Collaborative Teaching

“We may be in a common sea in higher education, but in truth, we are rarely in the same boat. Typically, we sail around solo ... In the bigger boats of teaching communities, we have the potential to take our students, our institutions, and ourselves into deeper water and stronger currents.”

Quotes taken from Teaching Communities within Learning Communities, By Jean MacGregor Director, National Learning Communities Project Washington Center News, 2000.

The Challenges of Collaborative Teaching

Learning Communities are designed to not only benefit the students involved, but also the instructors. In fact, one of the fundamental goals of Learning Communities is to enhance professional development through collaboration with other faculty. Ideally, collaborative teaching facilitates the sharing of pedagogy, research and teaching approaches while developing stronger working relationships between faculty members. Realization of these ideals, however, does not come without challenge.

Indeed, one of the greatest challenges in LC development is simply the pairing of instructors. How should this be done? Should a coordinator choose the partners? Should instructors choose each other? If so, how should an instructor determine who they should teach with? What are the most important things to consider? Subject matter? Teaching styles? Scheduling? Planning habits? Dedication? Flexibility? What seems to be a simple first step proves complicated. Moreover, once this first step is taken and the pairs are made, how will partners delineate power between them? How will seniority play a role? Will one subject take the back burner?

Finding teachers that work well together is not only important for their own sanity, but also for the effectiveness of the Learning Community. If instructors are poorly paired, it could adversely affect their students. For example, one of the objectives of a Learning Community is to foster team-building and collaborative thinking skills. How will students develop these skills if their instructors are having trouble working together?

The Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education has compiled case studies that highlight some of the problems that can arise between teaching partners. The following chapters might be helpful in anticipating potential problems:

In addition, the following article, which appears in Chapter Four of Sustaining and Improving Learning Communities by Jody Levine Laufgraben and Nancy S. Shapiro, treats some of the issues that arise in collaborative teaching:

In an effort to support the personal and professional development of City College Learning Community faculty, each participating instructor is  provided with a copy of Sustaining and Improving Learning Communities by Jody Levine Laufgraben and Nancy S. Shapiro. Discussion and critique of the book among LC faculty is encouraged. Click here for a review of the book by Mark Wiley, Department of English, California State University, Long Beach.

Solutions:  StrengthsQuest

In their article, “The Challenges of Teaching with Others,” Laufgraben  and Tompkins suggest a variety of methods (i.e. solutions) that may be used to improve the success of Learning Community faculty teams.  Another solution being used in San Diego City College’s Learning Communities is the Gallup Organization’s StrengthsQuestTM.  With StrengthsQuestTM, participating faculty may identify and develop their own strengths, and they may also better understand and utilize their teaching partner’s strengths.

What is StrengthsQuestTM?

StrengthsQuestTM was developed by the Gallup Organization as an assessment instrument for determining personal strengths. Through decades of psychological research the Gallup Organization identified the 34 most common strengths in individuals worldwide. Taken online, the StrengthsQuestTM assessment identifies and ranks an individual’s five most dominant strengths.


The StrengthsQuestTM philosophy is based in Positive Psychology, and purports that individuals maximize their success by nurturing and developing their strengths rather than by correcting their weaknesses.  Using this strengths-based approach, individuals can gain increased self-awareness and confidence, as well as increased awareness of different strengths in others.  This increased awareness between individuals is especially useful in team development.   Strengths-awareness not only fosters better understanding and communication between partners, it can also increase team creativity, productivity, and overall effectiveness.

Recommended StrengthsQuestTM links

For more information about StrengthsQuestTM, please visit the StrengthsQuestTM  website