The Power of Two: Exploring Co-teaching
The Educationalist. by Alexandra Mihai
Welcome to a new issue of “The Educationalist”! We generally agree that when we pool our forces together in an effective manner we can achieve more than when working alone. Nevertheless, this principle doesn’t often reflect into teaching practice. Teaching is still mainly seen as an individual endeavour. However, our pandemic experience has made the benefits of exchange and collaboration even more obvious, hopefully opening the door to new opportunities that can transcend institutional, geographical and disciplinary borders. So this week we will explore the idea of co-teaching , looking at various shapes it can take depending on the context and assessing its benefits and potential challenges. And as usual, I put together some useful resources in case you are interested in getting to know more about co-teaching and, why not, trying it out soon. Hope you enjoy reading and I am looking forward to your comments!
What is co-teaching?
Co-teaching is the practice of pairing teachers together to share the responsibilities of planning, instructing, and assessing students. Depending on the context, it can be encountered in various formats/ settings- as we will see below- and it is important to remember there is no “one fits all” recipe for successful co-teaching. It all depends on the type and level of the course, its place in the curriculum, the learning goals and, crucially, on the working partnership between the co-teachers.
With co-teaching being such a versatile tool, it is not difficult to point out some of its main benefits (this is by no means an exhaustive list):
Shared workload, from the planning to the evaluation stage;
Capitalising on the strengths and expertise of the co-teachers;
Greater teacher/ student ratio resulting in more student support made available;
Providing students with different/ inter-disciplinary perspectives on one topic, thus enriching their learning experience;
Familiarising students with various teaching styles and methods.
Co-teaching approaches and settings
There are different ways to categorise co-teaching approaches, but to keep it rather simple for now let’s consider four types of co-teaching:
Supportive co-teaching: one instructor taking the leading role while the other one is providing support; the roles may change according to topics, semester, etc;
Parallel co-teaching: co-teachers work with different groups of students in the same room or in separate rooms/ virtual rooms;
Complementary co-teaching: co-teachers divide their roles in the classroom so that they complement each other (e.g. one focuses on content, the other on skills, etc);
Team teaching: co-teachers are equally responsible for planning, instruction of content, assessment, and grade assignment.
Within these approaches we can encounter various settings regarding who the co-teachers are. Here are just a few possible examples, with the link to the most likely approach from the list above (note that I mention “two” but in some cases it can be more than two):
Two professors from the same discipline with different areas of expertise; depending on the focus and learning goals of the course, this can be team teaching or complementary teaching; parallel teaching is also possible, in order to offer students different “flavours” of the topic;
Two professors from the same discipline and area of expertise, with different amounts of teaching experience; this can serve as a mentoring model and it can take the form of supportive or complementary co-teaching;
Two professors from different disciplines offering their perspectives on the course topic; it can be team teaching or complementary co-teaching;
A professor and a practitioner dividing their roles in what can be a team teaching or a complementary teaching effort.
Things to consider
While co-teaching can often bring about a more dynamic and enriching learning experience, it is not a very easy exercise and it takes some practice in order to achieve the desired results. Here are a few things to consider when planning to co-teach a course:
Teaching styles and philosophies differ; be open minded and try to work out before the start of the course how to incorporate the various teaching styles in a meaningful way;
Good communication throughout the course is crucial; discuss the roles each instructor will play in each stage of the course; have regular short de-briefing meetings to make sure things stay on course;
Pay special attention to coordinating the rules for feedback and grading; students do like diversity in the classroom but they also value clarity when it comes to assessment and feedback;
Last but not least, try to regularly reflect on your experience, alone or/and with your teaching partner. It can also be useful to follow trainings or inform yourself on best practice in co-teaching. The resources below are good starting point :)
Co-teaching is a great way to get us talking about our teaching practice, in terms of content, method and philosophy, thus becoming an effective way to build faculty learning communities. However, as tempting as it may sound, it is not always easy to implement a viable co-teaching model at an institutional level. It involves a re-allocation of teaching units and, implicitly, resources. It also implies a change of mindset and work processes, with a shift towards collaborative practices and nurturing partnerships that go beyond institutional and disciplinary boundaries, and sometimes even beyond academia. While it’s important to be aware of these challenges and not expect immediate results, the key remains trying out various models, reflecting on our experience and sharing our reflections.
Co-Teaching: How to Make it Work: some useful tips for effective co-teaching in different formats from Angela Peery;
Collaborative Team Teaching: Challenges and Rewards: benefits and challenges of co-teaching, including some tips for inspiration;
What is Co-Teaching? An Introduction to Co-Teaching and Inclusion: a useful collection of co-teaching models and resources on implementing them;
Six Approaches to Co-Teaching: a look at different approaches of co-teaching;
Collaborative Planning and Team Teaching in a Large Lecture Hall: Modeling Leadership for Change: paper by Jennifer Branch, Leonora Macy, Jill McClay, Carol Leroy from the University of Alberta (Canada) looking into how instructors planned and taught their course collaboratively;
Co-teaching in Higher Education. A Case Study of Instructor Learning: paper by Hannah H. Scherer, Megan O’Rourke, Rachel Seman-Varner & Peter Ziegler from Virginia Tech who reflect on their experience of co-teaching and provide some inspiration for peers interested in trying this approach;
The Lived Experiences of Instructors Co-teaching in Higher Education: a paper by Jennifer Lock, Tracey Clancy, Rita Lisella, Patricia Rosenau, Carla Ferreira & Jacqueline Rainsbury from the University of Calgary (Canada) providing some useful recommendations for co-teaching practice in Higher Education, including implications for educational development and administrative