Effective Team Teaching
Strategies for effective team teaching.
The tips represented in this KB come from the article "Team Teaching" written by Kathryn Plank from Otterbein University.
Tips for Effective Team Teaching
Team teaching has the potential to have a profound impact on both teaching and learning. Many who have taught as part of a team report the break from solitary practice brings renewed excitement for teaching and the course that makes them better teachers. It also creates a learning environment in which students can explore multiple perspectives and ways of knowing. Of course, along with the benefits come many challenges.
Don't expect to save time...but value what you gain from the time you invest
A common misconception for those starting out or considering team teaching is that breaking up the course into smaller pieces will save time for those involved. The truth is that while the content you may be responsible for facilitating may be less, team teaching introduces new kinds of work that can quickly eat up any time savings you thought you might have enjoyed. Team teaching at its best isn't about several people presenting content in a vacuum. It involves coordinating your teaching with that of others, discussing the ways in which student assessment will be done consistently throughout the semester, and building relationships of trust and respect for your team members.
Know why you are doing it...and share your reasons with students (and team members)
One of the benefits of team teaching is that it can force you to explain the rationale for the ways in which you are teaching to your other team members. This process can reveal past assumptions and approaches that may no longer be relevant or may be in conflict with the assumptions and approaches of your team members. On the other side of this topic is the need to present a coherent message and vision for how the course will be taught to students, who may have questions and concerns about how to navigate this new kind of teaching. Providing students with a rationale for why the course is being co-taught, how and when they should engage with each team member, and the ways in which their work will be assessed can help ease students' concerns.
Get to know each other as teachers...and help students get to know you as a team
Much of the early work in team teaching is focused on the course learning outcomes and the activities and teaching approaches that will be used to achieve them. Regardless of the ways in which content is distributed, team teaching involved less personal autonomy than traditional teaching. Trust and compromise are key areas that need to be attended to. Have conversations about your teaching philosophy, teaching methods, past teaching challenges and solutions, and ways in which you resolve conflict in your class. These will provide others with a better sense of the way you approach teaching. Share the areas of the course where you feel more confident and less secure. Be aware, as well, that your team members may have dramatically different approaches and you may need to talk about you with will mess these differences into a coherent approach. As you teach your course, let students see that you have different approaches, that you are OK with those differences, and reinforce that your team-teaching approach is meant to build on those differences. It is a feature, not a bug.
Plan together early...and often
Team teaching will involve spending time early on planning activities, identifying readings, and developing assessment and feedback strategies. During the semester, you should plan on having ongoing meetings to address the issues that will inevitably arise — particularly around major assessment activities. Viewing these times as professional development opportunities instead of a burden of team teaching can help, as it is rare for instructors to have time to stop and reflect on their teaching. Implicit in this, however, is the understanding by administrators that you need this time during the semester to be successful in your team teaching assignment.
Explore your differences...and show integration
Regardless of how you intend to deliver instruction (multiple instructors teaching at the same time, or separate instructors teaching at different times in the semester, for example), it is important for team members to highlight and value the multiple perspectives being presented through the course. In many cases, the presentation of multiple perspectives is meant to prepare students for the kinds of work they will be asked to do in their profession, for example. It can expose students to different ways of approaching questions and making decisions. Showing students that this is intentional may put them at ease. Remember that students can be stressed by multiple perspectives at first, particularly while they are trying to master their basic understanding of content.
Feel free to disagree with each other...but present a united front to students
A common challenge to team teaching centers around the assessment of student work. Students will struggle to understand to which standard they will be held when they submit work. This can be made more difficult if the course is broken into one instructor at at time, as this may not provide them enough time to gain an understanding of what is expected of them from each team member. While you can and should spend time before the semester discussing assessment approaches, inevitably you will experience problems with the implementation of that plan. Know that it is fine to disagree and challenge team members' assessment perspectives, students should see a unified front. You do not want students to find a weakness in the team process and approach one team member who they perceive as an "easy grader" for example. When approached by students, avoid exposing any conflict in the grading process. Leveraging rubrics can prevent these conflicts from occurring in the first place as it makes explicit the elements a team member may focus on in the grading process.
Be prepared to learn...about the content, about teaching, and about yourself
While team-teaching is often justified from the positive outcomes they facilitate for students, it is equally beneficial to those teaching, as well. It can be an effective way of being exposed to the ways of teaching, new perspectives on engaging students, and appreciating different perspectives on course content.