Please note, this post was last updated in 2019 and I no longer update this website.
Whether you’ve been told to team teach or just find yourself in an organic partnership with a teacher on your team, you might be wondering — what is the best way to approach team teaching?
You have double the amount of students, (hopefully) a larger space to work in, and two creative and passionate educators but making team teaching work can take practice and reflection.
This post goes through some tips for team teaching in the classroom. I also explain in detail my initial approach to team teaching back in 2010-2013 and a more current approach (2018/2019).
Why Team Teaching?
Traditionally the school model involved one teacher planning for, teaching, and assessing one group of students.
Like many things, it’s only when you question why this is the status quo that you begin to wonder if it is the best approach. Is this the best way to meet the needs of the students and move them forward in their learning? Is this the best way for teachers to grow as a professional while enjoying their teaching role? Maybe not.
The Benefits of Team Teaching
There are many benefits to an effective team teaching approach:
- It can lessen the workload and stress for individual teachers
- Teachers can be powerful role models for students in regards to working collaboratively and productively
- With flexible grouping, the needs of the students can be met more precisely
- Teachers can be more creative and learn from one another
- Team teaching allows for powerful ongoing reflection and analysis
- Teaching partnerships can boost the morale of individual teachers, improve their confidence, and provide the catalyst for a positive classroom community
Tips for Team Teaching
Here are some of my own tips for embarking on a team teaching relationship. I’d love you to share your own ideas and experiences in a comment.
Case Study: Looking Back at my Approach from 2011
I began primary school teaching in 2004 and quickly befriended a fellow graduate, Kelly Jordan. Kelly and I had a similar teaching style and a similar work ethic. We began planning together closely and a few years later when our physical environment allowed, began team teaching.
Team teaching is something we found to be hugely successful and rewarding. In this post, I will explain how it worked for us.
Later in this post, I have written about a 2018/2019 approach that is working extremely well!
Kelly and I worked in a large open classroom which was basically two classroom with folding doors that stayed open. There were a small number of classrooms with this set up in our school.
We had a small withdrawal room which we used regularly for different groups and activities.
We also had a number of special needs students who often required one-on-one support, so support staff took advantage of this quiet space to work with these students.
Kelly and I were lucky to have two interactive whiteboards — one in each classroom. (Lucky at the time. Nowadays it would be so hard to teach without some sort of screen!).
We alternated which interactive whiteboard we used for our introductions and usually had both in operation during small group work.
In 2011, our tech consisted of 20 netbooks and an iPad (one!) in addition to 10 desktop computers and four iPod Touches. Remember them?? At this time this amount of technology was amazing and we used these tools constantly!
For administrative purposes, we had two separate classes (2KM and 2KJ), however, we worked together for every session except for two hours of the week when one class was at a specialist class (e.g. Art, Music, P.E.).
Like all classes, our students had a mixture of abilities, needs, interests, and personalities.
There were 22 students in each class who are all aged seven or eight years old.
Kelly and I planned everything collaboratively. This usually (officially) began early in the week when we sat down and discussed what our students needed to work on. We’d then draft out a plan for the following week. During this planning time, we wrote down many of the things we had been discussing informally as we had been observing and working with our students.
From there, we’d often share out tasks and source different resources and activities separately. For example, I might look for some reading activities and Kelly might look for some maths resources. We then get together and discuss what we’d found, tweak our ideas, and finalise our planning.
We had three hours per week of specialist classes which also provided time release for teachers. Kelly and I had one of those hours to plan together. The rest of our planning was done before school, online at night, and at lunchtimes.
The planning process never stopped and we were continually teaching, assessing, reflecting, and planning. It was an ongoing and efficient cycle.
We begin each day by marking the roll separately with our classes. This was a great way to connect with students and there would always be a daily question or the chance for students to share some news.
We’d then join together for blogging, then literacy, and then the rest of our program. The first 10-15 minutes of the day was the only time we’d work separately.
Kelly and I did most of our whole class teaching together. Our introductions and explanations bounced off each other and almost seemed scripted at times! Contrary to what some people asked in the past, it was certainly not ‘tag-teaching’ where one person teaches and the other person rests!
Following our whole class explanations, we alternated teaching small groups or individuals separately. This provided real advantages for meeting students’ needs as the children could be grouped together in a flexible way.
Our class blogs were a huge part of our program. In 2010 we had two separate blogs, however, we found it much more efficient and effective to have one joint blog in 2011. This also had the advantage of cutting down the workload for Kelly and me.
Every day we started with 20 minutes of blogging and also worked on the blog at other times during the day. A day without blogging would be unheard of. Read more about that here.
Our blog was a way for our students to improve their literacy skills, collaborate globally, connect with parents, learn about internet safety, work for an authentic audience, and develop the classroom community, among other things.
In 2KM and 2KJ, we loved blogging and it opened up the world to our young students. Our students didn’t just learn from their teachers and classmates, they had children and educators from all around the world who impacted on their development daily.
My opinion is that our team teaching was hugely successful. Kelly and I felt like our students’ learning outcomes were greater overall when compared to when we used to teach separately.
Most people would agree that in order to continually learn and improve, individuals need to engage in regular reflection. This includes teachers.
Team teaching allows for such rich reflection almost every hour of the day (and night!). When we were not teaching, Kelly and I found ourselves talking non-stop about what our students needed to work on, what ideas we could use, and how our teaching was going. Our ideas just seem to bounce off each other proving that ‘two heads are better than one’!
I simply can’t compare how valuable team teaching is as opposed to teaching individually and working in a grade level ‘team’. Discussing my students with someone who is never in my classroom rarely worked for me — the inside knowledge and vested interest just wasn’t there.
Kelly and I were still part of a great team and it was fantastic for sharing general ideas and strategies, but for specific, individual professional dialogues, I preferred to talk to someone who was in my classroom.
Why it Worked
I think the main reason our team teaching was so successful was our compatibility. I don’t love the idea of putting two random teachers together and telling them to team teach.
Kelly and I chose to embark on our collaborative teaching approach. We had very similar views on discipline, organisation, work ethic, student expectations, teaching philosophies, and even smaller things like noise tolerance and how we liked our classroom to look. Our partnership was harmonious and productive.
Obviously, we are not clones of each other and despite many similarities, our personal strengths in different areas also complemented each other. I believe this helped to provide a rounded education for our students and we learnt from each other.
Student and Parent Response
Our students responded extremely well to our team teaching situation. 2KM and 2KJ developed a great community atmosphere with students having the chance to work with a wide range of their peers.
At the end of each year, we surveyed parents about having their child in a team teaching/open classroom. All parents responded positively and said that they felt it had benefited their child.
The Next Step?
Kelly and I would have loved to be able to teach the same cohort of students for two years and see where we could take them. As Chris Bradbeer said in his post,
“In setting up learning hubs where children stay with the teachers for certainly two years, there was a feeling that learners wouldn’t experience that ‘dip’ of lost learning that is always evidence post summer holidays, as teachers and children get to know one another.”
We always felt that we’d be able to help our students achieve even greater success if we had more time!
Case Study: Team Teaching In 2018/2019
Kelly and I are no longer working at the school we were at in 2011 when this post was originally written. I’m currently on family leave from full time teaching and am doing some casual/part-time teaching in a school with an extremely effective team teaching model.
Four Classes Team Teaching in an Open Learning Environment
Due to a luxuriously modern/flexible layout, there are four classes in one big building. Rather than having set classroom spaces, the four classes team up with one other class for a two week period.
Throughout each term, they rotate which class they’re working with. So, Class A will work with Class B for two weeks while Class C works with Class D. Then Class A will work with Class C, while Class B is with Class D, and so on.
The whole day is spent together including marking the roll etc.
For each lesson, one teacher will generally take the whole class introduction, while the other teacher will take out a small group for a modified introduction. This might be a group who needs extra support or extension.
While the main group then works on their activity, one teacher will rove and assist, while the other teacher takes another small group to work on a specific learning goal.
The class will then come together for reflection sharing. This might be led by the two teachers, or one might set up for the next lesson.
This model is extremely flexible and adaptive to the students’ needs. It’s similar to the approach I initially adopted years ago, however, the withdraw of a group during whole class introductions is a powerful addition.
It’s also ideal that the whole cohort of teachers and students are involved. The students’ progress has been amazing and I’m really enjoying being part of this model.