Opening Doors to Collaboration

Interdisciplinary practices for building collaboration between general and special education teams


About this Collection

Inclusive educational settings benefit all students. Yet too often, special and general education teams are siloed within schools.

In Opening Doors to Collaboration, we share a collection of best practices for improving learning outcomes, experiences, and environments in secondary students — particularly Black and Latinx students with disabilities experiencing poverty — by bolstering collaborative practices between general educators and special educators.

Research-to-Impact Practices

This collection includes three best practices essential to the work of improving collaboration between general education and special education teachers on behalf of improving learning outcomes for all students and a case study about how Green Dot Public Schools used quarterly professional development days for co-teachers to co-plan. The collection also contains two guidance documents on supporting collaborative teaming.

The collection also includes a literature review with a concise overview of the research on educator collaboration broadly as well as the specific practice of co-teaching, a growing best practice and service delivery model based on the philosophy of inclusive education.

In addition, our work highlights several cross-cutting takeaways about the importance of collaboration:

  • Collaboration between general and special educators can begin immediately, even as a formal process is being developed. 
  • When general and special education collaboration improves, so do learning outcomes.
  • Co-planning must be a deliberate action. 
  • Improving collaboration must be a whole-school effort.

Co-Planning for Differentiated Instruction

English co-planning in action at Collegiate Academies

The goal of co-planning is to ensure that collaborating teachers develop high-impact, data-driven adaptations to lessons that meet the needs of all students by drawing on the expertise of both the general and special education teachers. Effective co-planning leverages four key components — alignment, reflection, removal, and selection — to meet this goal. This practice highlights how teams across the NIC honed this work over time in a variety of collaboration models and includes a co-planning meeting template for schools to apply to their own settings.

Why it Works

  • Co-planning drives alignment in instruction across all settings, accelerating learning and minimizing confusion to positively impact student experience.
  • Strong co-planning builds knowledge, skill, and capacity among educators, especially benefiting those new to the field.
  • The structures of co-planning allow for the development of a strong, trusting, and collaborative relationship between educators.

Collegiate Academies used data-driven co-planning cycles to double the number of students with disabilities meeting graduation requirements through alternative pathways.


A Collaborative Approach to Student Work Analysis

Ednovate, Los Angeles, CA

Collaborative student work analysis pairs a general and a special educator together to collect and review data on student performance and progress in course content. It deepens both educators’ understanding of student strengths and needs in order to align on instructional next steps. This practice includes Green Dot’s Student Work Analysis Protocol, which can be adapted by schools to meet their needs.

Why it Works

Collaborative student work analysis using an instructionally focused protocol meets the needs of Black and Latinx students with disabilities experiencing poverty by:

  • building educators’ capacity to understand root causes of misunderstandings,
  • ensuring critical alignment between teachers,
  • explicitly acknowledging the impact of students’ learning needs on their work, and
  • leveraging multiple forms of data.

After collaborating teachers at Ednovate implemented a collaborative student work analysis model, the course pass rate in their class increased from 79% to 97%.


Achieving High-Impact Co-Teaching: A Gradual Release Model

Green Dot Ánimo Watts co-teachers team teach a math lesson before moving to differentiated groupings.

Strong co-teaching that drives results for students requires teaching in ways that are often unfamiliar to educators. To implement co-teaching successfully, schools can take a gradual release model that helps build teachers’ knowledge and skill in implementing high-impact co-teaching models in their classrooms. Collegiate and Green Dot’s work provides a roadmap for how other schools and districts can provide timely and effective coaching to improve the quality of co-teaching.

Why it Works

  • High-impact co-teaching promotes inclusive learning environments with tailored instructional opportunities for all students.
  • Dedicated coaching acknowledges that sharing instructional responsibility in nontraditional ways is new and requires direct support.
  • Optimizing the roles of both co-teachers can lead to higher job satisfaction.

When co-teachers optimize their roles during lessons, all students experience double the support they would have with one teacher.


How Quarterly Professional Development Cycles Helped a Network Maximize Data-Driven Co-Planning for Co-Teachers: Green Dot Public Schools

Co-teachers complete a biweekly student work analysis at Green Dot Ánimo Watts in Los Angeles, CA.

This case study explores the coordination and implementation of quarterly professional development days for co-teaching teams that blend professional learning with intentional co-planning time. These facilitated days create purposeful time for teams to connect, reflect on student data with a student work analysis template, expand knowledge of high-leverage co-teaching models, and design instruction using those models for the upcoming quarter.

At Ánimo Watts College Preparatory Academy, quarterly co-planning PD days contributed to an increase of nearly three times the percentage of students with disabilities passing classes with a C+ or higher.


How-To: Launch Effective Collaborative Teams

NIC Co-Teaching Learning Tour participants visit partner schools.

Effective instructional coaching for collaborative teachers requires a different approach than coaching individual teachers. This guidance document provides school leaders with recommendations and resources that have been used to form effective school teams at Collegiate Academies, Green Dot Public Schools, KIPP Northern California, and Summit Public Schools.


How-To: Establishing Coaching for Collaborative Teams

A small group meets with one co-teacher in math class at STEM Prep MSCP.

Collaboration between general and special educators has the ability to transform the experience and learning of both students and teachers. But collaborative work between these two historically siloed departments is neither intuitive nor easy to achieve. This guide addresses some of the most common questions leaders face when setting up effective coaching of collaborative teams.

Explore the Collections

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    Navigating Data for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

    Equity-based practices for using data at the district, school, and classroom levels to accelerate student supports

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    Igniting Postsecondary Aspirations

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    Anchoring Emotions

    One school’s skill-based practices for supporting students with emotional-based disabilities

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    Research-to-Impact Home

    Evidence-based practices to improve outcomes for Black and Latinx students with disabilities experiencing poverty

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