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|Your UoS - building a teaching team|
We wish to acknowledge the following resources which helped us to compile this page:
"Perspectives on Team Teaching: a Semester 1 Independent Inquiry", Karin Goetz for Dr Michele Jacobsen, EGallery - Exemplary Student Scholarship Master of Teaching Program, Faculty of Education, Vol 1, No.4, August 2000.
"Leading a teaching team" from the learning and teaching resources of The University of Sydney’s Business School.
Team teaching brings together two or more colleagues - often academics working together, but sometimes also working with professional and/or administrative colleagues - to plan, conduct and evaluate the unit of study (UoS), including assessment, for the same group of students. By its nature, team teaching assumes appropriate involvement of all colleagues in the team and good communication between them.
There are two main forms of team teaching:
a) Where two or more teachers are teaching the same unit of study at the same time, within the same face-to-face classroom or a synchronous online environment.
- Colleagues work together in designing the unit and teaching the material not by themselves, but rather by exchanging and discussing ideas, theories and professional approaches in front of the learners.
- One teacher is responsible for teaching “content” (e.g. the discipline expert) while others take responsibility for student skill development (e.g. Library or Learning Centre colleagues). This is sometimes referred to as ‘complementary’ teaching.
b) Where teachers work together but teach different groups or at different times.
- ‘Stream’ teaching separates learners enrolled in a unit into groups with relevant knowledge/skills and experience from those who will need greater support in achieving the learning expected for the unit.
- Students in large classes may be divided into separate streams or cohorts with different academics teaching each one (possibly with the help of a group of tutors or other staff); while overall coordination and quality is the responsibility of the unit coordinator.
Team teaching can be an efficient, enjoyable and student-focused approach to providing a dynamic learning environment for students.
It can be an effective way to present an integrated curriculum design. Students are exposed to multiple viewpoints and differing perspectives whether within your discipline, or across disciplines.
It may encourage collaborative learning by modelling the benefits of sharing expertise. This can help them to appreciate the value of co-operative team-work.
It also encourages collaborative teaching approaches and presents you with the opportunity to develop your own teaching methods.
If the teaching team is from diverse backgrounds and disciplines you are able to offer broader and more inclusive perspectives on topics. Sharing differing perspectives helps to encourage critical thinking in your students.
Different teaching methods and approaches can address diversity in learning styles of different students.
It can offer a supportive learning experience for teachers, where new colleagues are able to develop their skills and experience of learning and teaching.
In collaborative environments you are likely to learn from your students as well as your teaching colleagues. This also helps students to understand that they are participating in the ongoing construction of knowledge in their field of interest. See Active learning.
Preparing an effective team teaching program will involve a large amount of your time.
You will need to organize many formal meetings before implementing the program. During the semester your regular meetings and the many informal exchanges between team members will also take up your time. There may also be a good deal of admin connected with organising staff and students. The best approach is to prepare well in advance.
Personality and professional differences are likely to emerge and require careful listening and mediation skills to resolve and build the team. Ideally the unit coordinator encourages contributions from all team members and models mutual respect, recognizing that, as an outcome of such diversity, greater learning can occur for both students and staff.
See further discussion in our section on Working with sessional staff and Working with colleagues.
As unit of study coordinator you will generally be responsible for leading the teaching team, which will consist of your peers, some of whom may be senior to you. In addition to organisational skills you may also need skills in negotiating and mediating, should conflicts arise.
See Learning to Lead in our section on Leading a teaching team.
Building a teaching team
- For team teaching to work, colleagues must mutually respect each other. Therefore finding compatible team members is important, particularly if you will be teaching together in the same class. Complementary areas of expertise are often beneficial in teaching teams.
- From the outset, it is important that your team members understand the purposes of team teaching – the rationale, the learning objectives and outcomes, and the advantages it offers for both students and teachers.
- Team members should feel free to disagree without this becoming an issue for the students or their professional integrity. When teaching certain subjects (eg Philosophy) team members can use disagreement as a positive teaching tool – one may open the class with a lecture, for example, while another team member presents a rebuttal, followed by a Q&A from the class. When appropriate to the subject this approach can generate involvement and interest, and help students develop their critical thinking skills.
- Team members must be willing to compromise on issues where previously each may have had complete autonomy, such as course content and classroom management. Policies or assessments applied independently may seem inconsistent and confusing for students.
- Regular meetings and other forms of communication are important, so be sure to organise these before teaching begins.
The team leader/ unit coordinator is in charge of setting up meetings and coordination, ensuring all those involved in the teaching and administration of the unit receive appropriate professional development support (eg tutors). The coordinator is also responsible for external communication in relation to the unit (eg reporting student results). Clear delineation/understanding of roles is critical.
- It is essential that you organise regular meetings as part of the semester schedule, and establish other ways for the team to communicate outside formal meetings.
- If your team teachers come from other discipline areas, you will need to coordinate timetables across disciplines for both teachers and students
- You may also have to organise sessional staff from other disciplines into timetables for tutorials, and arrange venues for their tutorials.
- If online discussion groups are part of the teaching programs, you will need to link students who may be from different discipline areas and have very different timetables.
- If you have large classes, these admin tasks can be very time consuming, and this may mean that some forms of team teaching will be impractical.
Responsibilities and team contributions
You will need to determine how you will share teaching responsibilities, and what responsibilities will be devolved to individual team members.
- Will all team members contribute to the UoS design? See Unit of study design for more information on designing and preparing the UoS.
- Who is responsible for preparing the UoS outline? This is particularly important if your unit crosses disciplines or if there is no standard UoS template.
- Will individual team members take on particular tasks or be responsible for specific classes? For example, keeping records and scheduling tasks or events.
- Is designing assessment a team effort?
- How will you allocate responsibility for marking and how are grading standards determined?
- How will you handle disagreements around content or procedures with a minimum of disruption? Ideally, you should be able to turn conflict into a constructive learning situation.
- How can you encourage your team to undertake confidential, collaborative peer reviews of their teaching? See Evaluating your teaching.
Communication and cooperation
Aim to create an atmosphere of cooperation and openness, where your team members can negotiate and discuss issues in ways that benefit all team members.
Use your regular meetings to:
- discuss planning and expectations of classes (eg what are students expected to learn from each lecture/tut etc?)
- discuss the unit, its successes and challenges.
Get the team to share both problems that occur and the responses they have found effective, eg how to assist students in learning content they find challenging.
- consider changes or adaptations to the unit if necessary
- discuss the progress of the cohort or of individual students
- evaluate the unit or course, taking into consideration both teacher or student feedback, as well as your own reflections and experiences as coordinator.
When more than one teacher is present in a class this can provide different styles of interaction as well as different viewpoints. While this is generally positive, some challenges may arise and it is a good idea to have strategies in place to deal with these.
- Some students may feel disoriented by a variety of teachers and teaching methods, and may find ambiguity and multiple viewpoints confusing and disconcerting. If this may be the case in your unit, remind students explicitly that differing viewpoints will help to develop their critical thinking, and that differing teaching methods suit different learning styles and can also provide everyone with variety and stimulation.
- Differences of opinion should present an opportunity for students to observe courteous and rigorous academic discourse in action, rather than petty quarrels. Unless you are excellent actors, any tensions between team members will be apparent to students and are likely to have a negative impact on the teaching.
- Negotiating relationships with fellow teachers and managing difficult situations can sometimes be challenging, particularly if you are new to the task of coordinating. Learning Solutions offers courses to develop your management and leadership skills.
When topics are presented sequentially with different teachers covering different topics and using varied teaching approaches, it is important to develop strategies to ensure students have an integrated experience of their unit of study.
- Topics in a UoS, even when taught by different staff members, should be presented in ways that allow students to see the connections between them. Get each team member to ask themselves how their component fits with all the other components and contributes to the learning outcomes of the unit as a whole, and to ensure that is communicated to students.
- If you are team teaching sequentially you may need to address issues around students’ experience of community. See Learning community. See also Service teaching.
No matter how team teaching is organized, team members need to agree on assessment procedures and policies and on grading criteria and standards.
- It is particularly important to communicate clearly about procedures if colleagues working together come from different units, disciplines or faculties.
- Assessment requirements and grading criteria have to also be communicated clearly to students to ensure continuity of the learning experience and student expectations across the cohort.
The Australian Learning and Teaching Council's (ALTC) Integrated Competing Values Framework) (iCVF) provides a good method for configuring the roles of team members. This can be particularly useful for the coordinator who is building a teaching team. Below is the iCVF diagram of the roles of team members. This is explained further in the ALTC publication“Academic leadership: Fundamental building blocks”.
You will find more information about Learning to Lead in our section on Leading a teaching team.
Don’t forget to look after your team members – ask how they are doing, offer support if necessary, and recognition where it is due.
You might find that you are in need of some support or advice too. Seek out colleagues who have experience with team teaching, within both your own discipline and other disciplines. See also our section on Support for coordinators.
If you need assistance negotiating power relationships in team teaching situations there are several professional development courses available.
Learning Solutions courses include Team Building and Communicating Assertively in the Workplace. Contact them for more details.
The Centre for Continuing Education(CCE) offers courses on topics such as: Conflict Resolution, Dealing with Difficult People, and Communication in the Workplace.
Learning Solutions courses are free for University staff, while the Centre for Continuing Education(CCE) offers staff discounts.
Online resources for team teaching are listed in the Feature panes on the right.