Can the increasingly popular team-teaching models reenergize the profession?

"Co-teaching helps to create a sense of community that really can’t be replicated elsewhere," an assistant principal says.

School leaders who are shifting to team teaching and co-teaching are reporting improvements inside and outside their classrooms. And those benefits are being felt by students, teachers and the wider school climate, says Sean Cassel, assistant principal at Seneca High School in New Jersey’s Lenape Regional High School District.

“Co-teaching keeps teachers engaged by allowing them to have a built-in support system,” Cassel says. “Having someone to help in all the things that go into good planning and teaching can be just enough to help teachers keep their feet under them.”

One particularly effective approach to team teaching is pairing first-timers with more experienced educators to develop mentoring relationships that, hopefully, will reduce the rate at which new teachers leave the profession. “Co-teaching helps to create a sense of community that really can’t be replicated elsewhere,” adds Cassel, who oversees special education at his high school. “If administrators could do this even for one period a day, that may help increase the collaborative culture in a school.”

Team teaching in action

There are as many as six adults at work in each “learning studio” of about 120 students at Kyrene de las Manitas Innovation Academy in Tempe, Arizona, says Principal Sarah Collins. Leading each team is a teacher executive designer—or TED—who works with two other certified teachers and several teaching students recruited from Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. “That’s a really excellent ratio for a public school,” says Collins, whose school is part of the Kyrene School District, which covers parts of Phoenix and Tempe.

Each learning pod comprises students from at least two grades, combining K-1, 2-3, 4-5, and 5-6-7. That allows teachers to personalize learning by forming groups of students who are working above grade and those working, rather than having one teacher serve a class of students who are at various levels. “Teachers don’t have to teach to the middle,” she says. “Students are getting instruction at the exact level they need.”

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The teams, which consist of different numbers of students based on the subject being taught, also allow children to form trusting relationships with more adults than they would if there was just a single teacher in their classroom.

One unique element at the academy is that student teachers are paid a $12,000 stipend if they commit to working five days a week. Student teachers more regularly work three days a week, unpaid, Collins explains. The model is cost neutral because 120 students would traditionally require four certified teachers. Assigning three teachers to each team allows the school to pay the student teachers.

Team teaching has also made the academy a popular school of choice in the region just as the building’s enrollment was declining. About 35% of its students chose it over their home school within the district while about 20% come from outside the district, Collins points out. After the academy piloted the model, parents convinced the school board to add a seventh and an eighth grade to the school so their children could continue in the learning pods.

While it’s too early to measure academic progress (team teaching launched this year), social-emotional surveys of students in the program have shown increases in self-sufficiency, self-regulation and overall satisfaction at school. “We want to deploy educators in unique ways to reinvigorate the teaching profession,” she says. “And we want to reimagine learning to keep up with where our students are at and where they’re going.”

An age of multidisciplinary instruction

At Seneca High School in New Jersey, Cassel tries to keep co-teaching pairs together year-to-year, particularly when the team has worked well together. Achieving this requires administrators to collaborate. “This is challenging when we build our high school’s schedule but if keeping these pairs together helps them to continue to grow—which ultimately helps our students—then we prioritize their schedules in the planning process,” Cassel explains. “This takes support from the other supervisors as they plan their teacher’s schedules.”

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The two-person teaching teams use different models within their classes based on the lessons and learning objectives. Stations, where students in smaller groups rotate between both teachers, have proven effective when the educators have become comfortable working together. Other times, a class is divided into two larger groups.

Co-teaching and team teaching have been particularly effective in special education and with English language learners because teachers can give individual students more attention. Team teaching has also allowed the school to create multidisciplinary courses by, for instance, combining math and science classes such as calculus and physics, which, Cassel says, “were meant to be taught together.” In the humanities, English language arts and social studies teachers can team up to cover their content from wider perspectives.

“In the education world, resources are limited—both monetary and human,” Cassell concludes. “So when we get the opportunity to have two adults in a room who are trained teachers, we get the chance to give more students attention in ways that one teacher simply cannot do alone.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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