Team Teaching – practical ways to structure and organise it

Team teaching can be both an incredible privilege and challenge all at the same time! One teacher recently described team teaching as going on a blind date and getting married! And it can be like that. However, with some simple structures and strategies team teaching can be the best teaching years of your career. Let’s explore…

What is Team Teaching? Team teaching is when two (or more) teachers equally share the responsibility of the learning for the students in the classroom. It is different from job sharing where one teacher might teach three days a week and the other two days. In a team teaching environment, both teachers interact with all the students at different times. There are six widely accepted models used in classrooms and you may use several of these over the course of a day or week.

6 Ways to Team Teach:

  1. One Teach One Observe: While one teacher is delivering instruction to the class, the other teacher observes specific students and collects data. This may be for an IEP or a behavioural analysis. It is important for both teachers to make time to analyse and act upon the information collected.
  2. One Teach One Assist: One teacher takes on the primary responsibility for the instruction while the other assists by roaming around the class, helping individuals and manages behaviour.
  3. Parallel Teaching: The class is spilt into two groups and both teachers teach the same instruction to each group.
  4. Rotational Teaching: Each teacher plans and is responsible for a different aspect of a lesson. Students are divided into 2 to 4 groups and they rotate around the ‘stations’ including 1-2 independent work stations.
  5. Alternative Teaching: One teacher teaches to the majority of the class, while the other takes small groups to work with. This might be an extension, catch up or remedial group of the same or different lesson.
  6. Tag Teaching: Both teachers are at the front of the class teaching together. Here teachers plan together and share equal responsibility for the content and learning. This teaching maybe scripted or spontaneous.

It is important to note these styles are mix and match and there is ‘no one size fits all’ formula and that both Teachers have equal status in all six models. Of course, there are pluses and minuses for these approaches…

The Advantages of Team Teaching:

Whilst we know that all students don’t learn at the same rate, team teaching gives your learners the opportunity to have a more personalised and expertise rich experience in the classroom. Team teaching allows teachers to work from their strengths and have their weaknesses remedied, meaning students receive a higher level of instruction in all subjects. Research shows an increase in quality teaching as each teacher approaches topics from a different angle.  Evaluation can be less onerous, more insightful and balanced when a team approach is used. Responsibilities are spread and working closely alongside colleagues builds a stronger community in a school. Teachers can share insights with one another, give new ideas and try out different strategies, as well as learn from each other. Shared decision making can boost moral and self confidence.

The Disadvantages of Team Teaching:

On the flip side team teaching is not always successful. If a teacher is fixed in his or her ways and not flexible in their thinking, team teaching could be a challenge. Personality clashes often occur and the vulnerability of working alongside another colleague can cause teachers to worry about the fear of failure or humiliation. Some teachers also fear the loss of control. Team teaching can be more demanding on a teacher’s time and energy and finding a mutually agreeable time for planning and evaluation is sometimes a challenge.

The approach of team teaching is not the only answer to challenges faced in education. It requires planning, skilled management, willingness to risk change & failure.  It takes humility, open mindedness, imagination, and creativity. Experienced teachers comment, “the results are worth it”

Success Strategies & Best Practice:

  • Plan together: Two teachers bring a rich expertise and experience so take time to work out each other’s strengths and how best to use these. Mix and match the six ways to team teach throughout the day and even lesson. It is recommended you spend 15 minutes each morning going through your daily plan and aligning your day. Use this time to ‘check in’ with each other on a personal level and see how you might support each other for a successful day. Communication is key as is clear planning. Lack of planning can lead to territorialism which is counterproductive to the learning for your students.
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities: Creating a united front is imperative. Discuss topics such as classroom procedures, behaviour expectations, home and school communication, homework views, even cleanliness of the classroom and teacher workspace. It is often the little things that will be ultimately important to ensure you work together well. Having mutual agreements about how the classroom runs will also help avoid students playing one teacher off against the other.
  • Respect each other: Mutual respect is a critical component to team teaching success. Take time to learn and get to know about each other both professionally and personally. There will be times you disagree. Remember you are disagreeing with the idea and not the person. Practice listening to understand rather than listening to reply. Your words and gestures can speak volumes, so show respect towards your team mate in all you do.
  • Be flexible: Be willing to take risks and grow. Try new ideas and something different. Be willing to put aside your ‘tried and true’ strategies.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously: Take your work seriously but not yourself. Innovation requires failure and if a new strategy doesn’t work, have a laugh together and evaluation to make improvements. Approach this role as an adventure and a wonderful learning opportunity for yourself and your team mate.
  • Communicate clearly: Ensure you are in constant communication and find ways to also plan in less formal ways. Have lunch together each day and quickly check in on how the day is going. Use google docs for shared planning so as not to replicate work. Use text and email with clear guidelines of how soon you want the other person to respond and the actions you want them to take. Talk about how you will give feedback to each other. Decide on boundaries of communication, for example not after 9pm, and the appropriate response times.
  • Check in periodically: Prioritise time every 3-4 weeks to check in and have an honest conversation about how you are working together. Discuss topics such as if there are any management issues which need clarifying, are you sharing the airtime with students, is the work divided equitably, are you using your strengths in the best way?
  • Seek support when required: If teaching together is not working ask for help. Avoid going to other teachers who may take ‘sides’. This is also about respecting the collegial relationship you have with your team teacher and you do not want to undermine this. Ask leadership for guidance and observations in class to feedback on specific aspects of the teaching. It is always helpful to approach these meetings with respect for your colleague and having a couple of possible solutions that might solve the challenge you are having.
  • Choose a focus student of the week: Team teaching sometimes means you have more students in your classroom and it is possible that some students get ‘missed’ by the teachers, as the students are simply compliant and get on with their work. Choose a focus student of the week and both take time to observe and learn more about them. Prioritise a time at the end of the week to discuss this student and what you noticed and any actions that you might both take to help enhance the learning for this student. The student is not required to know they are part of your focus – it is just for you both. Ensure you diary note and record observations together.

If you are team teaching please share your favourite success tips. If you are about to launch into it, take your time and enjoy the process.

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Published on Saturday, March 16th, 2019, under Modern learning environment, Teacher Effectiveness

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

6 Responses to “Team Teaching – practical ways to structure and organise it”

  1. John Milne says:

    Good Evening Karen
    You continue to impress with the outstanding quality of your writing.The clarity, depth and honesty of your analysis makes this the best article I’ve ever read on team teaching.
    Thank you. When will you be in Brisbane or the Gold Coast?
    Best regards John

    • Karen Boyes says:

      Thanks John 🙂 Visiting sunny Queensland next Weds – Friday 🙂
      Rainbows and sunshine

  2. Amanda says:

    Hi Karen,
    What one strategy would you suggest for a group of teachers who have had to shift from silo with senior classes to large open FLE’s for their junior classes mostly because of timetable limitations. Would so appreciate any advise.
    Aroha in advance.

  3. Kate says:

    Hi Karen,

    I just wanted to clarify if this is team teaching where two classes learn together with the 2 teachers? Or if this is two teachers team teaching one class?

    Thanks in advance,
    Kate 🙂

    • Karen Boyes says:

      HI Kate
      Team Teaching means both teachers have joint responsibility of the learning for all the learners in the lesson. If two classes are together with 2 teachers for a few lessons and not all, and you only have responsibility for your class, this is not officially team teaching – however you can adopt the team teaching techniques when you are combined. Some team teachers are teaching one class of 55-60 children (2 teachers) and some are team teaching with 4 teachers and 90-100 students. I hope that helps 🙂
      Rainbows and sunshine

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