Doctoral Dissertation Defense: Lawrence White

December 9, 2019

Antoinette Riester-Wood, Ph.D. (from left), Elda E. Martinez, Ed.D., Stephanie Hartzell, Ph.D., and Lawrence J. White

Lawrence White defended his dissertation “A Basic Interpretive Study of Co-Teaching Perceptions: Collaboration of General and Special Education Elementary School Teachers” on Dec. 5 in the Student Engagement Center. His dissertation committee chair is Dr. Stephanie Hartzell, and committee members include Dr. Antoinette Riester-Wood and Dr. Elda E. Martinez.


A Basic Interpretive Study of Co-teaching Perceptions: Collaboration of General and Special Education Elementary School Teachers

Lawrence J. White
University of the Incarnate Word, 2019

Research Focus. Inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms continues to be a focus in the field of education. In inclusive classrooms teamwork, and collaboration between general education teachers, and special education teachers are among the most important factors for student achievement. Co-teaching is an approach that is frequently used by elementary schools when students both with and without disabilities are taught in an inclusive classroom. With co-teaching, a general education teacher, and a special education teacher share the responsibility of planning and teaching students. In order for these students to access the general education curriculum and achieve academic success, general education teachers and special education teachers must collaborate effectively to provide for the needs of these students. Co-teachers must obtain skills in the ability to collaborate to implement the research-based co-teaching models Effective collaboration also depends on teachers having a perception of their roles and their co-workers 'roles that is compatible with their co-workers’ perceptions. Teachers who do not comprehend each other’s roles or their own roles, in regards to educating students, are not able to effectively collaborate to meet the needs of these students. These roles, have not always been well communicated or well understood by either general education teachers or special education teachers. There are numerous benefits, and challenges to teacher collaboration. To date, little evidence exists on how teacher collaboration is implemented and whether general education, and special education teachers value their collaboration equally. The appropriate way to measure effective co-teaching collaboration requires further investigation.

Research Methods. The purpose of this basic interpretive qualitative study was to explore general education and special education teachers’ perceptions toward coteaching in inclusion classrooms, and provide valuable information on relevant content, activities and assignments that focus on collaboration between school professionals. The data collection method was semistructured interviews. The data was analyzed by using the basic interpretive methodology, following the description-reduction-interpretation method. Participants consisted of six elementary general education and six elementary special education teachers with at 4 month to 22 years of teaching experience employed in grades 3-5, the setting was an district located in South Texas. The experience of elementary co-teachers in co-teach classrooms provided descriptive data allowing examination, and analysis of co-teachers’ knowledge, perceptions and implementation of co-teaching to address the following questions: "What factors promote, and hinder collaboration between general and special education teachers in elementary settings? The sub questions were: (a)What perceived skills, and training do general education and special education teachers need to have in regards to co-teaching, and to the various models of co-teaching within the diverse settings? (b) How does the relationship between the collaborators affect the transformational nature of the collaboration? (c) How do the co-teachers measure the success of their collaboration efforts?

Research Results/Findings. The findings strongly suggest that general education and special education co-teachers view collaboration as an effective method of transformational learning and teacher professional development. It demonstrates that through collaboration professionals can create innovative options within a single system of education that is more responsive to the diversity of today's learners. Connections between the findings of this study and the literature on the perceptions of co-teaching collaboration supported the four major themes that emerged from the data. Themes included: relationships between teachers, the need for professional learning communities, challenges to collaboration and positive outcomes of collaboration. These emerged commonalities about components of successful co-teaching and the challenges of co-teaching are supported by research. Successful co-teaching relied on essential elements (collaborative planning, communication skills, partnership relationship, classroom application, knowledge base) and different approaches. The results of the interviews revealed that the majority of co-teachers believed co-teaching contributed to the academic, and social development of their students who were generally receptive to collaborative teaching. The results also showed the differences of opinions between general and special education co-teaching belief on the perceived skills and knowledge required to make co-teaching effective. The research indicated that school district should include on-going professional development to all teachers to best prepare them for co-teaching experiences.

Conclusions From Research. While researching information for the literature review, and collecting data, the researcher realized more research on co-teaching collaboration is needed to fill in gaps. Co-teaching collaboration can look different from classroom to classroom, school to school, and district to district. Because of this, it would be beneficial to interview more teachers on their opinions, and beliefs about co-teaching collaboration. This would be helpful in discovering common themes, and creating generalizations that can improve co-teaching practices. More research is needed about how much co-planning time is adequate for both groups of teachers to feel successful in co-teaching. In addition to the problems just noted, what is essential is that the impact on students of high-quality co-teaching implemented consistently be determined. Teacher, perceptions of co-teaching collaboration outcomes are helpful in that they inform the field concerning priorities and beliefs of the implementers and recipients of co-teaching, but perceptions do not establish an evidence base. What are needed are outcome data, including academic achievement on high-stakes tests as well as curriculum-based measures, discipline referrals and other behavioral indicators, suspensions, retention and dropout information, attendance information and other outcome data.