Aims

What were the main aims of the initiative?

In Ireland it is fair to say that policy continues to encourage team teaching, where two teachers teach in the same class at the same time. The multiple engagement with team teaching continues to move from a special education/inclusion agenda to one of teacher and senior management professional development, and indeed whole school self-evaluation. A significant breakthrough in the shift from policy to practice in Ireland emerged with the Cork Education Training Board 2007–2011 research project on team teaching. Initially the project began with 7 schools and 40 self-selected teachers and now all 22 schools in the board are engaged in team teaching with positive outcomes for teachers and learners.

Themes

The original aim of the initiative was to extend the repertoire of responses available to promote inclusive learning in schools. Subsequently, the goals were extended to use team teaching as a means to promote teacher professional development, including initial teacher education and induction. The latest advances relate to the next generation of leaders having an understanding of how team teaching can support professional learning communities with a particular focus on how learners learn and how teachers teach.

Background

Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

The background to the team teaching project is the engagement by Cork ETB (Education Training Board) in Ireland with a Ministry inspector to advance team teaching from being merely encouraged by policy to actually being enacted by teachers.

Initially the theme of team teaching was associated with the inclusion of students with special educational needs in mainstream settings (99.2% of students in primary and post-primary schools in Ireland attend mainstream schools).

This theme continues to be addressed with a renewed focus on the role of team teaching in meeting the needs of students who are at risk of not learning because of disability, disadvantage or learning difficulties (NCSE, 2013/2014).

The target group was students aged 12–16 who were at risk of not learning and of not attending school. Subsequent phases of the evolution of team teaching see new targets and target groups at local and at national level that include teachers across their continuum of learning and also aspiring and newly appointed school leaders.

The initial learning outcomes focused on literacy and numeracy and teachers of English and Mathematics were to the fore with the early engagements with team teaching. The majority of these teachers did not possess any additional qualifications in special education. As part of the continuing professional development associated with the project, teachers were given a range of opportunities to examine their teaching practices and gain a greater insight into how students learn. Overtime teachers taught in classes that were not their subject speciality and began to ‘play to their strengths’ by drawing upon their experience of the different team teaching configurations and/or particular pedagogical strengths, i.e. effective cooperative learning.

ISSUES ADDRESSED

What issues/challenges does the example address?

The project addresses the issue of the inclusion of students at risk of not learning or of not attending school. It responds to the stated policy that team teaching should be seen as a legitimate option in meeting diverse learner needs.

It also addresses the advancement of collaborative practices (OECD, 2009/14) and the ways that effective team teaching can support teacher professional induction and development. Of late, the focus on leading learning and learning to lead learning has adopted team teaching as a significant means of promoting instructional leadership and instructional leaders.

The theoretical background rests in the concept of social capital theory, where teacher professional capital and human capital are harnessed to improve the learning and life chances of learners in our schools and in our increasingly diverse society.

 

Implementation

How was the Initiative implemented?

Phase 2: 2011–present: Empowering pre-service and newly qualified teachers

Following the re-engagement with team teaching as a means of addressing inclusive learning, its use has been extended to the early career years of pre-service and newly qualified teachers (Teaching Council and National Induction programme for Teachers). In this scenario, co-operating teachers are working with early career teachers and University College Cork has begun to explore how best to support co-operating teachers by providing professional development focused on team teaching as well as the skills of observation and feedback.

Phase 3: 2015–present: Empowering future school leaders to empower colleagues

The third phase of the engagement with team teaching centres on school leadership. The new Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Leadership in University College Cork addresses the key area of mentoring and coaching with specific reference to classroom observation and feedback, including a range of collaborative leadership practices such as team teaching. Here, current and aspiring school leaders study how best to empower teachers by focusing on learning, teaching and assessment.

The main activities throughout the three phases of the project include:

  • 2007/08: Cork ETB engages in team teaching initiative
  • 2009: Cork ETB produces DVD and teacher guidelines
  • 2011: Team teaching thesis and subsequent papers are published (see references)
  • 2012: Teaching Council adopts team teaching as a key dimension to its School Placement Guidelines for all course providers
  • 2012: School self-evaluation guidelines are issued by the Ministry and draw on team teaching in the form of collaborative review of lessons by colleagues
  • 2015: Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Leadership, University College Cork (including a focus on team-teaching)

The key personnel involved in the project are:

  • All students who engaged and supported the concept of team teaching
  • Joan Russell, Education Officer of Cork ETB
  • Finn Ó Murchú, from the Ministry of Education
  • Prof Kathy Hall, from the University College Cork.

KEY OUTCOMES & IMPACT

What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

For students, some of the outcomes associated with the work include:

  • Higher than expected results of students at state examinations;
  • Improvements in literacy and numeracy scores (difference between pre- and post-testing);
  • Students now identify the team-taught subjects of English and Mathematics as their favourite subjects;
  • Improvements in students’ level of attendance, engagement, participation, confidence and pride in their work;
  • Improvements in students’ attitude towards learning and their attitude towards themselves and others;
  • Getting full access to the curriculum and witnessing a range of skills being modelled by two adults (including demonstration of collaboration skills, especially in male–female team taught lessons);
  • Students reporting increased confidence, no feelings of stigma or withdrawal from class/school, being able to ask questions more easily, having fun and using all the instructional time available for learning.

Teachers continue to implement team teaching and track student progress. For teachers involved some of the outcomes associated with effective team teaching include:

  • Learning in real time in real classrooms in real contexts;
  • An enhanced sense of professional belonging;
  • Forming new professional relationships;
  • Learning new methodologies and returning to forgotten good practice;
  • Getting a greater insight into how students learn or are prevented from learning;
  • Feeling empowered to have more choices in responding to students;
  • An improved sense of confidence and competence;
  • Time for reflection during lessons.

Policymakers now recognise how team teaching can be enacted, and not just encouraged. Greater understanding also exists in relation to the uses of team teaching which can benefit not only all students, but can also attend to a range of professional development goals across the continuum of teacher education. With this project, school placement guidelines for initial teacher education were produced and a national induction programme for newly qualified teachers is now in place.

EVALUATION

Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

The original engagement with team teaching was evaluated via a PhD thesis (Ó Murchú, 2011). Subsequent evaluation of the place of team teaching was undertaken by other organisations including the Ministry, National Council for Special Education and the Teaching Council.

Learnings from such work included recognition that:

  • Team teaching has the potential to be a key driver in promoting inclusive learning among students and workplace learning among teachers;
  • It is NOT a methodology but offers opportunities to use proven pedagogical practices to support learning (co-operative learning, framing questions, offering multiple forms of assignments, practice and feedback, …);
  • Teachers sharing the same values is more important than sharing the same teaching methods;
  • Time for planning is always an issue, but imaginative use of time (including in-class time) allows for planning and review;
  • Collaborative practice, even where deemed successful by teachers, is not enough. The focus must remain on the learning experienced by the student;
  • Team teaching is about the wider ‘team’, i.e. the whole class, and not just about the two teachers;
  • At all times teachers need to be aware why they are team teaching and this will assist them in determining if they are successful in achieving what they seek to achieve.

Enacting national policies:

  • Trust in teachers and their professional capacity is central to the expansion 2007–present of team teaching in Ireland;
  • Combined with trust is the need to provide professional learning opportunities for teachers to address the needs of students through a variety of diverse ways. Ways which are united if not uniform, framed by common values but enacted in unique contexts;
  • Understanding change and having change wisdom at micro (classroom), meso (school/university level) and macro level (national policy) is important;
  • Creating a climate based on skills and values is more desirable that any overly prescriptive statement of what is deemed best.

Challenges and responses

  • Challenges at classroom level are overcome when teachers understand the purpose, the challenges and opportunities associated with team teaching;
  • Poor timetabling and team teaching practices are anticipated by access to relevant resources and supports (DVD, guidelines and national support services);
  • Upscaling the project takes time and support from a range of agencies who need to have a shared understanding of content and import of team teaching, as well as the values associated with mainstream inclusive learning.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS / SUSTAINABILITY

Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

Sustainability is in part achieved by celebrating success at school level, and by offering (resources permitting) team teaching opportunities to all teachers and not just some.

Sustainability is also achieved by aligning actions with other policy goals, such as curricular reforms which team teaching can support and advance.

By extending the concept to broader curricular reforms and the evolving professional development agenda, including that of leadership, team teaching is sustained and recognised as being of value.

Consolidation of phases 1, 2, 3 will occur in tandem with one another and not in isolation. Improvement will occur as new uses are tracked and evaluated in the context of the impact of team teaching upon those who teach and those who learn.

LEARNING POINTS

What are the main learning points?

Some of the learning points associated with this initiative include:

  • There is no one single correct way to teach, nor one single way to team teach or extend team teaching. Rates of change and improvement can vary;
  • Create parameters and respectful expectations, but don’t hinder with overly narrow interpretations and expectations;
  • Create safe professional spaces that judge success by the impact it has upon students learning and learning experiences;
  • Promote responsible risk taking and the opportunity to share ‘stories’ that capture not just success, but perceived failure and/or uncertainty;
  • Align with like-minded others at local and national level, where possible;
  • Keep listening to the key agents, the students and the teachers. Remain open to other views and ways of engaging.

Materials

Are there further information about supporting materials?

ContacT

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Dr. Finn Ó Murchú

Senior Inspector for Special Education, Department of Education and Skills, Ireland

(Currently seconded to University College Cork, Ireland)

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