Boulder Valley School District

Empowering every student: The impact of co-teaching in BVSD schools

teachers co-teaching in a classroom
Alejandra Corchado-Rodriguez


In the Boulder Valley School District, a different approach to teaching is underway in many classrooms that is reshaping how students learn and teachers teach. These classes are using co-teaching models, a collaboration that nurtures a culture of inclusivity and growth in the classroom. The co-teaching instructional model emphasizes three fundamental pillars: student inclusion, exposure to grade-level content standards for emerging bilinguals, and developing and strengthening skills, abilities, processes and resources among teachers. 

Through the integration of English language development with core subjects like writing and math, educators are ensuring that all students receive the support they need to expand their learning and engagement in the classroom. This collaborative effort not only benefits emerging bilinguals, but also extends its positive impact to all students, enhancing classroom dynamics and fostering a dynamic learning environment. 

Inclusion, Exposure, and the Benefits Beyond Language Learning
“The co-teaching model is a way that multilingual learners can get language support in the classroom without having to be pulled out of content,” shared Kita Murdock, the English Language Development teacher at High Peaks Elementary School. “It was developed to be able to keep those kids in their classroom so they weren't missing anything, but were still getting that support.”

Through collaborative planning and strategic instruction, the two co-teachers – the classroom teacher and an assigned ELD teacher (English Language Development) teacher, who is often bilingual or multilingual – provide scaffolding and support to all students, ensuring no one is left behind. Some of the scaffolds that are provided to classroom teachers include sentence starters, anchor charts, word walls and graphic organizers. All of which are used and helpful for all students. 

Emerald Elementary is one of 16 BVSD schools using the co-teaching model in their classrooms. Emerald Elementary Principal, Samara Williams shared the benefits of the scaffolds to the whole classroom.

“The idea is that if you are working with an ELD teacher and you're the classroom teacher, they are providing you with scaffolds and language structure support that benefit emerging bilinguals, but they also benefit all the other kids,” said Williams.

“After you've used something like a sentence starter for several years, you don't need that scaffold anymore. But when you need it, you have it, and then you're learning the proper way to write a sentence because you had that scaffold.”

Co-teaching takes on various forms in the classroom, often involving parallel teaching where both the ELD teacher and the classroom teacher are actively engaged with all students. Co-teaching can also involve a division of tasks, with one teacher leading the instruction while the other offers personalized guidance to students, particularly during activities.

“You have two teachers working with the whole class instead of one,” explains Williams. ”For example, in our school writing is the hardest subject to teach, so to have two teachers there to provide scaffolding support is just another added bonus, regardless of language proficiency.”

Teacher Collaboration
Crucial to the success of the co-teaching model is the collaboration between ELD teachers  and classroom teachers. In the weekly planning phase of co-teaching, teachers block time to plan their approaches to the curriculum to support all of the students in the classroom in a way that utilizes both the WIDA language development standards and the grade level learning standards. 

“A huge benefit of co-teaching is that there's a lot of intentionality in the way planning happens because we're dedicating 45 minutes every week to a collaborative process for planning that lesson,” shared Williams. 

This focused collaboration between an English language development expert and a classroom teacher is not how planning has happened in the past. 

“That's the thing I really appreciate about the district's expansion of co-teaching is that now I have scheduled planning time with the classroom teachers,” said Murdock. “I can be a big part of the lesson planning and I feel like it's ensuring the four language domains (listening, speaking, reading and writing) are met for our English learners.”

This collaborative approach ensures that strategies are tailored to support language development while addressing content objectives and enhancing the effectiveness of co-teaching in meeting diverse student needs.

“We each take on the approach from the angle of our different instructional or language standards,” said Murdock. “We then meet in the middle during our co-planning sessions and incorporate both standards into the lesson.” 

Teachers are able to take the different techniques they learned from the ELD teacher and utilize them throughout the day in service of emerging bilingual students. 

While also utilizing the same standards, Eisenhower Elementary has taken a slightly different approach to their co-planning sessions.

“I meet with each grade level and I actually plan with the whole grade level,” explained Brie Donnally, the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education Teacher at Eisenhower Elementary.

“This way, all of those teachers can still implement strategies even if they don't all have emerging bilingual kids in their classes,” said Donnally. “The strategies help a lot of kids in their learning and also help when they do have emerging bilingual kids in their classrooms.”

Enhancing Classroom Dynamics
The implementation of co-teaching has garnered positive feedback from both students and teachers. Students say they appreciate the consistent presence of an additional teacher in the classroom, even if they may not fully grasp that language support is part of what is being provided, resulting in an integration of language elements into instruction. 

By keeping language support in the classroom, teachers are avoiding disruptions to students' learning and preserving valuable peer interaction time. Additionally, classroom teachers express appreciation for the collaborative partnership, noting the benefits of having another educator to work with.

“Having the two teachers in a classroom is such a huge benefit,” shared Williams. “If you went into one of my co-teaching classrooms, you would not know which one was the ELD teacher, and which one was the classroom teacher.”

Elaborating on the co-teaching model for emerging bilingual students, Williams shared, “one thing I would say to parents of emerging bilingual students is that in this model, your kid is going to get to learn English in the context of the rest of their school day. They're not learning English separately, it's within their classroom, so there's never a chance that the standards, expectations or the rigor of instruction will be lower,” said Williams. 

“You can maintain those high academic classroom learning expectations while still providing support to learn the language.”

A Vision for the Future
The co-teaching model isn't just a teaching strategy; it's a philosophy that demonstrates a commitment to fostering an inclusive, supportive, and academically rigorous environment where every student has the opportunity to succeed.

“Our English learners don't have time to waste,” expressed Donnally. “And if we're going to instruct them well, we have to be strategic and thoughtful. The more we can be aligned and build capacity and try to make everybody's teaching stronger, the better it is going to be for these kids.”

High Peaks Elementary has formally introduced co-teaching for second, third, and fourth grades, with plans to expand to kindergarten and first grade in the following year, indicating a carefully-paced rollout to ensure successful implementation across grade levels. 

Emerald Elementary has now been utilizing the co-teaching model for over seven years and this year have begun to meet monthly in order to look at student outcome data, the next step after successful implementation of the model for a number of years. 

“It is an enhancement to what was already a really good program,” shared Williams.

Principals in BVSD that utilize co-teaching in their school classrooms have reported increased levels of content mastery in the co-taught areas, improved CMAS scores among those students, and better ACCESS scores which assess a student's English language proficiency in grades K-12.

In the upcoming 2024-2025 school year, all BVSD Kindergarten-8th grade schools with a  building-based ELD teacher will be utilizing the co-teaching model, for a total of 24 schools. Plans for co-teaching to begin at some BVSD high schools are also in the works for the near future. 


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