A Peer Reviewed Journal

Volume 1, Number 4

August 1, 2000

© 2000 Karin Goetz and EGallery

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Perspectives on Team Teaching

A Semester I Independent Inquiry

by Karin Goetz

for Dr. Michele Jacobsen

Introduction and Purpose

The purpose of this investigation is to identify various types of team teaching, to present views of experienced team teachers, to analyze the issues involved with team teaching, and finally to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of team teaching based upon research literature, teacher experiences, and student perspectives.

Independent inquiry into team teaching began to interest me during my community/workplace (C/W) experience. My C/W partner and I did a form of team teaching with some eager grade four students on the four Rs of recycling. We presented some information to these young recyclers, each taking turns for a few minutes at a time. We later realized that this was a good way to keep the children's attention and interest level up, as we each brought to light different aspects of those four Rs. In retrospect, we believed the children could also benefit from seeing adults collaborate and cooperate on a goal, which some students may not see in their regular, single-teacher classroom. Another event that stimulated my interest in team teaching was a session I attended a year ago at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Two teachers that team together collaboratively presented their method of team teaching in a particularly effective session. A collaborative method of teaching strikes me as being learner-based, efficient and also fun. Further reading and research into a variety of team teaching resources has revealled to me that there seem to be as many types of team teaching as there are team teachers!

Teaming To Teach: Operational Definitions

Team teaching can be defined as a group of two or more teachers working together to plan, conduct and evaluate the learning activities for the same group of learners. Quinn and Kanter (1984) define team teaching as "simply team work between two qualified instructors who, together, make presentations to an audience." There appear to be two broad categories of team teaching:

When instructors team teach the same group of students at the same time (Category A), there are a number of different roles that these team teachers might perform.  For monetary and spatial reasons, this type of team teaching usually involves two partners. Six models of team teaching have been identified by Maroney (1995) and Robinson and Schaible (1995). Category A team teaching usually involves a combination of these models according to the personalities, philosophies or strengths of the team teachers as well as the personalities and strengths of the learners. Category B team teaching consists of a variety of team teaching models, in which the instructors work together but do not necessarily teach the same groups of students, or if they do, they do not teach these students at the same time. This category of team teaching can take many forms: Discussions With Experienced Team Teachers

In a school with an enrollment of almost 2000, students can easily lose their sense of identity. I had the opportunity to discuss team teaching with two experienced educators who shared some insights and observations based on their own practice in a large high school. In part to help students feel less alienated, and in part to make more sense of how mathematics and chemistry are interrelated, these two high school teachers combined their skills and subject areas to teach the same cohort group of approximately fifty students from Grade 10 through Grade 12. This idea did not originate from administration; instead it evolved from the two teachers themselves. The two happened to share an office and learned that they also shared common beliefs about learning and students. They discussed the idea for about a year before implementing a trial cohort teaching program. They report that the greatest organizational challenge was squeezing the cohort group into the master timetable, as the students and teachers involved in the program would be together for a two-period block of time, and for three instructional years.

The day-to-day running of the program began with separating the class into two groups: the math teacher would involve one group in math activities while the chemistry instructor would perform an activity with the other group. Later the teachers would switch groups. This model incorporated flexibility not usually available in a traditional high school class setting; small group sessions were formed as the need arose and the schedule could be altered to allow time for expanding a mathematical concept or finishing a chemistry experiment.

The chemistry teacher indicated that an advantage to this form of team teaching was akin to attending daily professional development seminars. This teacher was questioning his/her own teaching as well as learning from his/her teaching partner. In addition, his/her partner was listening and sharing; s/he was not isolated like so many teaching colleagues. This teacher noticed that team teaching was more time-efficient with regard to content as s/he did not have to explain the various mathematical techniques required in chemistry. S/he could focus instruction more on the science of chemistry and the bigger picture of how topics connected to each other and how students might make sense of this information.

For the chemistry teacher, the advantages of the cohort program for the students were that common chemistry and mathematical concepts were first introduced in math class and then applied in the chemistry class. In his/her opinion, this interdisciplinary learning reinforced understanding of the new concepts. This group of students had two human resources, and two different opportunities to understand new ideas. The students also observed the adults planning in front of them, perhaps in a sometimes disorganized fashion, but they knew that these teachers were trying to figure out the best approach to enable the students to understand the concepts presented to them. Another advantage of this program was the increased opportunity for bonds to form among students in this very large school. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs (Gawel, 1997), a sense of belonging is one of the conditions that must be met in order to increase one's desire to fulfill their potential.

A disadvantage to team teaching mentioned by the chemistry teacher was the general lack of support from his/her colleagues; they resented this program because they believed, albeit incorrectly, that the two cohort instructors had chosen elite students, which elevated the cohort class's average and lowered the average mark in other classes. The chemistry teacher admitted that the cohort program was set up for students following the academic stream, and also explained that no special selection process was used. From the students' perspective, the main disadvantage was that they were exposed to only one teacher's methods in each of the two subjects throughout the three grades. These students were also grouped together for the three years, which meant that disagreements or personality conflicts among students had less opportunity to defuse than they might have in a non-cohort setting.

How does the teacher know when the students have integrated the material from both classes into their knowledge base? The chemistry teacher explained it this way: "the teacher can tell the students things, but it is only when the students independently use what was learned in an application that it makes sense to them". Accordingly, the two teachers would attempt to teach concepts so that the students would "trip over" these concepts when they needed to apply them. Combining the curricula was the vehicle for giving the students a chance to connect the chemistry and math understandings, and to obtain a bigger picture of their learning.

Unfortunately, this cohort program is not currently running as it created a timetabling fiasco that disrupted the schedule for other students and teachers. In this case, the administrative and scheduling concerns outweighed the pedagogical advantages for students, and the cohort program was discontinued.

Reflections from a Grade 1 / Grade 2 Multi-Aging Team Teacher

In order to balance my research, I also talked to an experienced teacher whose initial experience with team teaching was less than positive. This elementary teacher team-taught in the mid 1970s when walls were being torn down to make space for the open classroom era. It was believed that the open area concept would enable children to live and learn from everybody in one giant area. At the time, this teacher was a recent education graduate with wonderful ideals of openness and fun, and happened to be partnered with a rather strict, traditional and more experienced colleague. The two were to team teach a Grade 1 / Grade 2 split class, building upon the theory that younger children learn from older children. Unfortunately for these two teachers, there was not much time for professional development or training on team teaching approaches before the start of the school year.

This teacher admitted that it was difficult working with someone who had such a different philosophy, but that it is possible to turn this into a positive challenge and growth opportunity. This teacher felt that the advantages of team teaching include the time available to observe students while the other teacher is instructing, the chance to work with smaller groups of students, and the possibility of learning a great deal from a fellow teacher. As a result of the team teaching, this teacher believed that the students received more individualized attention, experienced two different approaches to teaching, and also learned from interacting with their older classmates.

Unfortunately, for this teacher, the disadvantages of team teaching were great. This teacher felt that the rift between two different teaching philosophies created a chasm in the team's working relationship. The teacher insists that team teaching partners should be able to choose each other. Another potential concern is sharing the workload; each partner must contribute equally or the partnership will not function to its full capacity. This teacher did not feel that an equitable workload arrangement was achieved in the team teaching partnership. This teacher also believes, in retrospect, that students must have felt overwhelmed by the size of the class; many of them came from a family setting with one or two children, and were enrolled in a classroom with more than fifty other children! Looking back, this teacher believes that the inevitably high noise level may have impacted the children with attention deficit disorders moreso than their peers.

This teacher had a negative team teaching experience, and believes that this less positive team teaching arrangement was partly a result of the differing sets of teaching beliefs and values, the inability to choose one's own team teaching partner, and because of beliefs that the Grade 2 children could not help the Grade 1 newcomers very much. As the year progressed, the two teachers ended up each taking one grade and teaching them independently.

Issues Involved in Team Teaching

Team Teaching: Voluntary or Imposed?

An important variable to consider is whether the inception of the team teaching plan originated from the administrators or from the teachers. With whom the idea originated appears to play an important role in the success of the team, based upon experiences of the team teachers in this research inquiry. The cohort program team teachers developed their version of team teaching from the grassroots upward; they had known one another for several years and knew that they shared similar philosophies about learning and students. From their common way of thinking evolved the conception of team teaching math and chemistry. Both team members were already in agreement about many team teaching issues and the team teaching journey became a positive learning experience for both the students and the teachers.  On the other hand, the school administration forced the Grade 1/Grade 2 Multi-Aging team together. The elementary teacher felt that they were thrown into in the same classroom without adequate training or prior knowledge of the rationale behind team teaching. Administration decided on the arrangement before these two teachers even had a chance to meet, let alone have an opportunity to talk to one another about their teaching philosophies, team roles and objectives. From this teacher's perspective, the team effort was not very successful as a result.

Selecting a Team Teaching Partner

Some teachers are convinced that there is only one perfect partner teacher for them; others feel that the philosophies of team teachers must be identical. Others insist that team members should not be clones of each other as differences can contribute to creativity and growth of the individual team members. In a study done in Washoe County School District, team teachers listed philosophies, classroom environments, methods of discipline and personality types as their main concerns when teaming up with another teacher (Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher-Researcher Group, 1996). Questions to ask oneself about a potential teaching partner include, are they child-centered or curriculum-centered? Does this person have a developmental view of children or a skills-oriented view? Is this a person I can work with in the upcoming school year?

Robinson and Schaible (1995) recommend that collaborative team teaching be limited to two people, as good team teaching is too complex with more than two teachers. They insist that the prospective team teaching partner be someone possessing a "healthy psyche": someone who does not demand power or control as well as someone who is not defensive nor easily offended.

Roles in Groups of Three or More

Often there is need for a team leader when the team is larger than two or three members. The team leader is in charge of internal operations of the team, such as setting up meetings and coordinating schedules. The team leader is also responsible for external operations, for example communicating with department heads to ensure that the team is meeting departmental goals or that the resources and support are in place. The role of each team member is to participate in team discussion and planning sessions. The members must act responsibly and follow through on decisions made by the team within the timeframe decided upon by the team.

Planning

Prior to implementation, the team members should have sufficient professional development in the area of team teaching; they should understand the philosophy behind team teaching and the rationale of how it will fit with the rest of the departmental program. Team teaching partners need time to foster a trusting and open relationship in which team-building discussions are encouraged, and as well they need to be clear about their responsibilities and the time requirements involved with their particular form of team teaching.

Following implementation of a team teaching program, educators must then continue to "identify, implement and analyze the variables needed for every student to succeed" (Brandenburg, 1997). Team members teaching the same class at the same time should meet daily or weekly to make important decisions about: (1) what will be presented (e.g., the units, lesson objectives) and in what order, (2) how the material is to be presented (e.g., to a large or small group presentation), (3) who is to present the information, (4) how the students will be assessed, and (5) how small groups will be organized and which team teacher will be assigned to each small group.

After the team teaching program has been in effect for a few weeks or months, the team members should focus on improving their team teaching program by posing questions such as: (1) How can the class activities be improved? (2) What problems have arisen? And, (3) How can these problems be solved?

Dealing With Tension and Conflict

Even when team teachers are great friends, team teaching situations are seldom without conflict. Team teaching tends to expose each partner's professional and personal points of view more than the traditional one-teacher-per-classroom setting. These varying perspectives may lead to clashes. The challenge is turning such conflict or tension into a constructive learning situation in which the differences between partner teachers can be used to improve their team teaching instead of corrupting it. The team partners should attempt to acknowledge the team member's strengths, interests and goals when conducting meetings and assigning responsibilities. Robinson and Schaible (1995) even recommend that team teaching partners "practice disagreeing amicably." An example they provide vividly demonstrates the idea of an amicable disagreement: one team teaching partner was dominating the class until his partner delivered a "harmless yet firm kick under the desk" to refocus the soliloquizing teacher and remind him of the team teaching spirit. Other concerns usually deal with procedural problems, such as setting agendas, keeping records and scheduling teamwork. The concerns may shift toward student-related issues, such as planning to deal with individual students. Later, concerns may become more inwardly directed: team members worry about their professional growth. Team teaching partners need to be able to negotiate and discuss concerns in a way that is mutually beneficial.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Team Teaching

Team Teaching has a myriad of benefits and drawbacks from both the instructor's and the student's perspective. The following section highlights the major advantages and disadvantages of team teaching from the teacher and student points of view.

Advantages of Team Teaching for the Instructor

Working as part of a team has a multitude of advantages: it gives the participating team teacher a supportive environment, allows for development of new teaching approaches, aids in overcoming academic isolation, increases the likelihood of sounder solutions regarding the discipline of problematic students and augments the opportunity for intellectual growth.

Team members are part of a supportive environment in which they are exposed to different styles of planning, organization, and class presentation. This gives the team members an opportunity to develop and enhance their own teaching approaches and methods.  Another benefit of team teaching is that working closely with one or more colleagues enables teachers to overcome the isolation inherent in teaching. When an instructor teaches solo, she rarely has the time or the opportunity for interacting with her fellow teachers, even though she is surrounded by educational colleagues. By working together, team teachers can discuss issues relating to students, such as behavioral expectations, student motivation and teaching policies, and end up with improved solutions. Robinson and Schaible (1995) describe each team member as a sounding board for sharing the joys and the disappointments of particular class sessions. When team teaching involves interdisciplinary subjects, each member can gain enlightenment about lesser-known fields, and therefore grow intellectually.

Disadvantages for the Instructor

The primary disadvantage to team teaching appears to be the element of time: the time required prior to the implementation of the team teaching partnership for professional development, the many meetings needed during the running of the program as well as the numerous impromptu chats that are bound to arise from such an endeavor. Ironically, the time factor that is so necessary to team teaching can also be divisive as it may lead to conflict. Long before the teachers begin their first class teaching together, intensive staff development in the area of team teaching may be necessary. This training may involve learning the rationale behind team teaching, shared readings and discussion, learning cooperative skills to enable a positive partnership to evolve, as well as learning a variety of time management skills to ensure smooth operation in meetings and in the classroom.

While the course is running, time will be taken up by innumerable planned and spontaneous meetings dealing with planning the course, agreeing on guidelines for such issues as consistency when grading writing or tests, how to deal effectively with difficult students, how to improve the content of lessons and the manner in which they are delivered.

Ironically, the time required to function effectively as a team may increase the probability of personality conflicts arising between team members. On one hand, these differences may lead to renewed insights and understanding between the team members, but on the other hand, an irreparable rift between the colleagues may result. When mediation cannot mend the situation, separation is often the best alternative, as students can sense the negative tension between the educators in front of them and this awkward situation will detract from the studentsí learning.

Advantages of Team Teaching for the Student

Team teaching can open a student's eyes to accepting more than one opinion and to acting more cooperatively with others. Team teaching may even provide educational benefits such as increasing the student's level of understanding and retention, in addition to enabling the student to obtain higher achievement. Exposure to the views of more than one teacher permits students to gain a mature level of understanding knowledge; rather than considering only one view on each issue or new topic brought up in the classroom, two or more varying views help students blur the black-and-white way of thinking common in our society, and see many shades of gray. In addition, diverse perspectives encourage students to consider the validity of numerous views. The variety of teaching approaches used by the team can also reach a greater variety of learning styles (Brandenburg, 1997).

The cooperation that the students observe between team teachers serves as a model for teaching students positive teamwork skills and attitudes (Robinson and Schaible, 1995). In a collaborative team teaching experience (when the two teachers present their respective content to the same class at the same time) the students witness and partake in a dynamic display of two minds and personalities. The benefits of collaborative learning include higher achievement, greater retention, improved interpersonal skills and an increase in regard for group work for both students and teachers (Robinson and Schaible, 1995).

Potential Disadvantages of Team Teaching for the Student

While team teaching may prove advantageous for many students, some students may feel frustration and discontentment about having more than one teacher. The potential for diversity and ambiguity within team teaching may prove disconcerting for some students who might be become confused by more than one way of looking at issues or grading assignments. These students may be unwilling to try out new learning techniques, such as small-group work, in this different team teaching environment.

When team teaching involves two instructors teaching the same class at the same time, the inevitability of larger class sizes may be a detriment for some students, particularly students with attention deficit disorders, or students who feel uncomfortable or anonymous in large group settings. Also, a clever student may attempt to play one teacher against the other in order to improve his/her grades. This is one of the many reasons that team teachers have to maintain a common and united front, and continually discuss the numerous team teaching issues and concerns in ongoing communication.

Concluding Remarks

The issues surrounding team teaching are numerous and complex. No single model of team teaching will automatically result in success for a given teaching situation. Any team teaching program must be customized to suit the curriculum(s), teachers and students. Even in situations where the team members are teaching a course that they have previously taught together, new and distinct groups of students will progress through the program from one semester to another. The different learners will influence the focus of the curriculum, the direction of discussions, and the interaction of the instructors, which creates a new learning experience for all those involved.

Throughout the literature on team teaching, including the reflections by teachers who have teamed during their career, certain key elements appear to be necessary for a successful team teaching program: (1) compatibility of team members, (2) shared commitment to team teaching and ongoing communication, (3) a keen interest in connecting the content or curriculum to real life, and (4) a strong desire to ignite studentsí thirst for knowledge. Also, the program goals and philosophies, as well as the roles of the teachers and administration need to be well-defined.

Although at the outset, team teaching will inherently require more time and necessitate more compromises than other educational approaches, the advantages to both the educators and the students appear to make team teaching enormously worthwhile. The extra time taken up by staff development and daily or weekly meetings provide a richer learning environment for the students and the teachers. Team teaching can make learning a cooperative and growing process for both students and the teachers.

For the students, being exposed to more than one teacher's point of view might cause confusion and even bewilderment. On the other hand, hearing two or more perspectives in the classroom likely encourages intellectual stimulation, reinforcement of new concepts, and openness to a variety of outlooks and interpretations, particularly as we recognize the need to respect the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of students. Therefore, to promote a culture of intellectual inquiry and scholarship, the discomfort of a few may be to the ultimate benefit of the many.

As a student teacher in a junior high school classroom, I have recently experimented with various forms of team teaching with my partner teacher. Although we were placed together by subject area rather than philosophical ideals, and our partnership is akin to that of mentor and pupil rather than equal partner teachers, this experience has been a positive one and has given both of us a taste of team teaching. Team teaching may not be for everyone; many teachers prefer to be the only person in charge of their students' learning. However, team teaching will be attractive to those who want to make learning a joint life experience between the team of teachers and their students.



References

Gawel, J. (1997) Herzberg's theory of motivation and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. (ERIC Document Reproductive Service No. ED 421 486).

Maroney, S. (1995) Team Teaching. [On-line]. Available: http://www.wiu.edu/users/mfsam1/TeamTchg.html (14 October 1999)

Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher-Researcher Group. (1996). Team teaching. Peterborough NH: Crystal Springs Books. [On-line]. Available: http://www.crystalsprings.com/shopsite_sc/store/html/5027W4.htm

Quinn, S. & Kanter, S. (1984). Team Teaching: An Alternative to Lecture Fatigue. (JC 850 005) Paper in an abstract: Innovation Abstracts (Eric Document Reproductive Service No. ED 251 159).

Robinson, B. & Schaible, R. (1995). Collaborative teaching: Reaping the benefits. College Teaching, 43 (2), 57-60.

Rumsey, D. J. (1999). Cooperative teaching opportunities for Introductory Statistics teachers. Mathematics Teacher, 92 (8), 734-737.

Brandenburg, R. (1997). Team Wise School of Knowledge: An Online Resource About Team Teaching. [On-line]. Available: http://www.uwf.edu/coehelp/teachingapproaches/team/

Van Vleck, J. and Bickford, D. (1997). Reflections on Artful Teaching. Journal of Management Education, November.


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