From Tricia D. Wagner, Director, Adult Education, Kishwaukee College
There is a great deal that can be done from a professional development perspective to cultivate skills within instructional staff members, to equip them with resources, and to assist them in understanding instructional strategies that promote effectiveness in a team-teaching setting. However, a lot of the success in team teaching depends on the characteristics and attitudes that the instructors bring with them into the project in the beginning. I have been lucky to have the opportunity to work with adult education and CTE instructional staffs that are gifted in ways that make them great team teachers, and here is what I have learned from them:
Attitude is everything. Teachers instructing together in a team have to be willing to work this way, and it is even better if they are excited about it. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says that for effectiveness you have to “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Team teaching won’t work if your teachers don’t want to be on the bus or would rather not sit together. Teaching is a relationship-dependent occupation, and the teachers working together have to be as capable at brewing chemistry between them as they are at creating chemistry in the classroom. One of our challenges, of course, is that we don’t always have the luxury of doing a wide, long search to look for the perfect pairing; in many cases, the participating instructors are determined by the nature of the integrated pathway, and also perhaps by scheduling constraints. This is where attitude comes into the picture. Instructors who can approach ICAPS instructional activities with interest and enthusiasm will be more likely to be able to see the road in front of them clearly when the storms come.
How has team teaching enhanced instruction within the adult education program at Kishwaukee?
Understanding is everything, too. ICAPS, with its team teaching approach, has given us the opportunity to work across disciplines from multiple viewpoints, including administration, instruction, curriculum, support, and advising. This is valuable. Integrated pathways programming allows adult educators and leaders in the field of adult learning to gain a truer understanding of the scope of the community college. We are getting to peek behind the curtain of “postsecondary education,” which is in danger of living only on a shelf in our offices, veiled, as an abstraction. The understanding we are gaining from rubbing shoulders, closely, with administrators, teachers, advisors, and students in career pathways programs is serving to illuminate the something on that shelf, revealing to us what postsecondary education actually looks like. By studying this through working to develop and improve our ICAPS program, we are growing in our understanding of what students need to know, and what skills they need to develop, to be successful when they make the transition to college. This strategy of functioning across disciplines, of building networks of relationships all over the college and throughout the community, linking with partners and other educators and employers, is our new normal in adult education. This is a great new normal to deal with. Although the water feels rough sometimes, its current is strengthening us, making us better aware of the advantages we can provide to our students by being well-connected and maintaining a strong knowledge base about postsecondary education and transition.
What advice do you have for administrators working with team teachers?
And Communication is also everything. A challenge that everybody struggles with, whether an administrator, a faculty member, an advisor, or a coordinator, is grappling with the complexity inherent with a new program. The ICAPS program has many intricacies, and it is important that those in the leadership roles acknowledge this and make sure that the bases are covered in educating everyone involved about the program, providing extra clarification and detail with the parts that are most relevant to each individual. As everybody has a thousand things on their plates, naming a designee to communicate is called for. A common pitfall in implementing something new lies in assuming that everyone understands what is going on, or has been filled in on details, or changes, by somebody else. Going through the exercise of providing regular check-ins can keep team teachers and other partners on the bus, helping them to be adventuresome travelers with a roadmap in their hands, confident in their knowledge that we are going somewhere.