Operationalizing Pedagogical Partnership through Co-teaching:
Reflections from a Doctoral Student and a Professor
Denise Lewis, M.S. Ed. Doctoral Student, The College of William & Mary
Mark Hofer, Ph.D., The College of William & Mary
A pedagogical partnership is ”a collaborative, reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, although not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualization, decision making, implementation, investigation, or analysis” (Cook-Sather et al., 2014, pp. 6-7).
We reflect on our pedagogical partnership as we co-taught a doctoral-level course focused on the models, processes, and outcomes of effective K-12 curriculum-based technology integration through analysis of research and review of authentic examples. Co-teaching or team teaching has many benefits that have been widely researched, but few studies cite its value for doctoral education. Research suggests that co-teaching supports instructors, students, and doctoral candidates who are on the threshold of becoming independent scholars (Monson & Kenyon, 2018; Thielsch, 2021).
As a doctoral student, I completed an earlier version of this course in Spring 2019. After inquiring about possibly taking it a second time, “just for fun”, Dr. Hofer and I decided to co-teach the course instead. I was both excited and nervous. We collaboratively drafted a co-teaching agreement and discussed how my interests, experiences, and skills could enhance the class. One of my first tasks was to help build out the course syllabus. Dr. Hofer approached developing the course content based on 11 essential questions informed by an awareness of students’ interests, questions, and concerns. I embraced this learning design approach as human-centered, collaborative, optimistic and experimental (Diefenthaler et al., 2017).
One thing was very clear … we would start this semester remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We carefully considered the instructional interface and learning tools for the online space, how to make students feel connected, and ways to make our instruction dynamic, authentic, and valuable (McDaniels et al., 2016). My comfort level with the learning management system and other technology tools used to support the class allowed for a seamless and consistent experience.
IMAGE OF Learning TOOLS utilized
Given my interests and experiences, I designed and led sessions on the integration of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT), and Emerging Issues in Educational Technology. After each session, Dr. Hofer shared his observation notes and students offered feedback. I learned that pacing instruction is challenging, and it’s especially difficult when the content and discussions are engaging.
Often I was tasked with synthesizing student comments on readings and listening intently to student responses during discussions; this facilitated deeper learning and ensured that we touched upon key points from the readings during class. I made connections to my previous experiences and other courses. Over time, I grew comfortable with framing my comments during discussions as questions. Although my role in assessment was limited, I “practice graded” a few assignments that had been stripped of identifying information, and we discussed approaches assessment and feedback.
This was my first experience getting to see what goes on behind the curtain. Co-teaching has been one of the most rewarding opportunities of my academic experience. Given what it takes to administer a course, and the benefits of co-teaching, I am left to wonder why co-teaching has not been integrated as a best practice or even a requirement in doctoral programs. My experience co-teaching helped to deepen my understanding of theoretical frameworks, research practices, and content. I benefited from working with someone who truly valued my perspective. Consistency in expectations and effective communication were essential to building trust, evidenced by our modular course design and collaborative execution.
“Student voice prompts and supports reflective practice.” (Cook-Sather, 2014)
When approached about essentially re-taking a course, I immediately shifted to a co-teaching approach. Denise’s expertise in STEM, programming, and elementary/middle school teaching was complementary to my own K-12 teaching. I taught her previously, so I knew she had a great deal to contribute. This was an insight I embraced throughout the semester. Our collaboration stimulated both reflective practice for me, as well as new, actionable insights that we were able to immediately put into practice.
Our work began over the winter break as we built the course syllabus together. Denise brought an invaluable perspective on how to reimagine the course. She provided insights on syllabus format, course topics and sequence, and the essential questions that would guide instruction. We searched for ways to make the course more inclusive and accessible for students - something that Denise was ideally situated to provide. We held weekly debriefing sessions, adjusting course activities based on feedback from the class and Denise’s insights.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we agreed that an intense focus on student engagement and connection was critical. While I was experienced building engagement and connection in my face-to-face courses and hybrid versions, Denise considered new, creative possibilities. We launched a survey before the start of the course, asking students to share their favorite memes and songs. We created a playlist that was used when entering the Zoom session and during reflection activities. We used the memes to both get to know the students and as a community-building exercise. We also discussed ways to increase student engagement in asynchronous activities. Knowing that students would use threaded discussion boards in other classes, we opted to integrate a collaborative reading/annotation platform called Perusall to facilitate interaction with texts and each other. Denise helped set this up, monitor the discussions, and synthesize key points to bring to the next asynchronous class session.
While I had experience teaching blended or hybrid courses, my previous online content had been predominantly asynchronous. Synchronous online pedagogy opened up new possibilities and challenges for me. While Denise had limited experience in this mode as well, she brought her research and creativity skills to the task. One issue we had to navigate was how to effectively facilitate small group discussions. Using the Zoom breakout room feature was easy, but it was much more disruptive in this context, though, to check in with groups during their collaboration time. Denise found a strategy using Google Slides to allow us to monitor what students were posting without interrupting. She developed creative ways to add templates and prompts to stimulate interesting discussion and synthesis which I will carry forward in my future classes.
Denise developed into a trusted and valuable co-leader in and between class sessions. At first, she was reluctant to weigh in too often during synchronous class discussions as she wanted to create space for the students. However, as time went on, and with encouragement from me, she gradually contributed more like an instructor. She did share her perspective as appropriate, but she shifted into the role of asking questions and deepening the discussion. Her responses to student posts throughout the week in asynchronous activities and her detailed synthesis of course reading annotations significantly enriched the experience for the whole class community.
In the end, the course was a much better experience for me and my students through Denise’s myriad contributions. I’ve come away with some excellent new strategies, ideas, and mindsets that will inform my future course design and delivery. We witnessed creativity and diversity in class activities that were designed and guided by individual students. Many of these ideas were generated through discussion, sharing, and iterating together. This course experience was much more than a sum of the parts.
How are you reflecting and improving your practice in teaching through learning design?
How can you incorporate the feedback of a critical friend (a peer or a student) into your teaching?
How can you better leverage pedagogical partnerships to facilitate your course?
Burns, V., & Mintzberg, S. (2019). Co-teaching as teacher training: Experiential accounts of two doctoral students. College Teaching, 67(2), 94–99. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567555.2018.1558169
Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching (1st ed., The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series). Wiley.
Diefenthaler, A., Moorhead, L., Speicher, S., Bear, C., & Cerminaro, D. (2017). Thinking and acting like a designer: How design thinking supports innovation in K-12 education. WISE and IDEO. https://www.wise-qatar.org/2017-wise-research-design-thinking/
Jarvis, D., & Kariuki, M. (2017). Co-teaching in higher education: From theory to co practice. / edited by Daniel H. Jarvis and Mumbi Kariuki. University of Toronto Press. https://doi.org/10.3138/9781487514228
McDaniels, M., Pfund, C., & Barnicle, K. (2016). Creating dynamic learning communities in synchronous online courses: One approach from the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL). Online Learning, 20(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v20i1.518
Monson, R., & Kenyon, K. (2018). Co-teaching: Risks and rewards. In Kozimor-King M. & Chin J. (Eds.), Learning from Each Other: Refining the Practice of Teaching in Higher Education, 40-55. University of California Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctv3znxq0.8
Thielsch, A. (2021). Team teaching in doctoral education: guidance for academic identities on the threshold. Teaching in Higher Education, 26(3), 471-487, https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2021.1899158