2. Access to "The Generator"--Okay, so in reason number 5, I mentioned those "rough days". . .I'm pretty sure I am not the ONLY one who has them. . .Anyway, sometimes there are days when I walk into the room knowing that its my day to lead the session, but somewhere along the way my motor has stalled out or I have lost power in my brain, I am able to give her a look and she knows to take over.  AND, since we planned the session together, she is ready to go! Oh, and let's not forget those days when I walk in to our group session ready for Kelley to lead the group, and I quickly learn that either A. she is out of the room dealing with an "incident" with another student or B. she has just dealt with a particularly trying incident with another student.  In either case, all she has to do is give me the same "look" and, voila! . . .the machine keeps running, thanks to the "generator".

And last, but not at all least. . .

1. Perspective. . .Pass it On--Aren't most challenges in life really just a matter of "perspective"? Being a part of this "dynamic duo" helps us keep each other "in check" on the reality of any given situation.  Whether it's a particular challenge with a student who is struggling to meet their goals or a parent that needs our extra attention, sometimes just having a partner with different eyes on the same situation offers a different outlook on the situation. And this kind of perspective is even more important to help us see the LIGHT in some situations!  For some reason, human nature holds our attention on the "challenge" or "what needs fixing", but having a co-teacher to communicate with helps keep everything in perspective.

Well, I hope that you find this list helpful when considering the idea of adopting a "collaborative teaching" model for your speech therapy sessions.  I know that there are many other aspects to finding a co-teaching partner to work with (yet another list for another day), but I hope that I have been able to take away some of the "fear" that might be keeping you from traveling down this path!



  1. I co-teach a behavior/social group with the special ed teacher in my school! I also co-teach a lot of my life skills self-contained students. It's great!

  2. Wow!! Emerging SLP here commenting on a really enlightening post & perspective. This makes SO much sense! Kudos to you gals for making it real & giving this newbie clear cut ways to make co-teaching work & the why to back it up.

    1. Glad to know that you have found this helpful! It isn't easy and it takes a desire to have such a partnership, but in the end, there are LOTS of winners! Much luck to you!


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