14 February 2012

Team teaching as reflective practice

In a Y2 classroom this morning
I'm usually OK at job interviews until someone utters the dreaded phrase: Tell us about a time you worked in a team. Of course I've worked in teams. I've even enjoyed it. But - at risk of sounding like a sociopath - in general I can think more clearly when I'm by myself, and find most groups of people to be much less smart than their individual members (a camel is a horse designed by committee and all that). Teamwork schmeamwork. So it's a bit of a climbdown to admit that team-teaching works better, as a method of encouraging reflective practice, than almost anything else I've tried with my ten mentees here in Borneo.

Perhaps it works because it's such a complete and concrete process: we plan the class together, deliver it together and then discuss it together. Maybe the teachers are more open to discussing the lesson when it's clear that both of us did some things successfully and others less so. Either way, compared to the 'tried-and-tested' techniques we tortured ourselves with last year, from writing journals to drawing issues trees*, getting into the classroom with the teachers on a regular basis has so far been the only thing to get them thinking comprehensively about what the kids need them to do before, during and after each lesson.

To me, there are a lot of self-evident advantages to team-teaching, not least:
  • the lesser burden in materials preparation;
  • the diversity of voice and method that each teacher brings to the lesson;
  • twice the manpower when demonstrating, monitoring or disciplining;
  • the opportunity to observe colleagues in a regular, informal way and through that, picking up each others' skills; and
  • the co-operative skills modelled for the pupils by the teachers.

Why, then, did I resist team-teaching for so long? Quite apart from my own prejudices and the fact that the British Council officially discourages it as a method of reflective practice (more on that below), I was trying to put myself in my mentees' shoes, but only managed to get my left foot wedged in. Let me explain: I imagined having an established class of pupils, and being told by my boss that someone would be joining me to team-teach them every two weeks. Without considering the situation too deeply, I just saw myself feeling hugely resentful. But thinking again, it would of course depend on who was joining me in the class. If it was someone who could tell and show me things I wanted to know in order to improve, would I really be so churlishly territorial? No. For better or worse - and with the acknowledgement that I have also learnt an awful lot from spending time with my mentees - my training and experience in communicative classrooms means I know things they want to know.

In a much better resourced Y1 classroom earlier this week
Of course it could all backfire any time. There are plenty of criticisms of team-teaching - it only works if both teachers are flexible and unafraid of making mistakes in front of the other; it can be hard to find a convenient time to sit down and plan together; it can also be hard to decide how often to team-teach in order to balance variety and routine, etc. To go back to the British Council for a moment, their own particular concern with team-teaching is that it is insufficiently sustainable as a method of reflective practice on a fixed-term project such as this. I get it, but isn't it only my physical presence which is unsustainable? All being well I will slowly withdraw from the process, but the skills the teachers have acquired through it will remain.

Have you ever team-taught as a tool for reflective practice? How was it for you?

* Has anyone in the history of anything really had their eureka moment after drawing an ISSUES TREE? Double, triple ugh.


  1. Ooooohhhh. I found a good blog! Love the easy conversational tone. And I'm digging the ideas as well. I do peer observations (mutually supportive, which means I get to learn to be nice), but I have never, not once, been itching to use team teaching as a reflective teaching tool. For many of the reasons you've already pointed out above. But after reading this blog, I'm willing to give it a re-think. Most of the time when I have a visceral reaction to something, it's because I'm just looking at it funny.

    Thanks for the read.


    And for the record, I have had many a eureka moment after drawing an issues tree. For example, here is one mathematical truth I stumbled upon doing issues trees:

    where IT is 'issues tree' and WP is 'wasted paper' and 'T' is time and 'a' is artificial constraints of well intentioned facilitators

  2. Thanks so much for your comments Kevin! Might keep your issues tree formula to show my boss later, ahem :)

    I've got egg all over my face this morning because I just turned up to team-teach with a mentee who had completely forgotten to prepare his half of the class...I actually did the 'you've let me down, you've let the children down and most of all you've let yourself down' thing with a straight face, and then felt terrible because he looked really distraught. It's one of those really frustrating things: you would be SUCH an amazing teacher if you only engaged your brain / could be arsed! Ah well. Onwards and upwards...

  3. Loved the post and second everything Kevin says about the blog :)
    But coming at the team-teaching from a completely different angle! I wrote about team teaching and reflective practice on my MA. I completely agree that it is the best - and often the least time consuming - way to promote peer observation, discussion and support. I just wish I had more opportunities to do it! Your post has definitely made me want to dust off my notes and dig out some old lesson plans ... I feel a blog post on the way.

    Thank you!

  4. Thanks so much Ceri, your supportive comments really mean a lot :)