Depending on others: A qualitative study of collaborative teaching teams in inclusive classrooms

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Mara Sapon-Shevin


Inclusive education, Collaborative teaching

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Elementary Education and Teaching | Special Education and Teaching


Despite an increase in the practices of collaboration and inclusion, many educators find the actual transition from a traditional classroom to collaborative/inclusive classroom to be challenging. Since these practices pre-suppose the continual negotiation of classroom authority and responsibility, collaborating educators are forced to create and maintain complex relationships with their fellow team members, relationships that are not found in traditional classrooms. How do teachers and teaching assistants themselves understand the relationships they form working in collaboration within inclusive classrooms?

In an attempt to address that question, this qualitative study described and analyzed the experiences of five teams, each consisting of a regular education teacher, a special education teacher, and one or more teaching assistants. The teams worked together every day in urban elementary inclusive classrooms. This study relied upon in-depth interviews and observations to explore how members examined their collaborative relationships and to answer the research questions: How do elementary and special educators (teachers and teaching assistants) understand their relationships in collaborative work? and What meanings do they make of the collaborative work? In this study, a qualitative methodology, incorporating narrative accounts, made it possible to value the rich diversity of the participants' lived experiences, as well as their own understandings of their collaborative teaching relationships.

The theoretical orientation of symbolic interactionism and the use of the constant comparative method of data analysis produced the themes that became the chapters of this study: "The context of collaborative teaching in inclusive classrooms," "membership and position in collaborative teams," and "the work of collaborative teams." The study discusses the implications of the findings for teachers, teaching assistants, teacher educators and administrators as they prepare to participate in and support collaborative teaching teams.


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