Are you considering team teaching? Have you worked with teams in the past and are looking for ways to strengthen your next team experience? Here are a few quick tips for having a successful – and, hopefully, less stressful – adventure in team teaching.
Teaching teams take many forms. One team might include members of the same discipline managing sections of a large introductory course. Another team might be made up of colleagues from different disciplines trying to explore a complex problem in an advanced seminar. Some teams are made up of experienced educators, while others include a mix of experts and trainees (e.g., my first experience team teaching was also my first experience as an instructor).
Whatever form your teaching team takes, the responsibility of the team is to work together to shape your course from planning to implementation and final evaluation.
Now, I’m going to let those of you who have never team taught in on a not-so-little secret: Team teaching often takes more work than solo teaching, not less. Of course, the additional effort comes with additional benefits, whether you are a veteran teacher or just starting out in your career (e.g., see Tip #1 below!).
This list of top ten team teaching tips was culled from readings, conversations, and my own experiences teaching here at Stanford. Though it is difficult to address the full breadth of team experiences on campus, the suggestions on this list should apply across a range of disciplines and course formats.
So without further ado, let’s count down the top ten tips!
10. Start planning earlier than you think you should.
Teaching teams have to juggle multiple schedules, philosophies, and teaching styles, so it will probably take longer to finalize your syllabus than when teaching solo. Bonus tip: Keep a common record of meetings (e.g., using google docs) so you stay on the same page.
9. Observe future team members in the classroom.
Visit a few of each other’s teaching sessions, or watch recordings from previous courses. This applies whether you’re forming a team with new acquaintances or with longtime colleagues. You can discuss teaching philosophies and pore over old syllabi as long as you want, but you won’t be fully prepared to teach with someone until you see them in action.
8. Divide and conquer administrative responsibilities.
Most of the team teaching experience is about finding ways to achieve things together. But some responsibilities can be allocated to individual team members with little cost to course cohesion and big savings in time and energy. Decide on a fair distribution of administrative tasks (e.g., updating the website or managing learning accommodations), and note these responsibilities in the syllabus so students can contact the right person with questions.
7. Say yes!
Give your internal critic a break during early course prep. Take advantage of everyone’s suggestions, and allow time for ideas to develop. You will be impressed by the number of new topics, readings, activities, and assignments that emerge.
6. (But) don’t forget to edit.
Saying yes will lead to more ideas than you have time to implement, so you need to be selective when finalizing your syllabus. Resist the temptation to overload on content, activities, and assignments. Otherwise, you will end up assigning six chapters of reading, a thought paper, and an online survey before the first day of class. True story.
5. Have a backup plan.
Unfortunate events happen: illness, flat tires, printer delays, crashed hard drives. Talk over several scenarios and potential plans of action with your team. Do you cancel class? Reschedule? Give a different lesson? Who will communicate with students if there are changes? Luckily, addressing any last minute hiccups will be easier if your entire teaching team will be present during each class (see Tip #2).
4. Own the teams’ decisions.
You won’t be 100% behind every reading selection, test question, or grading rubric, but it is still your responsibility to uphold your team’s decisions in both word and deed. Take special care not to complain or point fingers in front of students—this will only undermine both you and your team. If you are convinced that a particular decision needs to be revisited, discuss it with the team and address it together.
3. Always cc your teaching team.
This little habit is a miracle worker, even if it does crowd your Inbox. Cc’ing your team helps maintain common ground, and it is especially important when corresponding with students. First, cc’ing the team shows students that the message reflects the team’s position. Second, it alerts the team that a particular student issue has been addressed, preventing duplication of effort. Finally, cc’ing your team deters students from trying to field the most favorable response (or re-grade) from individual instructors.
2. Go to class.
Demonstrate your commitment to the course by going to class (yes, students notice when you aren’t there!). Class time is a great opportunity to interact with your colleagues and participate in discussions along with your students. When you aren’t responsible for leading the session, model strong academic discourse: ask questions, challenge arguments, and offer different perspectives (respectfully, of course). Students will follow your lead.
1. Learn from your team teaching experience.
I started this post by pointing out the extra time and effort that goes along with team teaching. Your added focus will pay off in terms of your students’ learning, and it should also pay off in terms of your own learning. Think of your team teaching experience as a part of your ongoing teaching development, and learn as much as you can from your team. Borrow strategies, activities, or assignments from your team—we all have areas where we want to improve—and encourage your team to do the same.
Do you have additional tips or experiences of your own to share? Sound off below!