Team Teaching

By Nathan Woods

Team-teaching can motivate students and teachers, and help to create an open, democratic learning environment. When working in teams, teachers can take advantage of their differences in knowledge, opinions, ideas, and personality to model collaborative dialogue and behaviour, which can improve learning outcomes for students (Cotton, 1982; Murata, 2002; Slater, 1993; Walker, 2008). So why is teaming so difficult to implement, and what can go wrong?

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One problem is that teaming can also marginalise teachers who express minority opinions (Colwill & Boyd, 2008; Gunn & King, 2003; Hargreaves & Dawe, 1990; Johnson, 2003). Gun and King (2003) argued that because wider socio-cultural power structures pervade teams, in cultures where competitive or authoritarian structures and entrenched deeply hierarchies emerge within teams, “individualistic tendencies persist”, genuine consensus is difficult to achieve, and some team members are “silenced”. In some contexts, teacher “collaboration” is introduced by management as a means of increased control whereby observation and dialogue become mechanisms for monitoring how well peers are implementing centralized mandates. Johnsonʼs (2003) examination of four Australian schools’ attempts to implement greater collaboration through team-teaching revealed that some teachers working in teams experienced a “loss of autonomy or independence” as a consequence of having to conform with the decisions of their team. He noted that teams adopted different norms and set about defending them against the threat of other groups therefore creating factionalism and a sense of hostility within the wider school environment (Johnson, 2003). Despite these difficulties, an analysis of the literature on team-teaching shows that when the appropriate organizational structures and support mechanisms are in place, teaming is an excellent way to improve student outcomes, to address issues of inequity, and to empower students and teachers to think critically and become intellectual risk takers. The extent to which traditional bureaucracies exist within schools influences the initial functionality of teams (Erb, 2001; Kain, 2001). However, when teams are integrated into the organizational structure of their institution, are given time to develop, and a central role in decision making, they become the primary forum for empowered decision making and shared leadership by keeping decisions collaborative and as close to students as possible (Tonso, et al., 2006). An examination of the neoliberal ideology that has influenced education reform in New Zealand and most of the Western world since the 1980s points to some of the challenges one may face in implementing teaming. Neoliberalism has redefined the work of teachers,  fostering a culture of competitive individualism (A.-M. O’Neill & O’Neill, 2008). Under neoliberalism, there has been a “press towards more centrally generated” and “bureaucratically driven forms of control” (Hargreaves & Dawe, 1990), which have isolated and disempowered teachers. The current emphasis on measurable outcomes means individual teachers are often held responsible for studentsʼ underachievement (J. O’Neill, 2005). In New Zealand, neoliberal reforms have introduced a disciplinary regime (J. O’Neill & Scrivens, 2005), which consists of appraisal systems, professional standards, the Education Review Office, school-based self-review systems, and compulsory reporting of student achievement against centrally mandated outcomes. The work of teachers has become increasingly prescribed and monitored. Neoliberalism favours a solo-accountable teacher over a collaborative teaching team, which would share responsibility for the success and well being of its students. Increased pressure on teachers to meet centrally mandated accountabilities is believed to foster anxiety, fearfulness of external evaluation and teachersʼ “immersion in the immediacy of their own classrooms” (Hargreaves & Dawe, 1990). According to Hargreaves and Dawe, this “has been felt to explain teachers reluctance to explore and embrace alternative teaching approaches which may challenge or move beyond what they already know and do” (1990). Therefore, by reducing teachersʼ sense of isolation and “cracking the walls of privatism”, team-teaching has “been regarded not only as a beneficial move for teachers collegially, but also as an essential prerequisite to securing educational change in any enduring sense” (Hargreaves & Dawe, 1990). Team-teaching is often promoted as a way of fostering a democratic learning environment. Shibley, for instance, claims that in a teaming environment teachers’ differing perspectives can relax the classroom atmosphere and encourage a considerable amount of student participation (Shibley, 2006). Walker, reflecting on his experience team- teaching in a New Zealand university, argues that teaming reduces opportunities for teachers to produce “grand narratives” that can be used for “normalization, interpretive potentialities or oppression”. He notes that teaming is a way “to illustrate a philosophical approach that limits the productive function of power-knowledge in the day to day teaching of students, by offering different perspectives, personalities, skills and experiences” (Walker, 2008). Game and Metcalfe also propose that by observing teachers engaged in dialogue students “come to trust teachers, seeing them not as people with a complete knowledge, but as people devoted to learning and thinking”. They go on to describe the look of learning in a team-taught classroom: “We ask each other and the students for help when we lose our train of thought or cannot see the connections between ideas. If one of us hears the other slipping into an old script, into esoteric jargon, into a leading question, the former, aware of what students are experiencing, will pull the latter back into dialogue by asking them to explain, to elaborate, to give an example, to say what assumptions they are not making explicit” (Game & Metcalfe, 2009) Another recurring theme in the literature on team-teaching is the potential for teaming to enhance teachersʼ professional development. Researchers suggest that when teachers work in teams they are more likely to confront dominant practices, explore alternatives, and employ a diverse range of teaching strategies (Erb, 2001; Kain, 2001; Strahan & Hedt, 2009; Tonso, et al., 2006). Kain found that teams were “far less likely to continue the deadening practices that can so easily predominate when we work in isolation”. Strahan and Hedtʼs three-year study of teaming in an American middle school used data gathered through participant observations, formal and informal interviews, and archival documents to determine the effect of increased collaboration on teachersʼ professional growth. Based on an analysis of the data they concluded, “professional growth accelerated” due to “discussions of instructional practices and student performance”. They also noted that patterns of professional growth and student accomplishment documented “the power of collaboration” and suggested “possibilities for supporting professional development more productively through interdisciplinary teamwork” (Strahan & Hedt, 2009). Alternatively, a study of an urban middle school in the United States before and after a restructuring procedure that de-emphasized the role and value of teaching teams revealed that, after restructuring, teachers opportunities to learn were reduced, and “teachers felt their skills diminishing and worried about their capabilities to serve students”. The restructured school fell back on “a conventional sense of teachers as people who know, instead of the more revolutionary notion of teachers as people who learn” which “undercut teacher teamwork” (Tonso, et al., 2006). Teaming is also said to increase teachersʼ confidence and the likelihood that they will engage in pedagogical innovation and risk taking. Blackwoodʼs (1993) analysis of three teaching teams at a high school in the United States showed that teams “created and sustained an environment in which they could make decisions over curriculum, pedagogy and self -governance”. Blackwood reported that teaming increased teachersʼ initiative and autonomy, while reducing isolation and adding perceived support from peers (Blackwood, 1993). Murata also observed that teaming provides teachers with an opportunity to implement new ideas in a safe environment (Murata, 2002), and Slatersʼ 1993 study of interdisciplinary teams revealed that the implementation of teams “was a prerequisite for optimal reform in the areas of curriculum, advisory programs, and programs for at -risk students and minorities underrepresented in college enrollments”. He observed that “after teams were instituted, reforms in these areas were more readily achieved” and that teachers were more likely to adopt “active learning strategies” (Slater, 1993). Cottonʼs 1982 review of literature on the effectiveness of team-teaching indicated that teaming had a positive impact on studentsʼ affective outcomes. These findings have been supported by recent studies on team-teaching. Cotton reviewed and synthesized sixteen documents on team-teaching, including thirteen studies and three previous reviews. She concluded, “with regard to affective outcomes such as self-concept and school attitudes, interdisciplinary teaming is at least slightly favored by the majority of studies reviewed and significantly favored by some” (Cotton, 1982). Murataʼs (2002) study of four interdisciplinary teams at a high school in the United States also indicated that teaming improved student morale. Murata used a combination of interviews, observations and student evaluations to identify recurrent patterns and reveal the meaning of teaming for the participants. Based on the data she collected, Murata concluded that teaming promoted a culture of shared values. She also noted “modeling by the teachers of their professional relationship had the effect of demonstrating for the students positive, adult human interaction and of creating for them a sense of belonging” (Murata, 2002). Slaterʼs (1993) evaluation of a three-year middle grade reform initiative in the United States also revealed that team-teaching “provided a sense of belonging for students”, increased student participation in extracurricular activities, and decreased absenteeism (Slater, 1993). As well as improving affective outcomes for students, some researchers have suggested that teaming may facilitate deeper conceptual learning. Walker, for instance, argues that “multiple views and approaches to issues”, particularly where team members disagree, can add to the development of studentsʼ “intellectual rigorousness” (Walker, 2008). Cleary notes that studentsʼ encounters with divergent viewpoints encourages “their increasing awareness of the subjectivity of information”, which results in a reduction of “cognitive dissonance” through a deeper examination of “the institutions, constructs, and ideologies that shape their sense of self and other” (Cleary, 2001). However, despite these arguments, and perhaps because it is difficult to measure conceptual understanding, there is a lack of data supporting the claim that team-teaching improves academic outcomes. Cottonʼs (1982) review of team-teaching found that, in terms of academic outcomes, the research on teaming, as compared to traditional “one-teacher, one -classroom arrangements, generally indicates that these two formats are equally effective” (Cotton, 1982). Team-teaching is also reported to improve student-teacher relationships. According to Slater, teams create an environment that breaks down barriers between students and teachers and creates “closer, more caring relationships” (Slater, 1993). Drawing on their experience of team-teaching large first-year classes at an Australian university, Game and Metcalfe have emphasized that dialogue between teachers can foster a sense of open and honest communication and increased interaction between students and teachers. They argue that solo teachers often simplify social relationships with students because they have difficulty coping with too many responsibilities and “the full potential of the classroom can present them with more possibilities than they feel they can handle”. In a team- teaching environment, however, the added support of a colleague allows them to safely hold open classroom relations. The potential of the class and the difference within the class become resources rather than threats. “The dialogue between teachers allows them to think together and think differently at the same time” (Game & Metcalfe, 2009). Murata also noted that teachers working in teams recognized that their professional relationship provided a model for their students and created a climate of shared values in which “teams viewed their individual assumptions and beliefs as an asset to creating a climate of respect” for all students (Murata, 2002). Team-teaching is also described as a mechanism that can empower teachers and increase their sense of professional autonomy. Gunn and King propose, the creation of teaching teams implies the recognition of teachersʼ potential to engender effective school improvement. This empowerment, they believe, is extremely important for a society that wants to generate independent and knowledgeable thinkers who are capable of democratic deliberation because “it must expect that teachers be such people and that students see them being so. To create an effective culture of democratic professionalism, school leaders – including teachers themselves – must expect and model professional discourse, including the establishment of norms of critical feedback and collegiality”. Based on their analyses of various collaborative teaching arrangements, Dee, Henkin and Singleton (2006) discovered that team-teaching had the greatest total effect on organizational commitment. They reported that teaming was “associated with higher levels of communication, openness and autonomy, which in turn yielded higher levels of organizational commitment” (Dee, Henkin, & Singleton, 2006). Tonso, et al. also observed that when the role of established teaching teams were de-emphasized by the establishment of more traditional, bureaucratic, structures “teacher teams lost their place in and importance to the schoolʼs operation” and, as a result, “the school lost teacher empowerment, focus on all students, and communication within the building and between school and families” (Tonso, et al., 2006). The Micro-Politics of Team-Teaching While the majority of researchers have focused on the positive aspects of team-teaching, there are a significant minority who have taken a more critical view (Colwill & Boyd, 2008; Gunn & King, 2003; Hargreaves & Dawe, 1990; Johnson, 2003). One area of team- teaching that has drawn criticism is its potential to foster conformity with dominant ideologies and practices – a concept often described as ʻgroup thinkʼ. Johnsonʼs (2003) comparative case study of four Australian schoolʼs efforts to promote greater teacher collaboration revealed that twenty five percent of teachers working on teams felt “constrained to some or a great extent”. He reported “the loss of independence or autonomy by these teachers was seen (by them) as an inevitable consequence of having to conform with the implicit norms and explicit decisions of their working team” (Johnson, 2003). He also reported that team members were highly critical of dissenters who did not support their teaching philosophies, and that increased collaboration proved to be damaging to the personal and professional lives of a minority of teachers. Haregreaves and Dawe (1990) also warn that within the socio-political context of teacher development it is possible that collaboration may, in many instances, not be empowering teachers towards greater professional independence at all, but incorporating them and their loyalties within purposes and structures bureaucratically determined elsewhere (Hargreaves & Dawe, 1990). Researchers have also noted that the occurrence of micro-political infighting often compromises the functionality of teaching teams. Gunn and Kingʼs 10-year study of an interdisciplinary team at a high school in the United States revealed that hierarchical relations and power structures imbedded within the team overwhelmed team members and compromised educational outcomes for students. They noted that the team often failed to achieve consensus regarding substantive issues of pedagogy. They also noted that the appointment of team leaders by outside administrators represented a form of increased control whereby observation and dialogue became mechanisms for monitoring how well teams were implementing centralized mandates (Gunn & King, 2003). Dugan and Lettermanʼs (2008) analysis of student appraisals of different forms of team-taught classes at three universities in the United States also revealed that students were often aware of organizational problems, and problems with instructor-to-instructor communication (Dugan & Letterman, 2008). Team-teaching has also been accused of creating factionalism within schools. Johnsonʼs Australian study, for instance, showed that, over time, teaching teams “adopted different norms and set about defending them against the threat of other groups” (Johnson, 2003). Franaʼs study of teaching teams at three high schools in the United States also showed that the sub-culture of departments and a reluctance to embrace change created problems for some teams. The study described the example of a science department chair who, “protective of his department…prevented any science teachers from participating” in teaching teams. Frana notes that, often, “the culture of the departments placed pressure on teachers not to participate, or to stay within the bounds of the cultural expectations for the traditional school setting” (Frana, 1998). Despite claims that these micro-political complications compromise the goals of team- teaching, it is also likely that their existence is a further indication of the potential that team-teaching has to foster a democratic learning environment, as teachers are forced to confront issues of power, ideology and diversity in the classroom. Shibley argues that the success of team-taught courses often depends on how “conflicts are handled and whether these conflicts are identified prior to the beginning of the course” (Shibley, 2006). Colwill and Boyd argue that the sense of dislocation that is prompted by team-teaching is an indication that existing conceptions of identity have been disrupted. They note that solo teaching “nourishes the dream of a unitary sense of self as teacher” but when team- teaching “that image collides with both students’ and colleagues’ ways of seeing and their assessment of us as instructors”. They propose that teaming “defamiliarizes the pedagogical experience” by challenging “what we teach… how we teach” and “who we are in the classroom”. They also note that “utopic visions” of teaming are seldom realized as “students and teachers never fully inhabit an Arcadian scene in which they exchange roles and redistribute power, moving inexorably toward that dispersal or even elimination of authority” (Colwill & Boyd, 2008). Conclusions and Recommendations The benefits of team-teaching have been well documented and supported. The majority of studies discussed in this report have drawn on qualitative data (Blackwood, 1993; Gunn & King, 2003; Murata, 2002; Shibley, 2006; Strahan & Hedt, 2009) such as observations, interviews, participant surveys, and document analysis, etc. Others have also incorporated quantitative research methods (Dee, et al., 2006; Dugan & Letterman, 2008; Johnson, 2003). There is sufficient evidence to indicate that team-teaching can have a positive impact on student and teacher morale, and improve affective outcomes for students. It is also evident that teaming can create a sense of professional autonomy, and feelings of empowerment for teachers, which encourage pedagogical innovation and risk taking. There is also overwhelming evidence that, by diffusing the authority of the solo-teacher and incorporating “different perspectives, personalities, skills and experiences” (Walker, 2008) teaming can foster an equitable and democratic learning environment. However, despite these benefits, teaming cannot be viewed in simplistic terms. Putting teachers together in teams will not ensure the objectives of team-teaching are met. As the literature indicates, the promise of team-teaching is sometimes compromised by micro- political infighting, factionalism and attempts by administrators to control and manipulate teams. Rather than facilitating exploration and innovation teams can sometimes become a conformity-building mechanism, which oppress and marginalize minorities. Conventional bureaucratic structures already present in educational institutions have also created resistance to team-teaching in the form of rigid departmentalization and the inflexible attitudes of some instructors. The most successful teams are fully integrated into the organizational structure of their institution and given control over their decision-making processes. They are autonomous entities, rather than simply mechanisms used for implementation of centrally determined objectives. In an era of neoliberal accountability, teaming holds great promise for teachers who are in search of a more meaningful existence. The formerly isolated-accountable teacher can gain confidence and a sense of professional integrity within the supportive environment of a team. With teaming the pressure to conform in an era of bureaucratic rationalism, is countere-balanced by a sense of collectivity, and belonging. Of course, there is a danger that teams will be co-opted by administrators, succumb to the force of conventional ʻwisdomʼ, or become nothing more than a mechanism by which neoliberal values are enforced, or internalized. However, it is also likely that, when team members clash over questions of pedagogy, they will be forced to reconsider their assumptions about the purposes of teaching and to develop a deeper understanding of the political nature of their profession. When teams are truly collaborative and autonomous, they will offer teachers an opportunity to develop, to gain confidence, and to take risks that will carry them, and their students, beyond the limitations of narrowly prescribed social efficency regime. Bibliography Blackwood, J. L. (1993). Culture of Empowerment in a Restructured School. Virginia Polytechnic and State University, Charleston. Cleary, D. E. B. C. (2001). Opression, Power, Inequality: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Teaching Sociology, 29(1), 36-47. Colwill, E., & Boyd, R. (2008). Teaching without a mask? Collaborative teaching as femenist practice. NWSA Journal, 20(2), 216-231. Cotton, K. (1982). Effects of Interdisciplinary Team Teaching. Portland: Northwest Regional Educational Lab. Dee, J. R., Henkin, A. B., & Singleton, C. A. (2006). Organizational Commitment of Teachers in Urban Schools: Examining the Effects of Team Structures. Urban Education, 41(6), 603-626. Dugan, K., & Letterman, M. (2008). Student Appraisals of Collaborative Teaching. College Teaching, 56(1), 11-15. Erb, T. O. (2001). Transforming Organizational Structures for Young Adolescents and Adult Learning. In T. S. Dickinson (Ed.), Reinventing The Middle School (pp. 176-200). London: Routledge Falmer. Frana, B. S. (1998). High School Culture and (Mis) Perceptions of support: A Case Study of Success and Failure for Interdisciplinary Team teaching. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Game, A., & Metcalfe, A. (2009). Dialogue and team teaching. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(1), 45-57. Gunn, J. H., & King, M. B. (2003). Trouble in Paradise: Power, Conflict, and Community in an Interdisciplinary Teaching Team. Urban Education, 38(2), 173-195. Hargreaves, A., & Dawe, R. (1990). Paths of Professional Development: Contrived Collegiality, Collaborative Culture, and the Case of Peer Coaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 6(3), 227-241. Johnson, B. (2003). Teacher Collaboration: good for some, not so good for others. Educational Studies, 29(4), 337-350. Kain, D. L. (2001). Our Turn? Teaming and the Professional Development of Teachers. In T. S. Dickinson (Ed.), Reinventing The Middle School (pp. 201-217). London: Routledge Falmer. Murata, R. (2002). What Does Team Teaching Mean? A Case Study od Interdisciplinary Teaming. The Journal of Educational Research, 96(2), 67-77. O’Neill, A.-M. (2005). Individualism, enterprise culture and curriculum policy. In J. Codd & K. Sullivan (Eds.), Educational Policy Directions in Aoteora New Zealand. Auckland: Thomson Dunmore Press. O’Neill, A.-M., & O’Neill, J. (2008). How The Official Curriculum Shapes Teaching and Learning. In A. St.George, S. Brown & J. O’Neill (Eds.), Facing the Big Questions in Teaching: Purpose, Power and Learning. Melbourne: Cengage Learning. O’Neill, J. (2005). Policies on Teachers and Teaching: More of the Same? In J. Codd & K. Sullivan (Eds.), Education Policy Directions in Aotearoa New Zealand. Auckland: Thomson Dunmore Press. O’Neill, J., & Scrivens, C. (2005). Teacher Accountability Systems. In P. Adams, K. Vossler & C. Scrivens (Eds.), Teachers’ Work in Aorearoa New Zealand. Auckland: Thomson Dunmore Press. Shibley, I. (2006). Interdisciplinary Team Teaching. Negotiating Pedagogical Differences. College Teaching, 54(3), 271-274. Slater, J. K. (1993). Using Regional School Networks to Orchestrate Reform in California Middle Grades. The Elementary School Journal, 93(5), 481-493. Strahan, D., & Hedt, M. (2009). Teaching and Teaming More Responsively: Case Studies in Professional Growth at the Middle Level. RMLE Online, 32(8), 1-13. Tonso, K. L., Jung, M. L., & Colombo, M. (2006). “It’s Hard Answering Your Calling”: Teacher Teams in a Restructuring Urban Middle School. Research in Middle Level Education, 30(1), 1-22. Walker, S. (2008). Collaborative team teaching. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work Review, 60(4).


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