Teaching Collaboratively: The Co-Lead Teacher Model

Posted on Wednesday, January 18th, 2023

Last year, a new classroom paradigm was piloted in a select few classrooms at Gaynor, and as of January 2023, Gaynor has four classrooms using the Co-Lead Teacher Model. The Co-Lead Teacher Model involves two experienced teachers working together in the same classroom. They plan lessons together and teach together to support the diverse academic and social-emotional needs of their students.

According to Understood.org, studies show that 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, have shared planning time, and each have the chance to use their expertise in the classroom.

Gaynor’s model takes two experienced head teachers and puts them together in one classroom, increasing the experience level for primary teachers, and is one of the key initiatives from the current Strategic Plan. Candidates for the pilot classrooms needed to be experienced head teachers in order to be considered for the position, but they received training along the way to help them learn and navigate the co-lead model.

Head of School Dr. Scott Gaynor said, “This model will shift the accountability of student outcomes back into the classroom with teachers, and allows for the expansion of educator professional development during the school year, as there will be more release time with two experienced teachers in the room.” 

Two Co-Lead Teacher Model classrooms have been in place since 2022-2023, one in the Pink Cluster and one in the Orange Cluster. The Pink Cluster class is run by Co-Lead Teachers Megan Scanlon and Morgan Conlon, both of whom are in their sixth year of teaching at Gaynor. This position felt like a perfect fit for them, as they are close friends outside of Gaynor as well.

Ms. Conlon said the pair heard about the co-lead model, and it just made sense as they were already planning their lessons together.

“We did everything together. Even though we were in two different classrooms, we planned every lesson together, and we always collaborated. So we figured why not do it in the same room,” she said. “We also thought that because we have such a great relationship both professionally and socially, we could be good role models of how this can be done successfully.”

The pilot groups met with Early Childhood Director Rebecca Jurow and Lower Division Director Donna Logue twice during Gaynor’s Summer Institute to learn about the six different co-lead approaches (see below). Gaynor’s co-lead teachers were tasked with testing out all six in order to see which ones work best for the students.

“Within all of these approaches, we’re able to observe the kids more,” Ms. Conlon said, “and that helped us learn about the kids quicker and earlier, because one of us could sit back and take notes. I think in that regard, that’s a positive for the kids.”

Ms. Scanlon said some positive aspects for the teachers include less stress, worry, and pressure. The stress of planning is also lessened by having two lead teachers, as well as having two people to handle communications with parents and other staff members.

Ms. Conlon added, “Conferences, sports — just knowing that if you forget to say something or a parent asks a question you don’t know, your co-lead teacher will jump in and help you.”

Another benefit they have found is what they are modeling for their students. Being co-leads and being equals in terms of position, their students are seeing what it looks like to collaborate and be respectful to your peers, as well as teamwork, every day.

“I think overall the co-lead model is what you make of it,” Ms. Scanlon said. “The head teacher-assistant teacher model is just as important and could be just as positive, and it has been very positive for both of us in the years past. But this new model is pretty cool, and we feel very lucky to be part of it.”

In the Orange Cluster, Jaclyn Dobish and Jacqueline Kolbert were the second pilot co-lead classroom. Similarly to Ms. Conlon and Ms. Scanlon, Ms. Dobish and Ms. Kolbert are also close outside of school.

Ms. Dobish said that because both she and Ms. Kolbert have a lot of experience as head teachers, it only enhances what they are able to do in the classroom. Ms. Kolbert seconded this, saying, “We’re able to differentiate more, and in the past we’ve had very different leveled classes, so because we come from the same background but are teaching in different ways, we’re really able to differentiate our lessons.”

Ms. Kolbert said she thinks one of the best parts has been being able to teach two lessons at once using the parallel teaching approach. In parallel teaching, the team splits the class into two groups, and each teacher teaches the same information simultaneously.

“When we did our mapping skills unit, something that usually takes us three weeks took one week,” she said. “Jackie did a read-aloud about a mapping topic, and I did the technology part of it. It didn’t matter which lesson went first, so some students went into the break out room and some stayed in the main classroom, and then we switched.”

Ms. Dobish said the classroom flow has felt natural, and that the students have responded well to it.

In 2022-2023, two additional classrooms were included in the Co-Lead Teacher Model. In the Green Cluster, Alyssa Tucker and Zoe Carril have been co-teaching since the start of the school year. Assistant Head of School Jill Thompson praised the arrangement, saying, “There are various co-lead teaching strategies, and Ms. Carril and Ms. Tucker excel with team teaching in which they share the responsibilities of lead instruction while taking on different roles in the lesson. This approach enhances teacher creativity and energizes students.”

In January 2023, a fourth classroom was added in the Yellow Cluster with Orik Reiback promoted to Co-Lead teacher with Imani Simone Graham. Upon announcing the change, Director of Lower Division Donna Logue said, “Mr. Reiback comes to this partnership with strong experience in literacy remediation, while Ms. Graham is extraordinarily skillful in fostering students’ conceptual understanding, driving children to think deeply about the world around them.”

Ms. Logue summarized the benefits of the co-lead model, saying, “This model of collaborative teaching features co-planning, co-instruction and co-assessment with the intention of enhancing and improving student growth. Unlike the traditional Gaynor teaching model, there is parity between the two teachers, though perhaps not identical responsibilities. Each member of the partnership comes with diverse experiences and areas of expertise, and the combined use of strategies, techniques and programming leads to improved outcomes for all involved.”

The Six Co-Lead Approaches (from Understood.org)

  1. One teach, one observe – one teacher serves as the primary instructor, while the other is observing students’ learning and collecting data.
  1. Station teaching – the class is divided into three or more groups and the classroom has multiple learning centers.
  1. Parallel teaching – the team splits the class into two groups and each teacher teaches the same information at the same time.
  1. Alternative teaching – one teacher instructs most of the class and the other teacher teaches an alternate or modified version of the lesson to a smaller group of students.
  1. Team teaching – both teachers are in the room at the same time but take turns teaching the whole class.
  1. One teach, one assist – one teacher teaches a full group lesson, while the other teacher roams and helps individual students.