How to write a winning game plan for team teaching

Have you ever tried to present a class with a fellow trainer? The rules of team teaching are different from when you're working alone. These tips will help you and your students benefit from having a second instructor in the room.

Many people who play singles tennis have the basic skills needed to play doubles, but those skills alone aren’t enough to guarantee that they will be successful as a doubles player. The same theory is true for trainers. While we may have conducted lots of training alone, the skills we need to teach as a team are different. And, as in doubles tennis, the "rules" even change a bit. This article will discuss team teaching: the benefits, the different set of rules, and the skills required to make two good individual trainers into a great team.

Benefits of team teaching
There are numerous advantages to team teaching, for both the trainers and the learners. For students, team teaching allows:
  • More time for one-on-one interaction with the instructors.
  • More personal instructor feedback during skill practice sessions.
  • A second set of ears to answer questions.
  • A second "voice" and instructional style.

For trainers, team teaching allows:
  • Better preparation—instructors can divide the material and cut their work in half.
  • An increased comfort level—utilizing a second trainer is helpful for logistics, timing, focus, and feedback.

Learning a new set of rules and planning for success
Planning is the key to success for team trainers, who should schedule planning time as far ahead of the session as possible. You should take time to get to know your partner, including his or her preferred training style and your individual strengths and weaknesses.

First determine how you are going to divide teaching assignments. Use relevant experience, interests, and comfort level to help determine this division. Be careful not to use the assigned segments to isolate your planning and presentation work. Both trainers need to be familiar with all of the content to ensure success for your learners.

Discuss the role each of you will play. Questions you should discuss include:
  • Who will open and close the session?
  • Who will make sure breaks start and end on time?
  • Who is the lead trainer?
  • Who will lead the practice sessions?
  • How will the other trainer interact with the group when not "in charge?"

Also decide how you will deal with some common classroom occurrences such as:
  • What do we do when we don’t agree on the answer to a question? (Consider going with the first answer, checking with each other at break, and modifying or changing your answer if necessary.)
  • How do we signal if the pace is incorrect?
  • How will we deal with difficult students?
  • How will we deal with lackluster participation? (The "offstage" trainer can sit with the class part of the time to promote participation.)

The logistics of team teaching
Another planning issue is a logistical one: Where will the resting trainer be while the other trainer is leading the group? One approach is for the trainer who is offstage to sit in the back, at a separate table. This provides a chance for the second trainer to help with timing, point out students, etc. This method does not, however, make it easy for the resting trainer to join the session quickly if necessary.

The other approach is to have both trainers at the front of the room. The resting trainer could sit off to the side to facilitate exchanges between trainers. It allows each trainer to answer questions and provide smooth transitions from one subject to another. It also gives the lead trainer some help in managing audiovisual equipment and writing at a flipchart. Finally, this method helps the students be more comfortable with both trainers. To use this more effective approach, both trainers must feel comfortable with it and practice the method.

It is critical, regardless of where the resting trainer is positioned, that both trainers are present—both physically and mentally. The resting trainer’s job is to be attentive and ready to assist in any way. The offstage trainer should not be studying the next section of the class, reading the newspaper, or checking phone messages outside of the room.

Compare notes during breaks
Breaks are always welcome during a session, and they can be especially productive when you have a co-trainer. Use breaks to:
  • Check on the pace of the class.
  • Give basic feedback.
  • Make minor corrections or adjustments.
  • Make sure you are meeting the group’s expectations.

Planning for the next time
When the session is over, make the time discuss how it went. Use the time to relax, celebrate, and learn. The trainers should share positive and corrective feedback on both content and process, review the comments from the class, and discuss what should be done differently the next time. Make notes on all these items to preserve the learning process and to ensure that you are fulfilling agreements you have made.

If the session runs over several days, take the time between classes to talk about your roles and discuss any adjustments you need to make. Save any serious feedback until the class is over to avoid any disagreements, which might affect the next session.

These skills will help you to team teach effectively. If you do, just like in tennis, your results will be better than if you went out as just a singles player trying to play doubles.
Do you like working with another trainer or is it too difficult to coordinate your individual styles? What about the advantages and disadvantages for students? Send us your experiences with team-teaching or post a comment.

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