This article explores various team-teaching models, benefits for both teaching and learning, and the conditions necessary for successful teacher partnerships. Team-teaching is the practice of including two or more teachers of equal status in a classroom to provide instruction to one group of students. Models discussed include special education/regular education teacher partnerships, middle school teacher teams, and interdisciplinary teams in the high school setting. All models positively influence both professional growth for teachers and learning outcomes for students. Conditions necessary for successful partnerships are explored including common planning time, communication, definition of roles, accommodating schedules, symbiotic relationships, and teacher willingness.
Keywords Alternative Teaching; Co-Teaching; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); Interdisciplinary Teams; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Parallel Teaching; Station-Teaching; Team -Teaching
Dieker & Murawski (2003) define team-teaching as two or more teachers of equal status in the classroom providing instruction to one group of students at the same time. A variety of team-teaching models exist, each with a different purpose. However, the overarching benefits of each model are the same. Team-teaching provides opportunities for teachers to break free from isolation, collaborate on meaningful curriculum development projects, share teaching philosophies, better assess student learning outcomes, and grow professionally. Furthermore, successful team-teaching provides a model for students with regard to cooperation, teamwork, positive interaction, and the results of collaborative efforts.
One team-teaching model involves partnerships between special education teachers and regular education teachers. This model has gained popularity in the past decade mostly due to an emphasis on inclusive education strategies as mandated by laws such as the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This practice places a burden on the general educator who is often inadequately trained to meet the needs of such a diverse classroom. Co-teaching has been one of the support strategies used to address the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities for learners with special needs in the general education classroom (Nierengarten, 2013). In fact, the majority of co-teaching scenarios involve specialist teachers partnered with regular education teachers.
By the year 2000, approximately 80% of the nation's middle schools reported using teacher teams as a mode of instruction (Hackmann, Petzko, Valentine, Clark, Nori & Lucas, 2002). Middle schools use the method extensively primarily because of the social and emotional needs of adolescent students. Teams generally consist of two teachers, each teaching separate disciplines (i.e. math and science together and language arts and social studies together). Teaching-teams are responsible for one team of students and meet regularly to discuss teaching philosophies, management systems, assessment, etc.
Interdisciplinary teams, primarily at the high school level, are yet another form of team-teaching that encourages connections across disciplines and creates opportunities for increased applications to real-world settings (Murata, 2002). Interdisciplinary teams involve two or more teachers from different disciplines partnering to develop a course that combines different areas of expertise and bridges the gap between otherwise seemingly unrelated fields of study.
Co-Teaching: Special Education
Warwick (1971) was the first to propose co-teaching as a way to reach all students with learning disabilities. During the 1980's the movement gained momentum and became more commonplace compared to the traditional pull-out programs where students with learning disabilities were removed from the regular education class to receive one-on-one instruction. At the time, the central motivating factor behind co-teaching scenarios was the fact that partnerships within the classroom dramatically reduced the student-teacher ratio, thus benefiting students who needed extra support and individualized instruction (Friend, 2007). The co-teaching model differs from teacher partnerships where two regular education teachers combine, for example, two classes of twenty students for instructional purposes. Rather than two teachers for forty students, the co-teaching model creates student-teacher ratios of two teachers for twenty students.
Friend (2007) asserts that one strong benefit of the co-teaching model is that both teachers bring unique qualities and characteristics to the classroom. Regular education teachers often focus on the content and curriculum while special education teachers focus on the actual learning process and assisting students with demonstration of skills and understandings. This type of partnership, if developed with careful consideration and nurtured throughout, can have an impact on student performance and achievement outcomes. Friend (2007) does make explicit, however, that co-teachers need extensive professional development to understand the philosophy behind co-teaching, expectations for performance, ways to develop a positive working relationship and strategies to maximize contributions to teaching and learning.
Cook & Friend (2000) describe five models of co-teaching that are used primarily in situations where special education teachers are partnered with regular education teachers in the homeroom setting. The first model includes one teacher and one assistant. In this model, one teacher is primarily responsible for delivering instruction. The station-teaching model integrates both teachers into the delivery of instruction. However, both teachers work with different stations of students on activities and assignments. Parallel teaching scenarios are created when both teachers plan together, but deliver instruction separately to different groups and alternative teaching scenarios involve one teacher working with small groups to pre-teach, re-teach, or supplement regular instruction. Cook and Friend (1995) suggest that the most effective co-teaching model involves team-teaching where two or more teachers share responsibility for instruction for the entire class at the same time.
Teacher Teams in Middle Schools
According to Hackmann et al. (2002), teacher teams are a common middle school organizational structure. As noted, approximately 80% of middle schools in the nation report using teaching teams. Middle school teams usually include two teachers responsible for separate areas of the curriculum, but highly integrated in terms of teaching philosophy, assessment, management policies, etc. These teams often provide students with a greater sense of security and stability. As Picucci et al. (2002) indicate, teacher teams in middle school provide the structure necessary to maintain closer social and emotional connections between teachers and students. Although middle school teacher teams may not frequently include opportunities for two teachers to work collaboratively in the same classroom at the same time, other models of team-teaching such as co-teaching, as described above, can be integrated with teacher teams to influence student achievement outcomes.
Interdisciplinary Team Teaching
Interdisciplinary team-teaching occurs mostly in high schools as teachers with different areas of expertise collaborate to develop courses that integrate curriculum and fields of study. According to Murata (2002), in 1997 the National Association of Secondary School Principals called for greater personalization, integrated and engaging curriculum, and opportunities for connections to the real world. Murata (2002) asserts that effective team-teaching is a practice with broad appeal and potential for improving teaching. She believes these calls by secondary school principals can be answered to a great degree by creating more opportunities for interdisciplinary team-teaching.
Davis (1995) indicates that in order for interdisciplinary team-teaching to be successful, teachers need to collaborate on planning, content integration, teaching and evaluation. Wenger and Hornyak (1999) further highlight that teachers need to develop lesson objectives together, discuss "turn taking" within the teaching partnership, and create time to discuss the overall quality of an effective lesson.
Murata (2002) sheds light on a possible reason interdisciplinary team-teaching is not as common as it could be in many high schools. Although team-teaching is often seen as innovative and empowering for teachers, the philosophy itself is contrary to many schools’ already established cultures. Often team-teaching is considered a direct challenge to the status quo and change is not easy for many individuals (Murata, 2002).
Benefits of Team Teaching
Many documented benefits exist with regard to team-teaching. First and foremost, team-teaching provides an opportunity for teachers to model positive interactions, collaboration and lifelong learning for students (Sandholtz, 2000). When teachers interact with each other in the classroom, students see firsthand what it is like to collaborate well with another individual and how teamwork can lead to better results. Furthermore, Fullan (1991) asserts that successful team teaching leads to mutual support for growth. In turn, this leads to increased effectiveness and innovation in teaching. When teachers have an opportunity to work out of isolation, generate ideas with another teacher and spark engaging curriculum development, they are motivated to become better teachers and to improve instructional practice. The right partnership can lead to the conditions...
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