An opportunity to develop
Of course, we are aware that what we are doing here is not unique, or revolutionary. Although neither of us have worked in such a school, there are many places around the world in which teaching alongside a colleague is a standard part of the curriculum. This, however, was intended initially to help us develop in our own teaching and then look at what could be done to help other teachers in their own development, alongside more common methods such as observations. Our definition of team-teaching, then, is the preparation (the discussion of stages, methods, ideas and resources) then the delivering of a lesson as co-teachers, followed by the sharing of feedback. As well as being of benefit to the students, both teachers should be able to develop professionally from each lesson by combining their strengths.
Setting up team-teaching
To deal with the issues of the specific class, we wanted to find a universal theme which everyone could relate to and to include discussion questions which were about their experiences rather than opinions. We chose the theme of happiness and featured a lead-in with things that make each of us happy. This was done in part so the students could learn a little more about us. Beyond this, we faced the challenge of combining styles – although we were already friends, we had different ways of teaching and different things we wished to learn from each other. Ahead of the lesson, we assigned which stages of the lesson we would do, so that we could learn by watching rather than by getting feedback from the other. Although the lesson was successful in dealing with the issues which prompted the decision to team-teach, Laura was less satisfied than Phil. Students were more forthcoming in talking about their experiences than opinions and Laura realised that the dynamic was the same with other teachers, making her reassured and more relaxed for subsequent lessons. She felt that this was a better way to deal with this rather than through an observation, which would have been more stressful. On the other hand, we didn’t communicate enough during the lesson, and didn’t want to feel we were dominating when the lesson should have been shared. We maybe had too much respect for each other in this regard or felt it was not appropriate to discuss things in front of the students, but this had an impact on our timings. The allocation of stages meant that we were following each other rather than teaching together. Prior to this, we had also underestimated the time it would take to plan a lesson – it’s a lot more than when you are on your own as you need to talk more about your chosen methods, for example. However, you do end up with a much more solid lesson.
Benefits for students:
- You have two teachers playing to their strengths, which should lead to a better quality of teaching.
- Though the demonstrations, students can see and hear the teachers’ interaction which gives a good model for speaking activities; you also have live listening practice.
- The teachers can combine to monitor more closely, meaning more individual attention.
- There can be a greater variety of interaction patterns.
- It makes the lesson more lively.
Benefits for teachers:
- You can discuss ideas and methods in detail.
- You may be encouraged to do things you may not have tried previously.
- You notice things about your partner’s teaching and learn from each other. It’s not just the less experienced teacher who takes something away from the lesson.
- You can share resources.
- You can be more confident that you have a good lesson as you created it together. (We have both used the material from these lessons when teaching individually, with just a little adaptation.)
- You can solve a practical problem specific to the class.
- Team-teaching can create or build on a rapport between teachers.
- It’s less stressful than an observation.
- You can be more ‘yourself’ than you might be in an observed lesson. Similarly, feedback can be given more on equal terms.
Want to give team-teaching a go? Here's some advice
- Ideally, make sure you have elements which require two teachers. Use both of you to give demonstrations.
- Communicate and interact during the lesson. Exchange your viewpoints on how the lesson is progressing as you go along. Don’t be scared to interrupt or help each other out (but don’t contradict).
- You are a team. It’s not just one person’s class. This is especially important to remember when you are with a group which is normally taken by your co-teacher only.
- Remember that preparation takes more time, so you will need to schedule this accordingly.
- Teach together (as opposed to one after the other) and complement each other.
- Leave room for spontaneity.
- Explain to the students why you are doing the lesson together and particularly how you feel it will benefit them.
- It’s worth meeting the students before the lesson. That way you will save time at the beginning of the team-taught lesson – and you might feel more relaxed if you tend to be nervous when meeting new groups for the first time.
- We believe that this needs to be done at least twice with the same teacher to iron out problems and better understand how the other one works.
- Have fun!
We are pleased that one result of this project has been that our DoS at London Central is now offering team-teaching alongside observations as a means of Teacher Development and that there is the intention to build it into our mentoring scheme for new teachers later this year. Obviously at schools where team-teaching is not standard regular practice, there are limits in what can be done. It means releasing a senior teacher or mentor to teach at a time outside of their usual timetable (or finding cover). On top of that, the teachers need to organise time when they can both prepare. Nevertheless, we certainly feel that, in terms of being able to share the process of planning and making feedback a two-way thing, as well as in removing stress that may come from compiling the paperwork and the anticipation of a formal observation, team-teaching has a lot to commend it.