Professional Development Published 12 Jul 2013

Team teaching the way of the future



WHEN discussing the various approaches to teaching and learning, the debate as to which is the best pedagogy can flare instantly, given the heat that this core element of our profession generates.

In the case of team teaching as an alternative to individually run classrooms, the sparks fly and ignite passions on both sides of the argument, as years of set practices and behaviours are challenged.

Having taught traditionally for most of my career and, for the last five years, in collaboration with two other colleagues in open learning spaces, my conclusions are based upon active experience in both fields.

Both practices have their pros and cons. Yet, in the long haul of what is often a demanding and stressful school year team teaching, when functioning well, gives teachers and students the flexibility to reassess, regroup and refocus, turning negative situations back into positive outcomes – something the rigidity of one teacher one classroom can never cater for.

However, for team teaching to function efficiently one fundamental principle must underpin and drive the delicate process at all times; that being the relationship developed by all members, which in turn is directly reflected by the student attitude towards their learning.

What each person brings to the team and what the team then synthesises and delivers to its cohort in the context of curriculum expectations, is the key to producing really enhanced student engagement and performance.

In full flight, the power of a fully functioning unit provides personalised educational pathways for every student, which in turn gives them the best opportunity to realise their optimum potential.

However, like all finely tuned collaborations, team teaching, if not carefully monitored by everyone involved, can quickly go off key. When this occurs, teacher and student relationships and performance can be greatly affected.

In an unguarded moment, the downward spiral can begin when agreed values, standards and general procedures are perceived as not being followed.

"But you didn't give a detention for that behaviour?"

"No. I thought that a warning was sufficient in this case."

"But that's not what the team agreed to at our last meeting."

"Yes I know, but there are times when …"

Even with the best of planning, tension can flare and it's precisely at this very early stage that direct action of a conciliatory nature must occur, before the issue becomes a catalyst for further breakdown.

The team needs to meet immediately and revisit all negotiated agreements in order to chart a new direction before the "me and them" mentality begins to take hold.

How this is achieved is directly linked to the willingness of all members to reposition the needs of their students as first priority. When this is also done in partnership with an empathetic principal class, the process begins to move forward and re-engagement begins once more.

The traditional school model which has been in place since Federation is starting to show its creaky age, as technology and the ever changing needs of students expand exponentially.

In the context of this huge shift in focus, team teaching freed up from the conventions of traditional delivery, yet still firmly based in the principles of knowledge acquisition, expansion and application, becomes the best vehicle moving forward.

Peter D'Angelo is a teacher at Dandenong High School, Melbourne.

This story appeared in the July 2013 edition of Australian Teacher Magazine.

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