Team Teaching

 In many higher education institutions, including CityU, the usual pattern of teaching is still largely based on an individual lecturer bearing responsibility for students in a course module or unit, possibly supported by part-time staff tutors. At some levels of learning though, for example in postgraduate seminars, this model is replaced by a team teaching approach which involves a number of lecturers (usually between two and five) and possibly non-teaching professional support staff as well. To carry out effective team teaching requires a re-orientation on the part of individual staff members and departmental administrators.

What is Team Teaching?

In team teaching a group of teachers, working together, plan, conduct, and evaluate the learning activities for the same group of students. In practice, team teaching has many different formats but in general it is a means of organising staff into groups to enhance teaching. Teams generally comprise staff members who may represent different areas of subject expertise but who share the same group of students and a common planning period to prepare for the teaching. To facilitate this process a common teaching space is desirable. However, to be effective team teaching requires much more than just a common meeting time and space.

(i)        Why Should I Use Team Teaching?

In view of the additional complexity which team teaching initiatives introduce into departmental organisation and in view of the time needed for staff to adapt to the new structures, it is relevant to ask what benefits accrue from team teaching. How, for instance, does team teaching benefit lecturers, part-time tutors, students, and departments as a whole?

In the following extract, the authors describe the instructional advantages of working in teams.

"Team Teaching: An Alternative to Lecture Fatigue"

Team teaching is an approach which involves true team work between two qualified instructors who, together, make presentations to an audience. The instructional advantages of team teaching include:

(1)  Lecture-style instruction is eliminated in favour of a dynamic 
     interplay of two minds and personalities.

Lectures require students to act as passive receptors of communicated information, but team teaching involves the student in the physical and mental stimulation created by viewing two individuals at work. . . .

(2)  Teaching staff act as a role models for discussion and disagreement.

Teaching staff members demonstrate modes of behaving in a disagreement as well as exposing students to the course content.

(3)  Team teaching makes effective use of existing human resources.

Acquisition of additional expensive resources or equipment is not required to implement this method: only reorganisation is required to put the team into operation.

(4)  Team teaching has the potential for revitalizing instructional
     capabilities through a process of dialogue.

Team teaching begins with the recognition that the instructor/student link is critical and offers an approach that has been shown to stimulate and provoke, while expanding and enriching student understanding.

(5)  Interest in traditional courses can be stimulated as students share 
     the enthusiasm and intellectual discourse that the lecturers 
     communicate.

Team teaching is not boring. Students are drawn into the situation from the first moment.

(6)  The effective use of facilities is possible.

The impersonal nature of large lecture halls can be brought to life by an interactive and dynamic situation.

(7)  Team teaching provides opportunities for interaction with the audience.

Implementation

Implementing a team teaching approach requires administrative encouragement, acceptance of an initial experimental quality, and willingness to take risks. Proof that team teaching works comes not only from the instructors’ self-judgment, but from students’ evaluations. Above all, team teaching cannot be accomplished by administrative fiat — but administrators need to encourage it.

Adapted from: Quinn, S. and Kanter, S. (1984) "Team Teaching: An Alternative to Lecture Fatigue", Innovation Abstracts, Volume 6, No. 34, Eric Document: ED 251 159.

(ii)       Is There Only One Way To Team Teach?

In its fullest sense, team teaching is where a group of lecturers works together to plan, conduct, and evaluate the learning activities of the same group of students. However, it would be a mistake to think that team teaching is always practised in the same way. Its format needs to be adapted to the requirements of the teaching situation. Some possible options are where:

Planning to Implement Team Teaching

Planning, conducting and evaluating team teaching are all important activities. Some of the most important aspects of planning which need to consider in advance of implementing teams are the concerns of staff; the selection of team members; and setting realistic goals for any teaching team in the first instance.

(i)        Understanding Staff Concerns

Like any other change or innovation in a department, team teaching will raise concerns among staff members. The full range of concerns will only become clear over time after initial worries are dealt with and team members become comfortable with the innovation. A basic premise of team teaching is that its adoption is not something that happens at one point in time — it extends over time. As users go through the adoption process there will be changes in their concerns.

From a team perspective, the ultimate aim will be to have individual team members reach a stage where they accept joint responsibility for the basic instruction of a group of students. There will be concerns, however, the relevant literature suggests that one way of dealing with these concerns is to recognise that they seem to follow a time cycle. Early concerns usually appear to be procedural e.g., determining roles, setting agendas, keeping records, setting procedures for communicating with outside people, and scheduling teamwork, etc. Next to appear are student-related concerns such as meeting students’ needs, planning to deal with individual students, etc. These are followed by concern among team members for their own professional growth and finally there is concern for the collective well being of the team. This last level is reached when teams are seen as (i) a means of professional self development, (ii) a forum at which ideas about instruction and coordinating curriculum can be shared, and (iii) when students are involved in decision making.

Here are some common concerns about team teaching along with suggestions of what to do to improve the likelihood of overcoming them. The first three of these concerns are usually expressed before the team actually begins functioning while the last is usually expressed after it has functioned for a time.

I do not know enough about team teaching.

Explain the concept of team organisation and the rationale for implementing it. This should include an explanation of how it is envisaged that team teaching will fit with the rest of the departmental programme. Staff need to have a clear idea of the kinds of teaching teams envisaged, what their responsibilities will be and how much of their time will be occupied in teaching in this way.

How will I manage my teaching in the light of the proposed change?

Supplying information usually leads teachers to express personal concerns. Take these concerns seriously. If you do not they become potential barriers to effective implementation. Personal concerns usually expressed about team teaching include:

All in all, concerns usually revolve about inter-personal problems — issues of self doubt, team management and group processes in addition to whether the teaching carried out by this method will be worthwhile.

How is the team going to be managed?

Management questions are concerned with who will be on the team, who will lead it, what will be expected and in what timeframe, how meetings will be conducted, how teaching activities and events will actually be planned, and so on. These should be dealt with as early as possible and not in a casual manner, so that everyone is clear about what their roles and responsibilities will be. As well, once the team begins to function, more routine issues will surface: staff may be bothered by the amount of time involved, the difficulty of keeping track of students, coordinating materials and the work of other team members.

Concern may arise and have to be dealt with while the team is actually functioning or at the time of periodic course reviews. Rather than a single concern, it may be more useful to see it as a category of concerns that focus on the consequences of team actions.

It would be most unusual for the team to find that everything has proceeded as they planned. More usually, they find that there are outcomes as a result of team teaching which they had not anticipated. These outcomes may be to do with student learning or with how the team is functioning. If there are differences between what was planned and what the students are achieving then the team will need to refocus on what is important. To do this the team will have to monitor continually how students are reacting to the team teaching experience. Conscious decisions will have to be taken to emphasise points that may have been missed or correct mistaken impressions. However, concerns may arise apart from those related to student learning. There may be a need for the team to deal with issues of collaboration among its own members. In the same way that the goals associated with student learning need to be monitored and reviewed where necessary, so too do aspects of team behaviour. In both these examples it is apparent that regular meetings of the team need to take place where constructive, professional reflection is encouraged which is itself a team teaching strength.

(ii)       Selecting Team Members

The composition of any teaching team is a matter which must be considered carefully if that particular team is going to function effectively. While it is possible that teams can be arbitrarily formed it is far more fruitful if they come together in response to needs and interests. Thought needs to be given to selecting team members and defining team roles and these decisions need to be evaluated periodically. The following questions are indicative of the sorts of issues which should be considered:

Team members should not be clones of each other. Why? Because differences in subject expertise, interests, perspectives, back-grounds, and qualification levels, can contribute to the collective strength of a team and the growth of individual team members. Furthermore, the ‘mix’ of personalities and characteristics add to the experience the students get from interacting with the team.

Basically the team leader will be concerned with (i) internal functioning — setting agendas, keeping records, coordinating schedules ensuring the team ‘stays on task’ i.e. that it achieves what it sets out to achieve; and (ii) external functioning — communicating with department heads to ensure that the team is resourced, supported, and meeting departmental goals/expectations, etc.

Team members need to contribute to the team in ways other than simply turning up for classes and meetings. It is essential that all team members contribute to formulating and achieving team goals. To do this, each member must take responsibility for participating in team discussions and planning session and following through on decisions made by the team within the timeframes decided by the team. It is only in this way that a spirit of co-operation and collaboration can be maintained.

(iii)      Setting Realistic Team Goals

Teams need to have a sense of direction. One finding from the relevant literature of particular interest relates to the time required to develop an effective level of team teaching. When teams are formed from teachers with no previous team experience, it seems to take about three years for them to develop the team teaching process to an efficient and effective level. Hence in setting a time line for teams to achieve realistic goals it is important to ask what will be the aims of team teaching during the first year or semester and what are the longer term goals? The answers to such questions are important in determining priorities for the development of teams. It is unrealistic to expect that all goals and expectations will be met immediately. Rather it is better to consider what it is reasonable to undertake as teachers and to expect from students and at what stage? 

The Team in Action

(i)        Planning for Teaching

Assume that it has been decided that team teaching will go ahead in your department and that you have agreed and been selected to be a member of a team. Assume also that the issues surrounding teams discussed earlier have been attended to and the team is now ready to begin work. Decisions facing yourself and your teaching partners now will focus undoubtedly on planning teaching/learning activities.

You may ask, for instance, in what way will the team use small and large group contexts or independent study? Will it use a large group in an auditorium setting to introduce a topic or convey basic information and background material which all the students need to know? Will the team decide to use a single teacher to make the presentation or will several teachers be used? Will small group discussions relate to large group presentations, or demonstrate skills, or develop a seminar discussion group etc? What of independent study? It is not always taken into consideration but it provides a student or group of students with the opportunity to research or explore a topic of special interest in greater depth outside the formal teaching situation. How will the team use independent study?

This short list of questions underlines the decisions to be made in this area.

All of these questions are to do with ongoing interaction with students. A little later the team will have to consider questions such as:

Irrespective of who asks these questions, they are very realistic and they need to be answered, but the critical issue is who by and how.

(ii)       Assigning Roles and Responsibilities

Effective teams are systematic in their division of labour, not forgetting that roles may be rotated on a regular basis. In allocating roles, strengths and weaknesses of individual team members need to be taken into account. A brief questionnaire gathering an idea of these strengths and weaknesses might be a good idea before a draft list of responsibilities for the team is discussed.

(iii)      Catering for Students

While team teachers and their students are usually happy with the community spirit that teams can provide, teamwork also has a considerable effect on classroom management. For example, by planning together, team teachers can clarify teaching policies and behavioural expectations that are applied to students. Difficult management situations can be analyzed and resolved together resulting in richer discussions and sounder solutions. Teams of teachers can think of ways of improving student motivation, a sense of responsibility, and overall student performance.

(iv)       Conducting Meetings

Team teaching is group work and as such teams need to develop as functioning groups. In dealing with other team members teamwork is seldom without conflict — professional or personal points of view may clash. Blending differences constructively is a challenge to all team members. To do this it is important to acknowledge team members’ strengths, interests, personal and professional goals both in assigning responsibilities and in the conduct of meetings.

Running meetings

For a team to function effectively the team meetings need to run well. They need to clarify expectations for how the team will operate, i.e. clarify management issues and set ground rules for meetings such as:

Making decisions

The main problem encountered in meetings which prevents decisions from being made effectively and efficiently is the difficulty of keeping all team members on task. The team leader needs to ensure that:

(v)        Evaluating Progress

In a small team, a formal evaluation of progress often seems inappropriate. However, all teams need to set aside some time to evaluate their progress in terms of both teaching the module and with their own development as an effective team. An outside facilitator could be called in to manage this where appropriate. Some questions which might be asked in the context of such an evaluation are:

(vi)       Maintaining Continuity From Year to Year

In order to ensure the continuity of the module/course when it is presented a second and subsequent times the team needs to maintain clear documentation of the course including:

Carefully maintaining these course documents will ease the task of the course leaders, facilitate the induction of new teachers into the team, and simplify the task of revising the course/module in a rational manner.

Conclusion

Teams take a variety of forms in different contexts, however, successful team teaching must go beyond sharing a group of students and scheduling a common meeting time if it is to make positive contributions to the quality of learning and staff development. 

Effective team teaching takes time to develop to its fullest potential. Staff who are unfamiliar with it need time to work through the basic issues and routine matters before they can turn their attention fully to issues which affect students and to the impact which their teaching has on the department as a whole. This is time well spent because team teaching can be a valuable source of personal and professional development for those who engage in it. It can also be a source of considerable frustration if its goals are unrealistic, meetings are not productive and decision making is not well handled by team leaders. 

These pitfalls and others can be avoided or at least not encountered more than once if adequate staff development support is available and the relative complexity of demands which team teaching places on people is recognized both by the individuals themselves and their departmental leaders.  

Pitfalls to Avoid

1.  Failing to recognize that team organization is fundamentally 
    different from traditional departmentalized or self-contained 
    arrangements.

Team teaching is much more than an alternative scheduling format. It will lead to new, more professional relationships between teachers, their students, and administrators. Everyone involved needs to be prepared for changes of this kind.

2.  Attempting to form a team without adequate staff development 
    in such things as team skills (communications, group decision 
    making, and organization of effective meetings) and team 
    practices (goal setting, record keeping, evaluation).

Sometimes it is assumed falsely that because teachers talk a great deal in the course of their work that they do not need assistance with communication skills when they are thrust together as teams. Skills in working successfully with small groups are also essential.

3.  Failing to understand that new teams will need time and 
    practice in order to develop into fully functioning teams.

Several years are needed for teams to pass through the various stages of development — even more true if team members change and new members are acquired along the way. Teams will probably not spend a lot of time on student concerns until the members have developed norms and procedures to govern how they will conduct their meetings and make decisions. A timeline for a reasonable growth plan should be constructed.

4.  Failing to establish and maintain links between the team 
    and departmental administrators who can provide support 
    for the team’s activities.

If there are several teams in a department they will need a co-ordinator to whom they are accountable. The team may monitor its own internal functioning but it also needs to be seen to be functioning in the wider departmental context.

5.  Overloading modules. Because of input from several team 
    members, there may be far too much material and too many 
    activities in a module.

This danger is considerable among teachers who are unaccustomed to team teaching. The team members need adopt a policy of closely monitoring the amount of course material and assessment required of students and to set limits of what can be included in teaching the module.

6.  A tendency to under-estimate the amount of time needed to 
    produce high-quality teaching resource materials.

Almost certainly the team should seek the guidance of someone who has had experience in developing teaching resources and who can provide not only technical advice but indications of a realistic schedule for such activities. 

A Checklist of Things to do

The following represents a ‘checklist’ of things to do to ensure the operation of an efficiently functioning team. It may be that team members need to establish the exact priority, however, each is important and needs to be catered for if the team is to operate smoothly and achieve the goals it sets.

 

 Feb/1998


 Reprinted with permission from Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, City University of Hong Kong.

 

TEHE Ref.: R27/t4g3

Publication Details:

Team Teaching (previously published online). (1998)  City University of Hong Kong, Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching.