A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the Future of Education Now conference at the Western Academy in Beijing. For me, one of the most exciting revelations of the conference is about team teaching.
If you’d asked me before the conference if I was involved in team teaching, I would have said “of course!”. After all, our team plans units together, we design and share resources and we help each other think about the learning going on in each others’ classes. Of course we team teach!
Except we don’t…
And here is the revelatory slide:
What we actually do is franchise teaching. Yes, we work together on the planning and take an shared interest in the learning of all of our students, but when we step away from our collaborative meetings and into “our” classrooms, we’re on our own. And the students are on their own with us.
I’m not saying this model is bad. Teaching is so personal, it’s great to have the flexibility to implement a unit in the way we think it’s best done for our students. However, we’re missing so many benefits of team teaching.
See exhibit B from the conference, WAB Middle School’s Learning Lab and their approach to team teaching math:
Essentially, what they do is combine three or more math classes and set a common, differentiated math challenge. Students can then choose how they want to approach this challenge by going to a certain learning space. One space might be teacher-led, like a more traditional classroom set-up. Another might facilitate small group work on the challenge and one space might allow students to withdraw into a “cave” and think on their own about the challenge. Each space is supported by one or more math teachers.
As the video explains, this empowers students to make a choice about their learning, giving them ownership even when the learning objective is prescribed. And, dare I say it, choose to work with the teacher with whom they feel they have the best connection. Again, teaching and learning are personal, and we need to accept that some teacher-student relationships are stronger than others.
Having multiple teachers allows each one of these spaces to be well supported (if a single teacher tries to differentiate a classroom like this, they inevitably leave one or more groups to their own devices for at least part of the session). Furthermore it allows teachers to play to their strengths. Are they best in a more structured, teacher-led format? Then supervise the teacher-led section. Are they great questioners? Then maybe the small group area is the best for them.
My school isn’t blessed to have the amazing learning spaces seen at WAB (my colleague and I did seriously consider taking a sledgehammer to the non-load bearing walls between the classrooms – that’s the thinking you get when you cross 14 time zones in 6 days), but team teaching is something many schools can easily implement.
For example, we’ve always griped about classes in the same subject being blocked with each other on the timetable: if one teacher is away, it’s very difficult to get a subject specialist to cover the class. But this structure means that two or more classes can be team taught straight away, simply using the different classrooms as the different zones.
And there are lots of different ways to use the different teachers and spaces, not just for the style of learning. Thinking from a Global Politics perspective, we could offer 2-3 group case-studies on the same concept, and allow the students to choose which is most interesting and relevant to them. During revision time, we could set-up the room based on different revision needs – one room looking at the human rights unit, one at peace and conflict, and one at exam technique – again dividing the rooms between our areas of speciality as a teacher.
Sometimes the most simple ideas are the best and this is certainly one we’ll explore further. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be let loose with a sledgehammer.