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How Team Teaching Can Improve Your Game

Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation


Editor's Note: Through video observation, collaborative planning, and candid, constructive criticism, California high school math teachers Mike Fauteux and Rose Zapata have devised a formula to improve their practice and increase student achievement. After Edutopia produced this video, Mike and Rose, who teach at Leadership Public School in Hayward, CA, shared their insights with me about how to create a successful team teaching partnership.

Comment on this video, read tips from Mike and Rose, and more


What are some things to look for in a team-teacher partner? How do you pick a "good" one?

Rose Zapata: It was important for me to be working with someone who had the same general philosophy of education and the same core belief that, with the correct scaffolds, all students can achieve. It was also important for my partner to be open to feedback and willing to have conversations around what is best because, ultimately, I want to grow professionally and to do so, I need a partner who wants that too.

Mike Fauteux: When looking for a teaching partner, I would look for someone who is patient, open to new ideas, and willing to compromise. She needs to be willing to express her honest opinion in a respectful way, to break out of the "culture of nice" that so often keeps us from giving helpful feedback. But most of the time, we don't get to pick the other people who are teaching the same class that we teach. So the important issue becomes how you build a highly functioning, collaborative relationship with the teacher who ends up being your partner.

How do you get over being observed by a peer?

RZ: You always have to remember that you want feedback in order to improve and grow. No teacher should be 100 percent satisfied with where he is professionally. There is always something to improve on. (Isn't that what we are preaching to our kids?) An observation from a peer provides real and authentic feedback that you can use to improve your craft and profession and ultimately increase student achievement.

MF: My biggest worry about being observed by a peer is that they might see me on a bad day and think I am a fraud. Deep down, I think that's what most people worry about, being judged as a person and professional based on a lesson or two. Just telling a teacher to practice observing and being observed won't work. In many cases, it can make things worse. The way to get over being observed by a peer is to learn and follow ways of observing and reporting feedback that depersonalize the process, making it objective, safe, and productive.

How do you give, and receive, constructive criticism?

RZ: Feedback always starts with observation notes that can be based on data. It is important to try to stay away from comments that are subjective. I also try to keep a lens on student achievement. "What is it you are doing to help foster student achievement?" or "What are you doing that might be hindering student achievement?" are questions that are foremost in my mind. When receiving feedback, I listen. That sounds elementary, but rather than questioning feedback -- which is our first instinct -- I listen to all the person has to say. I then follow with clarifying questions and directly think about how I can take the feedback and work it in with my teaching personality and the "flow" of my lessons.

MF: The most important thing when giving and receiving feedback is paying attention to a crucial way of talking. When teachers are giving feedback, they need to talk about the lesson, not the teacher, and the work products, not the student. This lessens the personal nature of the conversation, making it feel safer to engage with the topic in an authentic way. When making observations, state what you see, look for a pattern, and base your conclusions on the data.

For example, Rose observed me to help me figure out why her students outperformed mine on a couple of tests. She noticed that I wasn't finishing our lessons consistently. I was rushing the last task we had planned, which happened to be the highest-level task in the lesson. She used video and a record of the time I spent on each section of the lesson as objective data to make her prediction that my students would do better if I more consistently covered all the tasks. She started her feedback with her data, stated a pattern she saw, and made the prediction. Starting with the data kept things objective and the anxiety low. Instead of her saying, "Mike, you're talking too much" and potentially making me defensive, she showed me that I was regularly spending more time on the prior-knowledge section of the lesson than we had allotted for. This came at the expense of the new material. As a result, I made adjustments to my time management and began finishing the lessons, and my students pulled even with Rose's on the rest of our tests.

Whether talking about practice, lesson design, or student results, doing so objectively and with data is the key to a productive professional collaboration.

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hatcherelli's picture

Team teaching can be truly powerful! I speak from experience when I say that finding the right partner is essential. You need to work with someone who you are comfortable with and who you don't mind accepting feedback from. I was blessed to team teach with a partner who was an excellent match for me. We planned together, assessed together, and gave the kids feedback together. We had to ensure that we had the same philosophy about education, so that kids were not confused.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)

It was fun to see this excellent piece promoted by Smartbrief. Kudos, Betty. The questioning protocols were particularly helpful to me: ""What is it you are doing to help foster student achievement?" or "What are you doing that might be hindering student achievement?"

Paul Sinjani's picture
Paul Sinjani
School Headmaster at Lifesong School for Orphans in Zambia

I agree. There is streangth in numbers. Working with a partner with whom who have good understanding helps a lot. This works not only in classroom but in admninstration aswell. I have experienced great releaf to work with people that have shared the same vision for education with me. leaders in education should always encourage their teachers to partiner with friends in teaching.

Tammy Boggs's picture

This affirms my own ideas of effective teamwork. We cannot wear our hearts on our shoulders, and we must be open to possibilities that someone else might have a better idea or approach. Rose and Mike have shown that it is important that we be able to step outside of ourselves and get a vision from the outside in, and then accept the reality, and work from that point to apply the newfound knowledge. It is clear that the effort and collaboration between the two works to enhance their skills in teaching, consequently enhancing their success as teachers.

Kenneth's picture

While there are times I have frustrating encounters with team teaching there are many benefits to it as well. I am a PE/Health teacher and team teach with 3 others. My co-workers and I learn many new ideas, strategies and activities from each other. Also, by brainstorming ideas together we sometimes combine two of our ideas to create a brand new activity. This is my first year team teaching with two of the three co-workers and I look forward to learning more and more from them.

Tim Hemans's picture

In my experience I have found that PLC's have been a great opportunity for me to learn and grow as a teacher, but the hard part sometimes is working in a large group. At times it is tough to get everyone on the same page. My question is how do you achieve maximum harmony amongst the group so that you get the most out of your meeting times?

hatcherelli's picture

If time is spent establishing group norms, this time will pay dividends when it comes to everybody being on the same page. Also, everyone must understand the purpose of the PLC. Hopefully, that purpose is to enhance student learning. The group norms and purpose need to be reviewed often. If you were driving somewhere for ten months, wouldn't you check the map along the way to ensure that you are going the right way?

Corela's picture
4th grade teacher, Baltimore, MD

Last year, I had a wonderful experience team teaching with for a 4th grade reading class. The teacher and I planned together and therefore knew where the lesson was headed so we could help each other out. Several other teachers on my team have not had such great experiences. Instead they choose to alternate teaching days and do not get the full benefit of the co-teaching experience. The students really benefited from having both teachers available to assist them and to clarify any misconceptions. It also helped to differentiate the lesson. One of us could pull a group to reinforce the day's skill while the other worked on a challenge activity.

I completely understand what was stated about the fear of being observed and judged. I felt the same way, but in order to be a team, you have to be able to trust one another. The suggestions given for how to offer constructive criticism will definitely help to build the trust. If you are flexible, open-minded, and willing to grow professionally, team teaching is a great opportunity.

Latrice's picture

Wow, wow, wow!!! I love what you all are doing to help each other grow professionally to ultimately increase student achievement. In my school, we have took the time to observe teachers in the same subject area but in different grades. I think it would be much more effective if we observe our partners of the same grade and subject as you all are doing. This provides for effective feedback when we know the content that the teacher we are observing is teaching. I love the idea of videotaping each other that way you can see for youself what works for the students and how you can improve your teaching for the students. I am going to suggest at my school that we try this strategy of professional development. Once again, great teamwork!

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