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Tuning up to team-teaching

Co-teaching is like a Jazz band where every player knows what music she/he is supposed to play while feeling free to improvise and challenge the other with a view to improve the quality of the musical experience for the audience.

Published : 18.11.2019

In this article, the focus is on the potential of team teaching as a form of collaboration, drawing from our experience in Uruguay.

Historical perspective

Over the years, collaboration within the teacher training implementations of the Haaga-Helia School of Vocational Teacher Education has become a usual way of working. Lecturers collaborate within their “home” teams and more recently, the lecturers of the English-speaking group and their colleagues from the Finnish speaking groups have facilitated learning activities across their respective groups.

Team teaching, however, has been the standard teaching approach of the English-speaking group ever since the first implementation in 2004 and is also the chosen approach in education export programmes.

Theoretical framework

Team teaching or co-teaching refers to the idea of two or more teachers working collaboratively in the learning process of a group of students. As defined by Hatcher : ‘‘two or more instructors collaborating over the design and/or implementation and evaluation of the same course or courses’’ (Hatcher et al. 1996, 367). Dalal added the conception of learning activities: “In team teaching a group of teachers, working together, plan, conduct and evaluate the learning activities for the same group of students” (Dalal 2014, 108). On the other hand, co-teaching is seen as “two teachers working together with groups of students and sharing the planning, organization, delivery and assessment of instruction, as well as the physical space” (Bacharach et al. 2008, 9).

In all of these conceptions, we are in presence of the same idea of collaborative work between two or more teachers in the teaching-learning process of a group of students.

Co-teaching and complexity

From the perspective of the complexity science (Holland, 2014), what is needed in the teaching process is a new learning environment, which must stimulate creativity through interaction between teachers and students and among students. The teaching process must create complexity in order to develop the conditions to cope in a complex world, as Stanley points out: “Complexity science principles suggest that educational matters might be or even need to be complexified rather than simplified” (Stanley, 2009). In this sense, co-teaching represents a pedagogical approach for creating complexity in the teaching-learning process.

Team teaching requirements

As an organizational design, team teaching or teaming as introduced in the figure below “requires the educators to have a particular set of skills to create cohesion. For example, respect and trust, listening skills, assertiveness, empathy, the ability to give and receive feedback and the willingness to challenge each other to action” (Craford and Jenkins 2018, 129). In other words, the use of the team teaching or teaming model implies a supportive collaborative culture whereby the educational institution provides suitable in-service training and resources (e.g hours allotted to joint planning) and teachers are willing to experiment with a new approach and develop their team teaching skills.

Figure 1 depicts several co-teaching approaches:Co-Teaching Approaches

Figure 1: Co-Teaching Approaches. (From M. Friend & W. D. Bursuck, 2009. Including Students with Special Needs:  A Practical Guide  for  Classroom  Teachers(5th ed., p. 92).Columbus, OH: Merrill.

One teach, one observe, in which one teacher leads large-group instruction while the other gathers academic, behavioural, or social data on specific students or the class group;

Station teaching, in which instruction is divided into three non-sequential parts and students, likewise divided into three groups, rotate from station to station, being taught by the teachers at two stations and working independently at the third;

Parallel teaching, in which the two teachers, each with half the class group, present the same material for the primary purpose of fostering instructional differentiation and increasing student participation;

Alternative teaching, in which one teacher works with most students while the other works with a small group for remediation, enrichment, assessment, pre-teaching, or another purpose;

Teaming, in which both teachers lead large-group instruction by both lecturing, representing opposing views in a debate, illustrating two ways to solve a problem, and so on; and

One teach, one assist, in which one teacher leads instruction while the other circulates among the students offering individual assistance.” (Friend et al 2009. p.92)

Case: Uruguay

In Uruguay, we used the teaming approach throughout the vocational teacher training programme. In this section, we will tell about the characteristics of the group and the reasons that justify the use of the teaming approach.

The heterogeneous group consisted of participants from around the country with different educational and professional backgrounds. Most of them were already working as teachers in vocational schools while others worked as entrepreneurs or managers. The workload of the participants was very heavy in terms of hours and working in several workplaces; the stress level was very high, which could potentially lead to participants dropping out of the programme. Furthermore, participants working as teachers had little or no experience of collaborating with their peers.

The reasons for using the teaming approach were as follows:

  • complexity of the teaching and learning context
  • need to build trust and cohesion in order to stimulate and motivate the group from the very beginning of the programme
  • continuous mutual support in order to cope with the challenges not only as facilitators during the four intensive weeks but also as “brokers” between the different actors of the project both in Finland and Uruguay. (e.g: how to integrate the new curriculum design as part of the teacher-training programme)
  • sharing our interdisciplinary backgrounds, working life as well as cultural experiences to create a fruitful and meaningful learning environment
  • being more alert to what is going on in the contact weeks. The one who is not in charge of an activity or topic has to stay alert, listen, observe and contribute whenever needed according to a tacit agreement between facilitators.

Conclusion: model proposal for teachers or teacher trainersCo-teaching model

Figure 2: Co-teaching model from the less to the most complex approach; adapted from (Friend et al, 2010)

Our proposal (figure 2), which stems from our personal experience is strongly dependent on the organizational, personal and contextual situation which can potentially affect the successful implementation of the co-teaching model. For example, in the case of teachers with no experience in teamwork, we are of the opinion that a suitable option would be to start gradually from the base of the pyramid. When a group of teachers has acquired enough experience working collaboratively, the more complex approaches can be first envisaged in a progressive (bottom to top) and reverse (top to bottom) manner. Ideally, this is a dynamic process whereby the suitable approaches are selected according to the needs and the circumstances.

Metaphorically, co-teaching is like a Jazz band where every player knows what music she/he is supposed to play while feeling free to improvise and challenge the other with a view to improve the quality of the musical experience for the audience.


  • Bacharach, N., Washut, T. & Dahlberg, K. 2008. Co-teaching in Higher Education. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 5,3, 9-16.
  • Craford, R. & Jenkins, L.E. 2018. Making pedagogy tangible: developing skills and knowledge using a team teaching and blended learning approach. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 43, 1, 126-142.
  • Dalal, S. 2014. Use of the team teaching in instruction. International Journal of Scientific Research, 3, 2, 108-110.
  • Friend, M., Cook, L., Hurley-Chamberlain, D. & Shamberger, C. 2010. Co-teaching: An Illustration of the complexity of collaboration in especial education. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 20, 9-27.
  • Hatcher, T., Hinton, B. & Swartz, J. 1996. Graduate student’s perceptions of university team-teaching. The College Student Journal, 30 (3), 367–376.
  • Holland, J.H. 2014. Complexity: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press.