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How Team Teaching Can Improve Your Game

Betty Ray

Senior Editor at Large
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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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Josh Reppun's picture
Josh Reppun
I teach history at Iolani school in Honolulu.

I team teach United States history with a friend who happens to be the department chair. This past year we taught two sections together, squeezing our 15 kids each into one room (most of the time). It was a challenge, but incredibly rewarding. We will do it again next year and hopefully create a similar video record. Our websites can be accessed at (to see my partner's website click on his "Motter" icon. Assignments are posted on his side. Podcasts of course lectures, and other tools are on my side.

Josh Reppun's picture
Josh Reppun
I teach history at Iolani school in Honolulu.

Happy to trade emails (or you can find me on Facebook) with anyone thinking of going down the team teaching road. Email me at - I live in Honolulu.

David's picture
Secondary Special Education Teacher from Indiana

I am a special education teacher, and I often go into the general education classroom with my students (classes with 8+ SPED students)to provide additional support, and in some classes team teach (depending on the teacher). My question is what are some effective ways to encourage teachers to be more accepting of a special education teacher team teaching in the middle and high school classroom? Additionally, what are some effective methods that are being used when team teaching, especially in the math classroom (pre-algebra, algebra 1)?

James Maxfield's picture
James Maxfield
Graduate Student

I really enjoyed this posting. I am currently a graduate student of education and I have never had a class of my own. Other than student teaching, I am a complete novice, so I try to acquire as much information as possible on every aspect of teaching. One thing I have constantly overlooked, however, is the idea of team teaching. I was in high school not too long ago, myself, and in fact, I remember that my favorite class was actually taught by two separate teachers. It was an AP class called American Studies, which encompassed both the history of the United States, as well as the art and literature of the nation throughout the years. It was a two period class which a history teacher taught one half of the class each day and an English/Literature teacher taught the other half. Looking back at the class today, I realize what a feat it must have been for them to coordinate their lessons every single day. When we learned the history of a particular battle of the Civil War, for example, we examined poetry, art and music which dealt with that particular battle during the second half of the class. They had to coordinate pacing guides, lesson plans and every other aspect of their teaching to make the class work, and they succeeded. This video and blog showed me the impact that team teachers of the same subject can have on each other. They can not only learn from each others' mistakes, but as they mentioned in the video clip, they even challenge each other to become better teachers. This is the kind of teacher I want to be, never complacent, and always challenging myself to be the best I can be.

Debra's picture
Graduate student

This is an excellent blog. I enjoyed the video and the comments. I really like the team concept in teaching. Team work is stressed in sports, corporations, rganizations.,and teachers teach the importance of team work to their students all the time. Yet, I have not heard of this type of team work among teachers teaching one another, as presented here. I noted several advantages of teachers partnering to improve one another's skills, as well as the students. I have often times used video cameras to record my students in various activities, but I have never thought of having someone to use one to help me improve my performance. As Rose mentioned in the video, being videoed forces you to do more because you are aware that the camera is there. The use of the video camera could also be an excellent tool for a teacher to critique him or herself, but the input and feedback of an honest colleague is priceless, as it has been presented in this blog - thank you.

Ms. Lourdes's picture
Ms. Lourdes
Preschool Teacher

Work with a partner is not easy, many of us have much fear of criticism or comments but we must learn to career in our ongoing learning and a good way of learning in education is to work together in pairs or group to hear different opinions and ideas is a practical way to learn.
Our career has many responsibilities and we have to keep an open mind making good teamwork we ensure our students learn well and we also actually create a Professional Learning Communities.

C. Taliaferro's picture
C. Taliaferro
elementary ed teacher

Team teaching can be a tricky endeavor. I have found that if teachers do not work together collaboratively every step of the way, one can actually end up with worse results than if he or she was alone. Students can get confused. They will look to one teacher over the other to play a dominant role in their instruction. It is up to the teachers to map out how the process of instruction is going to be carried out. Sometimes adminstrators and parents will also favor one teacher over the other if one teacher becomes too domineering. Team teaching calls for equal partnership and equal planning.

Patricia's picture
Kindergarten teacher from MN

Team teaching can be great if you work with the right person and if both of you make the effort to make it work. A few years ago, I had the chance to work with a wonderful TA. She complemented my teaching. She reinforced everything we learned and she always knew exactly what I was going to do or how I was going to act. I think this is what team teaching is all about. You work together so that you know and anticipate what the other is going to do. You should have a similar philosophy of education and agree on classroom management systems, teaching styles, etc. It is better if you can develop a good relationship with your partner. But, if you can't, you have to remember that your partner is another human being and deserves a chance to be heard.
I did some team teaching with student teachers before and that was a great experience as well. We planned together and each of us had a role in the lesson. Like with the TA, we anticipated each other's thoughts and actions. We were supportive and never against each other so that the children would always see a "united front". It is so important, especially in the domain of classroom management.
Before teaching in elementary, I taught some adult evening classes. One time I was asked to team teach a class and I did not like this experience because the other woman I was teaching with totally dominated the lesson. I think it gave the students the idea that she was the primary teacher when she was not. There shouldn't be any relationship of dominance in team teaching. Regarding being observed, I must confess that it is not on my list of priorities. If need be, I would prefer being observed by a person who knows me, my teaching style, and my grade level. If the person is not aware of certain aspects of my work, how can this person give me constructive feedback that I can use further in my career? Video taping myself remains last on my list since, like many, I do not like seeing myself on TV!

Lisa N's picture
Lisa N

It's always refreshing to hear from innovative, uninhibited professionals who take their job seriously and are passionate about making themselves better practitioners. Good on you for opening yourselves up to a level of professional realization and awareness that we do not see nearly enough of in teaching.

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