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Co-teaching and 21st century pedagogy

Colette Murphy

Co-teaching provides a collaborative pedagogy in initial teacher education, whereby co-teachers share expertise to:

  • improve the learning environment for students, and
  • develop each other’s practice.

Sharing of expertise via close collaboration is at the heart of 21st century (21C) pedagogy (Kurstedt & Pizzi, 2018), which requires a shift from traditional didactic teaching to one that involves pupils and teachers in collaboratively endeavouring to use knowledge rather than to store it. Co-teaching supports the development of 21C skills by modelling collaborative ways of learning, and by creating dialogical and imaginative tasks that help pupils to engage in collaborative problem-solving. A key use for co-teaching pedagogy is in initial teacher education, whereby pre-service teachers co-teach alongside in-service teachers, instead of the traditional observe-and-then-take-over approach during school-based teaching.

The term ‘21C pedagogy’ describes a shift from 20th-century (modern) ways of learning and teaching to 21C (postmodern) approaches. Modernism describes society between around the mid-18th century and the 20th century, which saw the development of capitalism, industrialisation, nation states and science. It assumed that people are rational, autonomous individuals who think and act independently, and that the route to human freedom and happiness is via reason and scientific knowledge. However, marginalised people/groups (such as women, indigenous peoples and the working-class) were excluded.

Postmodernism critiques modernist ideas, and is referred to as ‘the Knowledge Age’: an advanced form of capitalism in which knowledge and ideas are the main source of economic growth. New patterns of work and business practices require new kinds of workers with new and different skills. Knowledge is defined for what we can do with information, not for what information is, and is produced by collectivising intelligence. The very definition of knowledge has changed from the idea of stored information to that of knowledge as a ‘form of energy’, which makes things happen; as something we ‘do’, as opposed to that which we ‘have’ (Gilbert, 2005). Scientific concepts are no longer considered as entities, but as tools created in the scientific endeavour; all concepts are culture-dependent, context-bound and subject to change. Andreotti (2009) argues, then, that learning in the postmodern sense is associated with the construction of contingent knowledge, which is adaptable to be altered or replaced as the context changes.

‘Schools need to take account of the new meaning of knowledge and the new contexts and purposes for learning.’

The shift towards 21C learning requires schools and universities to keep pace with changes in social theory, political thought and education in the 21st century. Schools need to take account of the new meaning of knowledge and the new contexts and purposes for learning. Change is no longer seen as a linear progression, but as a ‘series of networks and flows, connections and reconnections that, because they are always forming and reforming, never have time to solidify’ (NZCER, no date). Where modern thought emphasises direction, order, coherence, stability, simplicity, control, autonomy and universality, postmodern thought emphasises fragmentation, diversity, discontinuity, contingency, pragmatism, multiplicity and connections. This has major implications for social theory, political thought and education in the 21st century. Students must be prepared to work productively in collaboration with others. Some 21C skills are summarised in figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Some 21C skills (Murphy, 2016)

Co-teaching and developing 21C initial teacher education pedagogy

The emphasis on 21C learning skills on effective communication and collaboration is modelled in co-taught classrooms, whereby pre-service and in-service teachers plan, teach and evaluate lessons together. They work together during co-taught lessons, altering the order, resources or their roles as they go along. Learners pick up on this behaviour and begin to use it themselves in group work. Such collaboration, in which students are exchanging ideas, is characteristic of the type of collaboration required for 21C learning. Research has shown that co-teaching with pre-service teachers is also a promising vehicle for co-operating teacher professional development (Gallo-Fox & Scantlebury, 2016). They suggest that engaging in authentic work and learning with pre-service teachers might be a way to provide and sustain the type of site-based, in-service professional development that experts consider key to improving instruction in schools. It could be argued that the sharing of expertise via co-teaching between pre-service teachers who are well-prepared to use 21C pedagogy with co-operating teachers who are experienced in ‘what works’ in the classroom could support the transformation of classroom teaching towards 21C pedagogy.


Andreotti, V. (2009). Global Education in the ’21st Century’: two different perspectives on the ‘post-‘ of postmodernism. International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning, 2(2), 5–22.

Gallo-Fox, J., & Scantlebury, K. (2016). Coteaching as professional development for cooperating teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 60, 191–202.

Gilbert, J. (2005). Catching the Knowledge Wave? The Knowledge Society and the future of education. Wellington: NZCER Press.

Kurstedt, R. L., & Pizzi, A. (2018). Sharing Expertise Gained From Online Self-Directed Professional Development: One Teacher’s Journey From Classroom Teacher to Teacher Leader. In Information and Technology Literacy: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (pp. 2130–2150). IGI Global.

Murphy, C. (2016). Coteaching in Teacher Education: Innovative Pedagogy for Excellence. St Albans: Critical Publishing.

New Zealand Council for Education and Research (NZCER) (no date) Postmodernism (webpage). Retrieved from: