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Team Teaching in the World History or Regional History Classroom

Melanie G. Krob and Stephanie Enseñat Davis


     Prominent educational coalitions and professional associations, including the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Asia Society, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU), and the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), have identified global awareness along with the ability to communicate and work with others of different backgrounds and opinions as key competencies for 21st century learners.1 World history and regional studies courses introduce global content and multiple perspectives, but team teaching provides teachers with an additional tool. Not only does it rely on multiple perspectives, it also models the interpersonal skills we are trying to foster as 21st century educators. As world history and regional history teachers, we have traditionally taught global awareness through course content, perspectives through documents, and interpersonal skills through group projects. However, in a team-taught class, the instructors' perspectives, dialogues, and behaviors become an essential and integral part of the lesson as well.

     Language teachers have long recognized the potential of team teaching as a tool to deliver content-specific instruction in a target language. Team teaching, where two teachers are present in the classroom and active in the instruction, has been a feature of French-language, content-based instruction in Canada since the 1960s and English-language, content-based instruction in Japan since the 1970s.2 As demand for English-language proficiency has increased in Europe and among immigrant communities in the United States, content-based team teaching has become the favored model for language-immersion classrooms as well. In these language classrooms, a content expert pairs with a language expert to engage students in a target language by focusing on a particular subject area. Similarly, there are now several models for team-teaching in K-12 differentiated instruction, where a general education teacher pairs with a special education teacher to address the learning needs of specific students. The research shows that when the team collaboration works, student engagement increases and content mastery improves.3 As Anne Beninghof, a consultant and trainer for k-12 team teaching, writes, "rather than becoming overly familiar with one teaching style to the point of tuning it out, students can be unexpectedly presented with a new view, a new sound, or a new perspective."4

     The improvements in student engagement have also been observed in collaborative interdisciplinary team-teaching environments in higher education.5 Because team teaching forces teachers to step out of their comfort zones and become learners themselves, students feel more empowered to contribute to discussions.6 Similarly, the collaborative environment inherent in the team-teaching model promotes increased student-teacher interaction and opportunities for student participation.7 In our own experience teaching a Latin American Studies course in Spanish, where one teacher is a native speaker of Spanish and the other is a historian, we have seen this same phenomenon. Since one of the teachers is not a native speaker, the students have been more willing, if not eager, to express themselves in Spanish and engage in the discussions in Spanish. Similarly, having a non-history teacher teach history and engage in dialogue with the history teacher empowers the students to ask relevant questions to clarify or expand upon various historical points themselves. Professors Joshua Landy and Lanier Anderson, who have team-taught an interdisciplinary course in the Humanities Program at Stanford University, agree. In fact, Landry recommends using the first few meetings "to set up a pattern in which people do intervene in the discussion from all kinds of angles."8 He and his partner make a conscious effort from the beginning of the class to create an environment in which, as Landy explains, "student contributions are going to be valued and expected."9

     Having two teachers teach the lesson, deliver the lecture, or facilitate a discussion provides additional benefits for a world history or regional history classroom. First, with the right teaching pair, this style of team teaching highlights different perspectives, contrasting approaches to the material, and different personal experiences. This is an effective strategy for a history classroom where different points of view and distinct styles enhance the material and make for a more interesting and dynamic learning environment. Second, although world history and regional history courses are by their very nature interdisciplinary, having subject area expertise in particular fields related to world history enhances the depth of discussion of those particular topics and both teachers become learners in the process. As Julia Ketie writes in an article for The Harvard Crimson, "the best team-taught classes are not watered-down versions of each expert's background, but instead provide a strengthened level of discussion and argument."10 Finally, team teaching by its very nature requires teachers to model collaboration, empathy, and respect for one another's opposing views, all skills that are essential in our 21st century, global world.

     The value of team teaching in world history and regional history course is easy to defend, but what does team teaching mean in practical terms? How do two or more teachers from different departments work together effectively in a classroom without stepping on each other's toes?

     Our Latin American Studies class, which we have been co-teaching for the past three years, is taught entirely in Spanish. This course, which began as a Spanish elective with three students, is now a Global Studies course for which the students earn a dual credit in history and Spanish. We currently have thirteen students in the class, and that number is expected to grow. Listed below are some of the strategies we have found to be useful in creating a successful, balanced partnership in the classroom.

Getting Started:

1. Finding the right topic:

In designing the syllabus for a team-taught course, teachers must be sure to choose topics that allow both teachers to contribute equally throughout the term. Additionally, the two teachers must do a significant amount of preparation up front to ensure that both teachers' areas of expertise will be featured and that the dialogue between the two will continue throughout the entire term. Our Latin American Studies class was born out of a series of discussions between the two of us. We had collaborated on an article on the Panamanian anti-American riots of 1964,11 and we believed that we could expand the ideas from the article to create an engaging class for our advanced students. It took us over a year to put the course together, including several weeks during the summer months. But the amount of time was worth it and was necessary to prevent disagreements down the line, particularly regarding many of the organizational and class management aspects of the course. As Professors Lanier Anderson and Joshua Landy, who have co-taught interdisciplinary courses in the Humanities Program at Stanford University for more than a decade, proclaim as their "First Commandment" of their "10 Commandments of Team Teaching": "Thou shalt plan everything with thy neighbor."12

2. Finding the right pair:

Part of what makes a team-teaching experience dynamic is the partnership. The partnership must feature different personalities, different areas of subject expertise, and different perspectives. For our class, that was easy. Stephanie was born in Switzerland, but moved with her family to Panama when she was six years old. In the years she lived in Panama, Stephanie experienced anti American riots, a military takeover of a democratic government, and two different military governments. Melanie is from New Orleans, Louisiana. Melanie grew up in a democratic system of government and has lived in several socialist countries in Europe. In terms of subject area expertise, Stephanie is a native speaker of Spanish and learned Latin American history in Panama from a Latin American perspective. Melanie has a Ph.D. in European cultural history and studied Latin American history through a European/ North American lens.

3. Determining the roles of each teacher:

Another key component to team teaching is determining how often each teacher will be there and the roles each teacher will play in the classroom. There are multiple models for team teaching: 1) both teachers in the classroom for every class meeting with both teachers contributing daily; 2) both teachers in the classroom, but teachers alternate by unit; 3) a rotational system, in which only one teacher is in the classroom at a time presenting on his or her area of expertise. However, for a team-taught course that seeks to target the 21st century skills of evaluating perspectives and modeling collaboration, both teachers must commit to being in the classroom for every class meeting. As Andrew Berry, who co-teaches a course on Organic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University explains, "[a tag team-teaching system] can be a recipe for disaster because people don't know what the other person has taught and the style of teaching, maybe even the level is inconsistent."13As one Harvard student, who took Berry's class, adds, "I have taken classes, where there is a different lecturer each time, and that can be hard to follow."14

     We have found that the presence of both of us has been particularly important in our regional history course since the purpose of the partnership is to provide two areas of subject expertise and two different perspectives. In our case, we more or less follow what Anne M. Beninghof calls the "Speak and Add Model" or what Joshua Landry and Lanier Anderson of Stanford University have facetiously called the "lecturer and kibitzer," describing their own teaching roles in their interdisciplinary humanities course.15 In our class, generally, Stephanie stands in front of the class and does the main presentation in Spanish. Melanie is usually seated and contributes by asking questions in Spanish to the class in order to assess the students' comprehension of the material and to explore related topics. On days where we present certain topics, such as the Enlightenment philosophy or the Reformation, which feature more of a European perspective, Melanie is the main presenter and Stephanie asks the discussion questions.

     As for the assessments, all written and oral assessments are graded by both, together. This requires significant time and we have to meet frequently after school or on the weekends, if necessary. When grading the assessments, Melanie generally overseas the content, and Stephanie the written language. Sometimes these roles are reversed and some content issues will be determined by Stephanie and some language issues will be determined by Melanie, depending on how strongly each teacher feels about the issue.

Working together in the classroom:

Team teaching is risky. Even with the best intentions and the best organization, two personalities with two different teaching styles working in the classroom together can be a recipe for disaster. Here are the precepts we follow to ensure smooth working relationship with the fewest number of bumps along the way.

1. Respect the other person's knowledge and expertise.

Because our backgrounds are so different and unique, we bring two very different perspectives and cultural outlooks to the course. We have found that the success of the course depends on the expertise of both teachers and therefore we are careful to acknowledge and respect the other person's experience, knowledge, training and outlook.

2. Leave your ego at the door

One of the most challenging aspects of team-teaching is leaving your ego at the door. Both of us have taught independently for over fifteen years, and both of us are accustomed to having full control of our classroom and activities. In a team-taught class, the responsibilities must be shared and both opinions respected, no matter how different they are. As several experts in the field of teaching have pointed out, one of the advantages of team teaching is the opportunity to allow students to observe high-level intellectual debate among colleagues.16 As Melissa Leavitt of Stanford University explains in a 2006 article on interdisciplinary team teaching, "Watching instructors debate using different methodological approaches allows students to discover the advantage of different disciplines."17 In our case, even if we disagree, we have found that respectful disagreement is instructive to the students. When those disagreements involve more practical matters such as scheduling a test date or determining how long a presentation or paper should be, we each respectfully present our sides and leave the ultimate decision to the students, fully realizing that there will have to be a compromise because full agreement is not always possible.

3. Have the goal in mind at all times

Ultimately, the goal of the partnership is to bring a deeper and more fulfilling understanding of the world we live in to our students. It is not to convert students to our individual way of thinking or to our individual political opinions. They must learn to think and make their own political choices, while at the same time witness the collaboration of two individual teachers with different styles and different opinions. This is the students' learning experience.

4. Meet often to check in and plan.

You cannot meet too often. We meet once a week for a couple of hours to plan projects, grade assignments, and plan the week's lectures and activities. When we have assessments or projects to grade, we must schedule more time to meet, be it after school or on weekends. Team-teaching is a huge time commitment.18 As Landy from Stanford University explains, to model effective collaboration, "Everyone on the team has to be behind every element of the course." Discussing all aspects of the course up front helps prevent surprises later. Again, Landy and Anderson's First Commandment "Thou shalt plan everything with thy neighbor" should not be forgotten.

While reaching consensus takes a lot of time and requires a lot of compromise, there can be many unexpected benefits to frequent meetings. As Michael Cowan, Barbara Ewell, and Peggy McConnell, a teaching team at City College at Loyola University of New Orleans, point out, "Our joint planning sessions became interdisciplinary conversations into which we subsequently invited our students. These conversations were highlights of our teaching together."19

5. If at first you don't succeed, try a different system or different approach.

We borrowed this concept from aviation (Wiener's aviation law #24) because flexibility and communication is imperative in any team environment.20 There are certain projects and assignments that sound great on paper, but once implemented, they fall flat. You must be willing to allow your colleague to change directions and reevaluate the project on the fly, no pun intended. You must be flexible and willing to let go of an idea that may have worked last year, but is not working this year. Sometimes we must do a quick side bar in class to change directions.

6. Once in class, go with the flow.

This point is an offshoot of the previous one. You may have planned the most interesting lecture or activity, but once in class, the discussion takes a different turn, and all of that planning goes out the window. The class has moved in a different and perhaps more exciting direction. Be willing to go there. In a team-taught class, the teachers have less control than they are used to in a traditional class.

7. Be able to interrupt your partner.

Sometimes in the middle of class, the other teacher needs to interrupt to communicate an idea. That person must be clear about his/ her intentions by saying "may I interrupt," which allows the other person to give him/her the floor. As Beninghof writes, "It is critical that partners give each other permission to "jump in"—accept that their lecture may be interrupted for the sake of clarification, or that an on-the-spot visual support might require an extra minute."21 This handoff must be smooth, and the person who is interrupted must concede the floor graciously. We have found that this system works very well in a classroom setting, and it provides students with a very immediate model of cooperation and collaboration.

8. Have fun. Have a sense of humor. At times things will not go as expected, and laughter may be the best course of action.

     Team teaching is an effective strategy for teaching and modeling the 21st century skills of cooperation, collaboration, and communication. This model provides students with examples of how to integrate different and at times conflicting perspectives. As world history and regional studies teachers, one of our primary goals is to prepare students for a global and fluid society where at times conflicts arise that can be solved with diplomacy. In our experience, team teaching has been both a valuable and intellectually stimulating means to achieve that objective.

Melanie G. Krob is Director of Global Studies at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans. She can be reached at

Stephanie Enseñat Davis teaches Spanish and Global Studies at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, LA. She can be reached at


1 The framework for 21st century skills published by each of these individual organizations is available on their respective websites. In addition, see Douglas C. Bennett, Grant H. Cornwell, Haifa Jamal Al-Lail, and Celeste Schenck. "An Education for the Twenty-First Century: Stewardship of the Global Commons," Liberal Education, Association of American Colleges and Universities, 98, no. 4 (Fall 2012), 1–8; Elizabeth A. Duffy, "Educating Students for their Futures: Three Trends for Schools in the Conceptual Age," Independent School Magazine, 74, no. 1 (Fall 2014), 6.

2 Merrill Swain and Robert Keith Johnson,"Immersion Education. A Category within Bilingual Education," in Johnson and Swain, eds. Immersion Education. International Perspectives (New York: Cambridge, 1997), 1; Timothy Stewart and Bill Perry, "Interdisciplinary Team Teaching as a Model for Teacher Development," TESL-EJ Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language, 9, no. 2 (September 2005),

3 Ibid; James R. Davis, Interdisciplinary Courses and Team Teaching. Phoenix: American Council on Education/Oryx Press, 1997). Melissa C. Leavitt, "Team Teaching: Benefits and Challenges," Speaking of Teaching: The Center for Teaching and Learning, Stanford University, 16, no. 1. (Fall 2006), 1–4.

4 Anne M. Beninghof, Co-Teaching that Works. Structures and Strategies for Maximizing Student Learning (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012), 76.

5 Rebecca S. Anderson and Bruce W. Speck. "Oh What a Difference a Team Makes: Why Team Teaching Makes a Difference." Teaching and Teacher Education 14, no. 7 (1998): 671-86; Theresa Watkins, Richard L. Miller, and William Wozniak, "Team Teaching: Student Satisfaction and Performance," Teaching of Psychology, 22, no. 2 (2002), 118-120; James R. Davis Interdisciplinary Courses and Team Teaching (Phoenix: American Council on Education/Oryx Press, 1997); Julia E. Ketie, "Team-taught classes," The Harvard Crimson (February 7, 2011), accessed January 8, 2015,; Leavitt.

6 Anderson and Speck, 671.

7 Theresa Watkins, Richard L. Miller, and William Wozniak, "Team Teaching: Student Satisfaction and Performance," Teaching of Psychology, 22, no. 2 (2002), 118.

8 Jessica Palmer, "Professors Preach 10 Commandments of Team Teaching." Stanford Report (March 15, 2006), accessed December 7, 2014,

9 Ibid.

10 Ketie.

11 Melanie G. Krob and Stephanie Enseñat Davis, "El Día de los Mártires: High-School Student Revolution and the Emergence of Panamanian National Identity," The Latin Americanist. Annals of the SECOLAS Annual Meeting 2013 30 (2014): 55-66.

12 Palmer.

13 Ketie.

14 Ibid.

15 Beninghof, 71-77; Palmer; Leavitt, 2.

16 Anderson and Speck, 681; Palmer.

17 Leavitt, 2.

18 Beninghof, 36-37.

19 Qtd in Leavitt, 1.

20 John Croft, "Weiner's Laws," Aviation Week (July 18, 2013), accessed January 8, 2015,

21 Ibid, 71.


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