STePPERR: A Planning Tool for Co-Teaching
November 19–20, 2021
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us as professors. Many of us have experienced frustration, stress, and even heavier workloads. What we are experiencing or have experienced is called pandemic burnout syndrome. According to the World Health Organization (2019), burnout syndrome is classified as an occupational phenomenon and includes continuous physical, emotional, or cognitive symptoms over a long period of time. When someone experiences feelings of exhaustion, negativity, or cynicism towards work, his, her, or their productive capacity tends to be reduced, among other possible effects. These isolating times and pandemic burnout have created an urgent need for faculty to support each other and collaborate.
Co-teaching is one way to reduce isolation and renew our commitments to a course, profession, and vocation. This is so because co-teaching is collaboration. This teaching method requires co-instructors to agree on the responsibilities of planning, teaching, and assessing students while being equally responsible and accountable for the classroom.
This paper proposes a planning tool for co-teaching and a series of activities before, during, and after the experience. This proposal will improve the planning experience, add educational value, and serve as a critical tool in teaching and learning processes for interdisciplinary courses. This paper results from an action research project and presents the process for and our reflections on co-teaching.
The Co-Teaching Planning Tool Bus: STePPERR
Co-teaching is an instructional method that brings together two or more educators to create a learning community with shared shared responsibilities for planning, instruction, and assessment (Bacharach, Washut Heck & Dahlberg, 2008; Chanmugam & Gerlach, 2013). This teaching method presents various benefits and challenges. The benefits range from learning new skills, getting out of one’s comfort zone, avoiding a solitary and fragmented experience, modeling respect and teamwork for students, and creating bridges of collaboration and research between disciplines.
Co-teaching also has its challenges. For example, faculty members may lack training, the discipline of one co-instructor might dominate the teaching process, different teaching styles and philosophies among participating teachers might clash, and there may be a lack of support at the institutional level.
Based on our experience with and reflections on co-teaching, we designed a planning tool to help faculty develop their co-teaching practice. The Co-teaching Planning Tool Bus, or STePPERR (Figure 1), highlights the main steps for planning a course under the co-teaching methodology and emphasizes self-assessment, as well as awareness of stakeholder expectations and the institutional environment.
The STePPERR tool, represented by a bus, is the vehicle in which we travel towards a co-teaching plan. The route is influenced by the expectations of stakeholders, including university administrators, students, and members of the faculty. The course’s objectives or competencies, the content presented in the syllabus, and the syllabus itself, are part of what surrounds the bus. In addition, the online and face-to-face learning-teaching environment is taken into consideration, including such factors as the learning management system (LMS), technology availability, and workshops for students and faculty.
Each window on the bus represents a step in the planning process. The first window (or step) is self-assessment. Here the professor is driving the bus alone. As part of the self-assessment, the professor answers questions related to their teaching philosophy and style, use of technology, time management skills, and willingness and expectations about the co-teaching experience.
The second window is to build the team. This step should determine the areas of convergence and divergence in teaching styles, time management, technology, and expectations. The team members share their self-assessments and, depending on the results, must then decide whether to proceed to the next window.
If the team decides to go ahead, they move on to the third window: prioritization. Here the group addresses the dimensions of collaboration, including responsibilities, teaching, tests and evaluations, and content integration (Davis, 1995). Considering the following sets of questions will help them design the co-teaching experience:
- Responsibilities: Are all team members involved in planning? Do some team members have more responsibilities in planning the course than others?
- Teaching: Do all team members participate more, less, or equally in the delivery of the course?
- Tests and evaluations: Who will compose and grade the evaluations?
- Content integration: How and to what extent have the inter-multidisciplinary perspectives been represented? Are the views integrated logically, such as in chronological or serial order?
The fourth window is planning: the instructors design the activities, the work plan, and the class calendar. The fifth window is to run or teach the class together. The sixth window is to evaluate or review. Professors can create and use various assessments to review course progress, using daily reflections, periodic reviews, reviews at the end of the course, and students’ satisfaction surveys.
The last window is to revise and modify. The co-teaching team should discuss possible changes and improvements to the course for its next implementation.
Once the cycle is complete, the team can start next time at the fourth window of the bus. Only teams new to working with one another need begin at the first window.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Co-teaching is a methodology that can significantly benefit professors and students. The proposed co-teaching planning tool helps define the roles and responsibilities involved in a co-teaching experience and provides specific steps for developing a team-taught course in a remote-virtual learning setting. The STePPERR tool delineates activities before, during, and after the co-teaching experience.
Before planning an experience under this methodology, professors must explore different resources on co-teaching and should be encouraged to talk with other people with experience in co-teaching. Once the course is in progress, teammates should attend each others’ classes whenever possible and be flexible and open to possible changes. Remember, STePPERR is a supportive tool in the collaborative experience. It is an excellent opportunity to learn new teaching and learning skills, be creative with our virtual-remote classes, and step out of our comfort zones. Finally, STePPERR can also be used in an offline teaching-learning environment.
Bacharach, N., Washut Heck, T., & Dahlberg, K. (2008). Co-teaching in higher education. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 5(3), 9-16.
Ballester-Panelli, I., & Brugueras-Fabre, A.J. (2021). Teaching and learning during pandemic times: Interdisciplinary experiences. Presented at Faculty Resource Network 2021 National Symposium: Redesigning Higher Education After COVID-19, November 19-20, 2021.
Chanmugam, A., & Gerlach, B. (2013). A co-teaching model for developing future educators’ teaching effectiveness. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 25(1), 110-117.
Davis, J. R. (1995). Interdisciplinary courses and team teaching. American Council on Education and The Oryx Press.
World Health Organization (2019, May 28). Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International classification of diseases [Nota de prensa].