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A begin to ECSEL School Story – Part V: Navigating Co-Teaching Team Dynamics

Lauren Orf, begin to ECSEL Coach
July 3, 2024

Welcome back to “begin to ECSEL School Stories,” a blog series where we address common challenges that early childhood educators face on their journey to support children's emotional, cognitive, and social development. 

Throughout this series, we have explored ways to help children through their big feelings like anger and disappointment, provided strategies to support children’s development of important skills like empathy, perspective-taking, and problem-solving, and we have shifted the focus to strengthening your own emotional intelligence skills as educators and professionals in the field of early childhood education.

In this last installment, we are keeping the focus on you, the educators, and the important relationships you foster with your co-workers and co-teachers. Read on to learn more about the role your own emotionality plays in fostering a positive co-teaching relationship, the kinds of challenges that can arise between co-teachers, and strategies that can help both in the heat of the moment and as long-term, community-centered solutions.

What's inside

  1. Navigating Co-Teaching Teams
  2. The Important Role of Your Own Emotionality
  3. A Co-Teaching Challenge
  4. Strategies for Co-Teaching Teams
  5. Long-Term, Community-Centered Strategies 
  6. Conclusion

Navigating Co-Teaching Teams

Like any relationship, co-teaching takes communication, care, and understanding to work effectively, for you and the children in your class. But, this isn’t always easy. Every teacher has their own varying levels of experience, education, and training that have shaped their teaching practices and the ways they interact with children. Additionally, we all have different personalities, communication styles, and lived experiences that have shaped who we are as individuals.

Because of this, co-teachers can learn a lot from one another, but they can also clash for a variety of reasons, like difficulty collaborating and sharing responsibilities with others when you are used to doing things your own way in your own classroom, new teachers feeling undervalued by more “experienced” teachers, veteran teachers having difficulty adapting to new circumstances, language barriers or age gaps that create rifts in communication and understanding, or different classroom management styles. 

Although we may not get to choose our co-teachers, we can use strategies to better understand ourselves and how we respond during challenging situations, which can help us communicate within co-teaching teams in meaningful ways and create positive professional relationships. 

The Important Role of Your Own Emotionality

In our most recent installment of this blog series, we highlighted how important your own emotionality is, and how building your own emotional intelligence skills helps you become the best models, guides, and teachers for children.

When it comes to your professional relationships, your own emotionality plays just as important of a role. We cannot control the feelings, actions, and reactions of other people, but we can become aware of our own emotions, how we communicate our feelings and needs, and what our emotional triggers, strengths, and areas of improvement are.

When you are able to reflect on these areas of your emotionality and become more aware, you can apply the same reflective strategies with your co-teachers to begin building trust and establishing consistent communication.

A Co-Teaching Challenge

Whether we realize it or not, many of us tend to fall into familiar patterns and routines out of comfort, convenience, and consistency. This isn’t a bad thing! But when part of our routine is avoiding confrontation, letting things slide until it’s a big problem, pushing down our feelings, or just trying to handle everything on our own instead of asking for support, challenges can certainly arise.

Let’s explore what this can look like with a classroom example: (All names have been changed for the purpose of this blog.)

Melba, Lucas, and Diane are all co-teachers in the Sequoia preschool classroom. It’s nearing the end of the school year, and there has been a general increase in challenging behaviors from the children in their class. At 9:30 am, begin to ECSEL coach, Lauren, stops by for her support visit. 

While the children are playing at different centers, Lauren notices Lucas over at the counter cutting out shapes for an activity, Diane is organizing a center where children are no longer playing, and Melba is telling a child on the other side of the room to stop throwing toys. When the child continues throwing toys while shouting “No!,” she lets out a loud, frustrated sigh and moves across the room to address the problem. 

A minute later, Diane turns off the lights and announces that it’s time to clean up. Melba and Lucas both look surprised and then resigned as the children groan and protest and begin a very chaotic clean-up transition. Lucas continues to cut out the shapes while telling the children closest to him to start cleaning up. Diane begins cleaning up after children at another center, and Melba raises her voice so children in different areas of the room can hear her before stepping out of the room to take a moment to herself.


As a former preschool teacher, I know how easily days in the classroom can look like this, especially at the end of the school year when many teachers are feeling burnt out, checked out, and just trying to get through the day. I’m using this specific example because it is so typical, and we can reflect together on how simple adjustments in our communication with our teams can make a scenario like this unfold much more smoothly and which strategies can help.

Strategies for Co-Teaching Teams

🤔Challenge #1: In the above example, we can see all of the teachers engaged in their own tasks while the children play. Multitasking in a classroom is completely understandable (and often necessary!), but we can also see that the result is children’s behaviors escalating, teachers calling across the room to try and address the behaviors, and then teacher’s own emotions escalating when they need to physically move to help children. 


💡Strategy: Make a plan with your team about which areas of the classroom typically need more support and spread out so the responsibility doesn’t fall on one teacher to address a challenge from across the space. If you need to prep materials for an activity, bring them with you to sit with the children! This may pique children’s curiosity and interest about what you are doing, and can lead to creative conversations or even guide their play.

🤔Challenge #2: As the example continues, we see Diane take the initiative to begin a clean-up transition, but her co-teachers are taken aback by the sudden shift. If the teachers aren’t feeling prepared to clean up, then the children certainly aren’t prepared either, and we can see this leads to dysregulation and chaos.


💡Strategy: We’ve all been there -- the time gets away from us and all of a sudden it’s time to transition to the next part of the day. In a situation like this, even a little bit of notice can make all the difference. Verbalize a “2-minute reminder” to the entire class to give everyone (even teachers) a moment to anticipate a change. It’s possible that the agreed-upon plan was for Diane to start the clean-up transition, but using timers or a transition tool can make this part of your plan go a bit more smoothly for everyone involved.

🤔Challenge #3: At the end of this example, we see that Lucas continued with his current task while asking the children around him to clean up, Diane took cleaning up into her own hands, and Melba was feeling dysregulated and took space from the classroom. 


💡Strategy: Communication is so important, and can really shift the way this scenario plays out in so many ways. 

Lucas did communicate expectations to the children, but his actions of continuing his own task can send a confusing message to children in the moment. Remember, children pick up on your actions and reactions - you are their model and guide! Pausing to clean up with children while narrating what you are doing can keep them on task and show them that it is everyone’s job to clean up right now, including teachers. 

Similarly, Diane can model how to clean up in a center while also prompting children to do the same. Sometimes it feels so much easier to just do things yourself, but what children learn from this is that they can leave a center messy and it will be cleaned up whether they help or not. Give children agency by assigning fun jobs related to the clean-up task!

With Melba, reaching for a strategy like taking space when you are feeling overwhelmed or dysregulated is important and shows self-awareness, but leaving the room without letting others know can add to the stress of the room and create resentment. Talking through what helps you feel better with your co-teachers is a great team-building exercise and also opens the door for communication when there is a challenge.

Not all co-teaching teams consist of three teachers, and the support one classroom receives depends on many different factors. But whether you have one co-teacher, two, or you are a lead teacher with floating support staff, you can still apply these same strategies to boost communication with whomever is a part of your support team.

Long-Term, Community-Centered Strategies 

several preschool teachers sitting together to discuss

Making the time for teachers to sit with their teams and reflect together can help everyone feel on the same page and build trust with their co-workers. Building this into your school routine for all teaching teams is arguably just as important as offering curriculum planning time.

School leaders and administrators can use the following questions to guide teachers to reflect together on the challenges they navigate in the classroom and how they respond. These questions can also be used during Reflective Practice sessions between teachers and administrators to give insight into recurring challenges, areas of strength and growth, and what support is needed to reach long-term professional and personal goals.

Your Emotionality

  1. What causes you to experience heightened emotions (e.g., anger, frustration, disappointment, overwhelm, anxiety, sadness) in the classroom? 
  2. How do you typically express or communicate these heightened emotions to others?
  3. What strategies help you manage your own heightened feelings in the moment? (e.g., taking space, talking through what happened, deep breaths, movement, writing things down)
  4. What can your co-teachers do to help you during a challenging moment? (e.g., tap in and take over, check in with you after, give you space)

Classroom Management

  1. What strategies help you feel organized and ready for the school day? (e.g., making lists, creating schedules, talking with my team in the morning/the night before, planning for the week/month)
  2. How do you respond to challenging behaviors from children? 
  3. Are all team members on the same page when it comes to dealing with challenging behavior? What is your plan for when this happens in your classroom?
  4. How can each team member contribute so teachers feel supported and children are safe?


If this ECSEL story resonated with you or if you are experiencing anything similar in your classroom, we want to hear from you! How do you respond when challenges arise with your co-teaching team? What strategies work well for you when it comes to communicating your feelings and finding solutions? Feel free to comment below! 

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