By Susan Paton
Regardless of the extent of the co-teaching effort, some basic planning should precede implementation of a new program or service… planning not only is useful in preparing for implementation, but also is important in clarifying, for all involved, the specific expectations and changes that the program entails (Cook & Friend, 1993, p. 16)
It all started with my principal asking, “Would you and Angela like to team teach next year?” I wasn’t sure what to say at first, but the more I thought about it the more I thought why not. We already planned most of our lessons together, spent many hours at the same kinds of professional development, and had similar ideas of expectations for students. We had already done the groundwork, had talked about it if the occasion presented itself, and were ready for that next step. As a team, Angela and I decided to investigate a little further.
Our first question was “What, really, is team teaching?” Of the many definitions, we thought Cook and Friend (1995) summed it up nicely: “two or more professionals delivering substantive instruction to a diverse, or blended, group of students in a single physical space” (p. 2). However, in most research we looked at, a two-teacher team was considered as one special education teacher and one generalist teacher. But our situation differed: here two generalist teachers worked with two diverse groups of children in one physical space. Both teachers plan, teach, support, and assess all students. Welch (2000) identified five kinds of co-teaching models. These models were: (1) one teach, one assist; (2) parallel teaching; (3) alternative teaching; (4) station teaching; and (5) team teaching.
Gately (2005) added to our insight by identifying three developmental stages co-teachers moved through as they work together professionally. In the first (beginning) stage, teachers clarified their roles, expectations, and responsibilities. In the second (compromising) stage, “interpersonal communication becomes more effective and more open and more interactive. The use of humor is one indication the partnership has moved to this stage” (Gately, 2005, p. 39). During the final (collaborative) stage, teachers are confident and comfortable with each other and are able to plan together and meet the needs of all students.
Reading the research helped. We believed it was important to understand these stages before embarking. We needed to find out where we fit in these developmental stages. However, our question wouldn’t be answered until we were actually teaching together.
As we continued our initial research, we discovered that planning time was an issue for many involved in team teaching. Welch (2000) conducted a study of two classrooms, where the teachers kept logs detailing the amount of time they spent on planning and on the model utilized for team teaching. In this article, the one negative comment about team teaching was the amount of time needed for planning. Other research (Cook and Friend 1995; Gately 2005; Walther-Thomas 1997) indicated the importance of administrative support in discussing teacher roles, effective planning, classroom management, and assessment for successful team teaching.
Before we said yes, our principal wanted us to visit other teachers already team teaching in different schools within our division. He wanted us to know he would support whatever decision we made. We visited a grade one class with approximately 40 students in a uniquely large physical space: it was the school’s library before becoming a team-teaching classroom. Their situation was also unique in that the team teaching occurred because the school was short of physical classroom space for the number of students. The solution was two classes, with two teachers in one physical space. This team-teaching situation was out of necessity, not a choice. Their principal asked for volunteers and they said they would give it a try. Interestingly, these two teachers are back in individual classrooms this year.
The two teachers we visited shared many positives but also mentioned the bumps and curves along the way. These bumps and curves included: getting to know each other because they didn’t really know each other ahead of time; getting to know a new curriculum as one of them taught a different grade before coming together; learning to adjust to each other’s different teaching styles; creating common student expectations and discipline; and, (their biggest obstacle), finding time to plan together during the school day. Gately (2005) states, for teachers to move more quickly through the beginning stage of the co-teaching relationship, time is needed to develop their communication skills with each other as well as planning time built into the school schedule. These two items are instrumental for a successful co-teaching relationship.
These teachers suggested we ask our administrators for a few things that were beneficial for their team teaching – a full-time EA, a speaker system, and built-in planning time together. The speaker system was to help all students hear wherever they were in the classroom as well as save the teachers voices. The Educational Assistant would help teachers prepare, organize, and help meet the needs of all students in the classroom. The planning time, which they didn’t get, was so we didn’t have to always meet on our own time.
As we observed these two teachers, we noticed that they took turns teaching the large group. Cook and Friend (1995) and Welch (2000) referred to this model as one teach, one assist. We came to realize that one teach, one assist is often the first stage and most common style of co-teaching. These teachers followed a model where one teacher would teach the lesson while the other teacher moved around the room helping students where and when necessary. These team teachers also divided teaching by subject. One taught language arts and social and the other taught math and science, and they shared the responsibility of the other subjects. This choice was due to a lack of cooperative planning time together, getting to know a new curriculum, getting to know each other, the students, and their new roles and responsibilities.
The challenges these two met were evened by many positives – such as having another person in the room to share “the good times and the bad times” (Walther-Thomas (1997, p. 401), being able to look after issues that arose right away, or dealing with student behaviors instantly while the other teacher continued to teach the class. In Welch’s (2000) study, teachers reported a number of advantages to team-teaching, such as “easier to deal with unexpected transitions or interruptions … borderline kids that don’t qualify (for special education) get extra help” (p. 372). This last reason is why many team teaching situations exist, for inclusion of all student needs. Kohler-Evans’ (2006) research found that “co-teaching has become one of many collaborative strategies that schools are looking at in an effort to meet the needs of all students” (p. 260).
Observing these two teachers, listening to their challenges and their successes, and researching more about team teaching helped us make our decision. Once we said yes to team teaching, our roller coaster ride began. Our first step was to move from our individual classrooms into a larger combined classroom separated by a sliding barn door. Our plan was to have all the desks in the larger room, with tables and small comfortable furniture to create a unique learning space. The fun was finding a home for all of our ‘stuff’ because teachers don’t throw anything away. Once the room was set, we started discussing the benefits and challenges team teaching might bring.
As our team teaching started to take shape, we were surprised that not all our staff was happy and we experienced some animosity. Our school prides itself on being inclusive and collaborative and, when change occurs, realizing that all stakeholders are impacted. Cook and Friend (1995) believed it is important to “communicate with others about their intent … what information is shared and how it is communicated influence significantly how others view, and subsequently respond, to the co-teaching effort” (p. 18). Cook and Friend (1995) were right; and, at this point, we needed administrative support. Administration shared with the school more openly the ‘why’ and ‘how’ and answered questions other teachers were asking. Once others were clear about the process, colleagues even became excited for us. Walther-Thomas' study (1997) research indicated, “administrative support is a critical factor in successful implementation efforts …helps ensure that new initiatives receive the support, school, and community validation, and resources needed to sustain these efforts … the interest and support they received from central administration was important” (p. 404).
The summer gave everyone time for this new approach to sink in. We did notice that our colleagues still considered us as having two classes with two teachers in one room, when we wanted to be considered as one class with two teachers in one room, which is how we see team teaching. Hopefully, this definition will change as our colleagues better understand our team teaching situation.
As we were about to embark on our team teaching, we started our Masters of Education. The combination of work and study was a perfect opportunity to learn more about team teaching or co-teaching. The courses we took helped us understand the roles and responsibilities involved in team teaching, and the research we read helped define what we wanted our team teaching to look like. Cook and Friend (1995) also stated that, “regardless of the extent of the co-teaching effort, some basic planning should precede implementation of a new program of service … planning not only is useful in preparing for implementation, but also is important in clarifying, for all involved, the specific expectations and changes that the program entails” (p. 16). Careful planning often reduces frustration and stress between the co-teachers. Having the summer gave us this time for planning.
At the end of our summer graduate courses, we felt we knew where our research project should go. We wanted to ask the question, “Does team teaching increase teacher efficacy and student efficacy?” One research article (Protheroe, 2008) looked at two beliefs that comprise efficacy. “The first, personal teaching efficacy, relates to a teacher’s own feeling of confidence in regard to their teaching abilities. The second … reflects a general belief about the power of teaching to reach difficult children” (p. 43). We hope our research can better understand how team teaching promotes efficacy in teachers and students. We hope to write about our experiences during our first year of team teaching. We want to remember our ups and downs so we might share our experiences with others.
As September arrived, so to did our 36 students with diverse backgrounds and abilities. Our first step was to make sure parents were onboard and comfortable with the number of grade two students in one classroom. At the beginning, a few concerned parents asked: would their child be overlooked; would the extra noise bother them; and would students get enough attention. These concerns were addressed as quickly as possible during a meet the teacher open house, parent teacher interviews, and our open door policy of come and look. Six months later, our parents seem glad their children are involved in our team teaching classroom. Some comments include: they have more friends; the students like the space and flexibility of working at different locations around the classroom; there are more small groups to differentiate their child’s learning; and there is always one teacher to talk to about a problem or issue without waiting.
Sometimes I recall last year at this time, teaching alone, getting ready to write report cards, trying to assess individual students while teaching the whole class. Obviously the job is not impossible, because I had done it that way for years; however, this year I feel more effective. We share the responsibilities of assessing students and assess them without interruptions, with more focus and attention on the individual student, all while the other person teachers the group.
Much of the research I have read talked about the extra professional development teachers received when working in a team teaching environment. Welch (2000) shared positive comments from teachers such as, “enjoyed the experience and felt they had learned a great deal professionally” (p. 373) I learn things everyday from my teaching partner. Kohler-Evans (2006) notes lessons learned from her study: “Start small and ask for volunteers; place value on co-teaching as one of many inclusive practices; find time for mutual planning time; practice parity; have fun, don’t overlook the small stuff; communicate, communicate, and communicate; measure student progress over time; and one size does not fill all” (p. 262-263). All these lessons help with having a successful team teaching experience, especially the “have fun” lesson.
Kohler-Evans (2006, p. 263) also commented, “Working in partnership with another teacher, bouncing ideas off of one another, planning and orchestration the perfect lesson, having two pair of eyes and four hands, creating something that is better than that which each partner brings … what better way is there to teach?” Cook and Friend (1995) believe team teachers “work together to more sensitively gauge student needs at any particular moment of instruction” (p. 5). They can jump in and clarify or add to a lesson to make student learning more successful.
I’ve always enjoyed teaching and going to work, but who gets to spend every school day with their friend, share stories about their students, laugh and cry together while being at work. I can say that team teaching is one of the best experiences I have had in my teaching career. I believe team teaching has increased my own efficacy, which I also believe increases my students learning along with their efficacy.
Partners must establish trust, develop and work on communication, share the chores, celebrate, work together creatively to overcome the inevitable challenges and problems, and anticipate conflict and handle it in a constructive way (Cushman 2013, p. 4)
Cook, L., & Friend, M. (1995). Co-teaching: Guidelines for creating effective practices. Focus on Exceptional Children, 28(3), 1-16. Retrieved from http://login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.login.ezpr xy.library.ualberta.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ545936&site=ehost live&scope=site
Cushman, S. (2013). What is Co-teaching? In Nevin, A., Thousand, J., Villa, R. (3), A Guide to Co-Teaching (pp. 3-10). Thousand Oaks: Corwin.
Gately, S. E. (2005). Two are better than one. Principal Leadership, 5(9), 36-41. Retrieved from http://login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.login.ezpr xy.library.ualberta.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ766923&site=ehost live&scope=site; http://www.principals.org/KnowledgeCenter/Publications.aspx
Kohler-Evans, P. (2006). Co-teaching: How to make this marriage work in front of the kids. Education, 127(2), 260-264. Retrieved from http://login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.login.ezpr xy.library.ualberta.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ765824&site=ehost live&scope=site; http://www.projectinnovation.biz/education.html
Protheroe, N. (2008). Teacher efficacy: What is it and does it matter? Principal, (5,6), 42-45. Retrieved from http://www.naesp.org/resources/1/Principal/2008/M-Jp42.pdf
Walther-Thomas, C. (1997). Co-teaching experiences: The benefits and problems that teachers and principals report over time. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30(4), 395-407. Retrieved from http://login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/19 226838?accountid=14474
Welch, M. (2000). Descriptive analysis of team teaching in two elementary classrooms: A formative experimental approach. Remedial & Special Education, 21(6), 366-376. Retrieved from http://login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx direct=true&db=ehh&AN=3834122&site=ehost-live&scope=site