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Co-Leading Class with Students: Shared responsibility and understanding

By Lauren Angelone / February 2024

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Instructors and students co-leading classes is a strategy to increase equity in the classroom. Providing opportunities for students to lead and shape the class takes into account the unique cultures, needs, and experiences of each student. Co-leading classes alongside students is a strategy based on the research literature in several areas. Culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) supports the notion that instructors should understand and design lessons that are conversant with the variety of cultures in the classroom [1]. CRP includes three components: student learning, cultural competence, and critical consciousness.

This article will explore a co-leading assignment designed and implemented in a university instructional technology course for preservice teachers. Co-leading occurred bi-weekly with planning meetings in alternating weeks (see Figure 1). In this instructional technology class, students were expected to display knowledge of how students learn and of the developmental characteristics of age groups and apply that knowledge to integrate technology appropriately, as well as meet a variety of other objectives. They also were required to use technology for instruction planning to meet curriculum objectives, including the incorporation of learning theory, subject matter, Ohio Learning Standards, and the ISTE Standards for Students. As such, meeting with students to understand what works best for them as cultural beings and learners and then allowing space for them to help put it into practice is a CRP-based strategy that helps students meet the objectives of the course in terms of incorporating learning theory and subject matter to best meet the needs of their future students. In addition, including a reflective component is key to developing culturally relevant practice. “The formation of culturally relevant teaching paradigm becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, without critical reflection” [2].

Figure 1. Co-leading model used in an instructional technology class.
[click to enlarge]

There is significant research on co-teaching in teacher education to help scaffold the learning of teaching [3]. This has often been studied in the context of co-teaching during field experiences [4, 5, 6] as a form of cognitive apprenticeship [7] or practice-based teacher education [8], which benefits both students and instructors.  Co-teaching between faculty members has also been studied to support preservice teachers [3]. In STEM fields in particular, Christopher Emdin [9] defined the strategies of co-teaching and conducting co-generative dialogues with students to design the class with student input in urban environments, and Michelle Dubek and Carol Doyle Jones found that co-teaching between university faculty and preservice teachers developed more integrated STEM teaching and confidence [10]. It is important to note herein the term co-leading, rather than co-teaching, was purposefully used to communicate to students that the instructor with expertise in the content would be planning and teaching, and the students would be asked to provide feedback and share some of the instructional responsibilities to better support all students. This was meant to be a benefit to students in the early years of their coursework toward teacher licensure, rather than a burden. 

In addition to being a strategy to enhance equity, this co-leading model in particular was explored because of the new conditions created during the COVID-19 pandemic. With every variety of online, in-person, and hybrid options being employed at will, student feedback alongside pedagogical idea generating was even more essential to care for each student and to walk alongside them during a traumatic time. The literature on teaching in blended synchronous environments [11, 12] addresses distributing teaching responsibilities to manage the overload that exists when using Zoom to teach, for example. Taken together, the strategy of co-leading with students is a research-based strategy to make the class more engaging, meaningful, and manageable for students and teachers. 

Context and Planning

The co-leading experiences shared here took place in my instructional technology course at Xavier University. This course has both undergraduate and graduate students in early and middle childhood education programs. The course was in a blended format prior to the pandemic, meaning that weeks alternated between in-person and online asynchronous instruction. When the pandemic struck, the in-person weeks were moved to online synchronous instruction via Zoom, and have since moved back. The structure of the class provides an opportunity to meet with small student groups live during class time in the asynchronous weeks (see Figure 1). Students are split into groups of 3–4 and informed that each group will co-lead an in-person week twice throughout the semester.

During the asynchronous week before each group co-leads, that group meets with me, the instructor, to plan and prepare. These meetings took place and continue to take place via Zoom. In the meetings, I outline the goals of co-leading the class, which are to 1) get feedback on the instructional plan for the week and 2) determine where students can help to make changes and/or lead a portion of the class. Then, I screen share my plans within the course module on Canvas. I review each portion of the class, asking for feedback along the way. Finally, I ask students to determine where they may have expertise and/or would like to take over a portion of the class. When the meeting ends, the planning is mostly complete though occasionally students ask for more time to prepare a starter question, for example, and will email it to me later to be placed within the module before class.

Student reflection showed co-leading class with the instructor was engaging and gave them the opportunity to share their own experience, though there were challenges. 

“I thought the co-leading went well. I really enjoyed having input on how we opened the class and was able to put in my personal experience with certain websites.”

“I went through all the Tinkercad lessons [in the module on 3D design and printing] because that was something we discussed doing in our meeting, but also because I thought it was fun and really wanted to be good at it to show the class how to do it.”

“I’m very glad we’re getting this opportunity to help lead in classes to prepare us for later on!” 

The Assignment

Co-leading the class in two separate weeks of the course is an assignment worth 20 points. Students receive points for attending the planning meetings before co-leading, preparing for and carrying out their roles in the co-leading sessions, and writing up a reflection on each of their co-leading experiences. In Canvas, the assignment is worded as follows:

Points will be given for meeting with Dr. Angelone to prepare the week prior, preparing for and actively co-leading the weekly module, and submitting a reflection following each week of co-leading. In the reflection, address your experience co-leading classes on Zoom including what went well and what could be improved. You should be able to submit each reflection separately here and they will be graded when you finish the second reflection. 

Submit your reflection in the week following your co-leading. See the syllabus for your weeks to co-lead.

These reflections were then analyzed for common themes to understand the benefits and drawbacks of co-leading classes with students and to improve ongoing practice. Reflections were coded using an open-ended thematic analysis into themes that will be discussed below. 


The roles that students determined they would play in class varied a good deal. Often, students would take an opening or closing question, monitor the chat, and advise on which portions of class to conduct whole group and which to conduct in small groups or breakout rooms. Occasionally, students would have familiarity with a tool and either show an example of when they used it or lead the class in learning the new tool. In the example in Figure 2, one student used Google Jamboard, a tool that had been used previously in the course, to conduct an interactive getting-to-know-you opener question that incorporated instructional technology. In this opener, each student had to draw what they did over the weekend and the rest of the class had to guess what it was. This activity aligned with culturally relevant pedagogy in that it showcased an age-appropriate use of instructional technology (student learning) alongside allowing students to share their personal experiences (cultural competence).

Figure 2. Student-created Jamboard used as a class opener (names are pseudonyms).
[click to enlarge]

Though experiences co-leading varied, some themes emerged from student reflections. These themes included practice teaching, using personal experience, collaboration, preparation, fun, nerves, and technical issues. A few of the most prevalent themes are shared below.

Practice teaching. The most surprising theme that emerged, and one relevant to teacher education in particular, was that of practice teaching. The design of the co-leading assignment was intended as a culturally relevant strategy in a time of great upheaval, so the idea that students would also see the benefit in its practical applications to their major of choice hadn’t occurred to me. But one of the most common comments in student reflections was that students appreciated the ability to practice teaching, in a scaffolded [13] way with the support of the instructor. This aligned with student learning in culturally relevant practice, in that students felt supported in learning how to teach and getting real practice in doing so, as well as cultural competence as students gained fluency in the culture of teaching.

“Overall, I learned a lot from contributing various activities and discussions. This assignment is an excellent way for us to gently transition into lesson planning and carrying out the lesson planning without the full responsibility. Having you, as the professor, present within the lesson plan discussion allows us to explore and be creative with guidance and support.”

“For one, I felt like it was a good way to start getting used to the idea of actually leading and teaching a class as that is the ultimate goal. For me, I think it is important to start building my confidence up in that area so when the time comes that I’m teaching a class alone, I’ll be better mentally prepared.”

Occasionally, this theme crossed with another theme around the nerves that came with co-leading a college course.

“Before class, I was so nervous to co-lead because I was acting like the teacher for a small part of the class. Throughout my time at Xavier University, I have not had many opportunities that forced me to actually put into practice what I was learning. For this co-leading assignment, I did not have any expectations going into it, but I definitely learned a lot after the experience.”

Using personal experience. Student reflections also noted that co-leading class offered them the opportunity to use their personal experience, which supports culturally relevant instruction in that instruction affirmed the knowledge and experience students brought to the classroom. This supported their learning as they integrated prior knowledge with new applications of the tools used in class. Students were able to provide examples or lead the class in the use of the new tool, while the instructor would further apply the tool to classroom learning at the appropriate level. Graduate students in particular enjoyed this aspect of the class, as many of them brought direct experiences with classroom teaching.

“I first want to say that I enjoyed the overall chance to co-lead the class. I felt it was necessary to experience sharing information and ideas with my peers about platforms that I have used in and out of the classroom that benefits students as well as professional growth. Prior to our meeting to discuss roles for groups co-leading I was hopeful that because of my recent role in teaching remotely that I would have some insight into what we were learning about in class this week.”

Fun. Another common theme was that overall, students enjoyed co-leading the course. They considered it more engaging and they found that they liked some aspects of preparation as they hoped that their preparation would make the class better. The theme of fun also crossed over with the theme of collaboration, which I believe is related to cultural competence in that it supports student learning in ways that appreciate their cultures and how they learn best. As this was a group effort, groups that worked well together found that aspect of co-leading fun as well.

“Overall I enjoyed the opportunity to co lead and I think it's an effective way to keep us even more engaged because a lot of what we learn about is already very interesting and fun.”

“I have gotten to know my group really well and I enjoy collaborating with them a lot, one part that I enjoy about being the group leading is that we split up and get to work with the other groups as well and hear the thoughts and ideas on the content from that week.”

The Downsides

While much of the experience of co-leading was positive for students, some parts challenged students in different ways. In the last theme, preparation was seen as a positive, but in other cases, lack of preparation made students feel as though they weren’t particularly effective. For example, students felt that they could have prepared better questions for the discussion. In addition, students also experienced technical issues at times, that left them frustrated with the experience. A theme that crossed with these was also collaboration, as some groups worked better together than others.

“Our questions were semi-engaging, but we could have definitely tried a bit harder and pushed to change the repetitive classroom formula.”

“When it came time to help my classmates, I was unable to share my screen for some reason so I could not show them the short story I made. Because of this, it was definitely harder for me to help them as I could only talk through the specific algorithms.”

“Our group definitely slacked off a bit.”

To counteract some of these difficulties in the support of culturally relevant classrooms, I recommend explicitly discussing preparation and student collaboration as part of the planning meeting with students. Making clear how students may prepare and collaborate differently, or on different timelines, can facilitate understanding and shared responsibility. I would also reassure students that technical difficulties are an opportunity to practice troubleshooting, which is another objective of the Instructional Technology course.

Closing Thoughts

Co-leading class with students is a culturally relevant strategy that is not without challenges. In this experience, the benefits outweighed the challenges as students were able to gain experience teaching, incorporating their personal experience, and enjoy the process as engagement increased. By sharing responsibility through this co-leading model, students gained insight and understanding into the teaching process around the use of Instructional Technology. As in previous work in co-teaching within STEM higher education classrooms [10], this resulted in students feeling more confident in their teaching. Students learned the required content in this way while also participating in a model that they can use with their future students to co-construct educational spaces and better understand the cultural perspectives of their students. Future research could include further classroom examples of co-leading models in various subject areas across teacher education. Additionally, research in other disciplines outside of teacher education, such as in business and the military could also explore creating a more engaged and equitable classroom setting. Working with students to understand what works best for them as well as how they might teach the content, ultimately communicates to students that you care about who they are and what they have to offer.


[1] Ladson-Billings, G. Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal 32, 3 (1995), 465–491. 

[2] Howard, T. C. Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory Into Practice 42, 3 (2003), 195–202.

[3] Cannaday, J. et al. Faculty perceptions of course attributes, resources, and attitudes for a successful co-teaching experience with preservice teacher educators. Teacher Education Quarterly 48, 4 (2021), 7–27.

[4] Bacharach, N. L., Heck, T. W.  and Dahlberg, K. R. What makes co-teaching work? Identifying the essential elements. College Teaching Methods & Styles Journal (CTMS) 4, 3(2008), 43–48.

[5] Darragh, J. J., Picanco, K., E., Tully, D. and Henning, A. S. When teachers collaborate, good things happen: Teacher candidate perspectives of the co-teach model for the student teaching internship. Association of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges of Teacher Education Journal 8, 1 (2011), 83–109.

[6] Martin, S. N. Learning to teach science. In W. M. Roth and K. Tobin (Eds.), The world of science education: Handbook of research in North America. Sense Publishers, 2009, 567–586.

[7] Collins, A., Brown, J. S.,  and Holum, A. Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator 15, 3 (1991), 6–11.

[8] Dutro, E. and Cartun, A. Cut to the core practices: Toward visceral disruptions of binaries in PRACTICE-based teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education 58 (2016), 119–128.

[9] Emdin, C. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood-- and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality pedagogy and urban education. Beacon Press, Boston, 2016.

[10] Dubek, M. and Doyle-Jones, C. Faculty co-teaching with their teacher candidates in the field: Co-planning, co-instructing, and co-reflecting for STEM education teacher preparation. The Teacher Educator 56, 4 (2021), 445-465.

[11] Bower, M. et al. Design and implementation factors in blended synchronous learning environments: Outcomes from a cross-case analysis. Computers & Education 86 (2015), 1–17.

[12] Bower, M., Lee, M. J. W., and Dalgarno, B. Collaborative learning across physical and virtual worlds: Factors supporting and constraining learners in a blended reality environment. British Journal of Educational Technology 48, 2 (20170, 407–430.

[13] Vygotsky, L. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978.

About the Author

Lauren Angelone is an Associate Professor of Science Education and Instructional Technology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a former middle school teacher with a Ph.D. in cultural foundations, technology, and qualitative inquiry from Ohio State University. Her research interests include blended learning, STEAM, globalizing education, social media, and AI. 

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