Team Teaching: A Partnership That Works!
by N. Lynne Westfield
The adage “two heads are better than one” is intriguing. The literal interpretation of this saying seems obvious — a task done adequately by one soul is done better, finer, by two souls. By sharing the joy, dividing the labor, and pooling the resources, an enterprise shared by two or more people in partnership will be greatly improved over the enterprise of just one individual. Partnership will bring improvement.
In the classroom, we discover that not only are two heads better than one, but also two hearts, two pairs of ears, two pairs of legs, and two pairs of hands. Children and youth need to see and be seen by more than one person in the role of teacher as they encounter prayer, study, and one another. Two teachers are able to interact with more students in a given amount of time. More important, two teachers can provide children and youth with an ongoing example of cooperative living.
Benefits of Partnership for Teachers
Teach teaching is about partnership. Too many coteachers have fallen into the poor habit of merely taking turns teaching on alternate weeks or months. These coteachers operate like baseball players taking turns at bat or like children lining up to take a turn drinking from the hallway water fountain. Sadly, this method limits the possibilities of learning and growing for both teachers and students. Partnership should be like two people dancing the fox trot or like two people playing on the playground seesaw. Each person needs the other to make the task satisfying. Yes, one can dance alone or one can seesaw alone, but the experience of partnership is far richer and more worthwhile.
Each of us is strong in some areas and needs improvement in other areas. Partnership is about seeing and respecting the unique talents and sensitivities that each partner brings to the classroom. And more specifically, partnership is about learning to harmonize so that as team teachers we complement one another. It is a collaboration of talents. For example, one teacher might excel in traditional Bible skills, while another might be wonderful at inviting the students to explore the Bible through paint or clay. One teacher might be confident and outgoing; the other might be well-versed in music or drama. Teaching as partners allows each teacher to be authentic and suggests that teachers need not try to be all things to all students. Team teaching should send the message to the teacher that his or her genuineness is what is most needed. One partner need not eclipse the other. Rather, partners enhance each other so that the classroom experience is better than if just one person had planned or taught alone.
Benefits of Partnership for Learners
Team teaching suggests a healthy respect for the uniqueness of the students as well. Team teaching can provide an atmosphere that recognizes students as complex and diverse. All students will not gravitate toward all teachers. A lone teacher cannot accommodate a variety of learning styles. In an effort to build strong relationships with students, it is desirable to have team teachers available to the students. This allows the students to benefit from the individual perspectives of each teacher as well as the combined energy of the teachers.
Teaching partnerships provide models of cooperation for students. Many Sunday school lessons are focused upon the notion of cooperation through words, stories, films, and discussions. To experience and witness cooperation in action, particularly if it is an ongoing norm, can be invaluable. Cooperation becomes an expectation, rather than an occasional coincidence. The classroom then becomes a model for living as a community of believers.
Working As Partners
Teachers can be blessed with the experience of learning how to cooperate. Partnership invites teachers to plan together and decide each week who is best suited for each aspect of the lesson. One of the most marvelous things about team teaching is the built-in safety net. That is to say, teachers have the opportunity to venture into areas that will challenge and stretch them. Teachers can experiment with methods with which they are unfamiliar and in which a partner might be well-versed.
Team teaching assumes the partners will spend time together learning about each other and sharing insights concerning the curriculum, upcoming lesson plans, and the well-being of students and families. Time spent together will bring ease in communicating in the classroom; it will give fresh perspectives for pastoring issues; it will establish a classroom environment that has high expectations for learning. The time spent together will build rapport between team teachers. That is not to say there will not be disagreements, uncomfortable moments, and even a few mistakes. Partnership makes it possible to learn shared responsibility, develop negotiation skills, and hone conflict resolutions skills. Students will benefit from people who are actively attempting to teach together and grow in understanding one another. I suspect this kind of teaching might be in close proximity of representing the Kingdom of God.
It seems to me to risk teaching in partnership is to risk learning about one’s self, to risk getting to know another in a deep way. Those who risk working together as God intended are challenged to grow and mature. Allow me to illustrate:
Ray and Taylor had been paired as teaching partners for the Sunday school year. After the first few classes, it became evident that Taylor was very good at coaxing the students to pray during the class. Ray, feeling inadequate for the task, rarely entered into this discussion. Ray feared that if questions were raised by the students concerning prayer, any response would be inaccurate and the students would then think less of God or the church. Ray and Taylor discussed this during their weekly planning time. They agreed, after a long discussion, that Ray needed to see this dilemma as a challenge. Taylor assured Ray that if the lesson looked like it was floundering, support would be forthcoming. For the next four weeks, Ray led the class in their time of prayer and meditation. A few times Ray felt awkward; but at the end of the four weeks, Ray had gained great confidence. The students had noticed that Ray rarely led the prayer time. When they saw the sharing of the time and Ray’s willingness to be stretched by learning new things, they were heartened.
Team Teaching Questionnaire
- What skills and talents do you bring to the classroom?
- What needed skills are you challenged to develop?
- Where can you find two to three hours in your weekly schedule to prepare for teaching with your partner(s) face to face or over the phone?
- Think about your partner(s). How are you a better teacher because he or she is your partner?
- What positive effects would you like to see as a result of your teaching partnership?
- From what negative effects of team teaching, if any, would you safeguard your students? How?
Dr. N. Lynne Westfield recently joined the faculty of Drew Theological School.
From Teacher in the Church School Today, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 8-9. Copyright © 1992 by Cokesbury. Used by permission.