Professors preach 10 commandments of team teaching

Joshua Landy, Lanier Anderson offer 'thou shalts' of the craft

Rod Searcey team teach

Associate professors Joshua Landy, left, and Lanier Anderson presented tips on team teaching at a recent "Award-Winning Teachers on Teaching," a lecture series.

Joshua Landy, associate professor of French and Italian, and Lanier Anderson, associate professor of philosophy, might easily have been rivals, said Michele Marincovich, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, as she introduced Landy and Anderson's presentation at the Center's "Award-Winning Teachers on Teaching" lecture series on Feb. 23.

The professors, both "rising stars in the humanities firmament," each arrived at Stanford in 1996, and both have been awarded the university's top teaching award, the Gores Award, as well as a Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching, she said. Both also have published in leading journals and have been awarded fellowships at the Stanford Humanities Center, she added.

But instead of competing with one another, the scholars have "converged in wonderfully productive ways," Marincovich said. Landy, an expert in Proust, and Anderson, a specialist in Nietzsche, are the architects of an initiative in Philosophical and Literary Thought, which offers students major tracks in interdisciplinary studies of literature and philosophy. In addition to team teaching a gateway course in philosophy and literature, Landy and Anderson teach interdisciplinary courses in the Introduction to Humanities Program, together and with other instructors. (As team teachers, "we're recidivists," Landy said.)

In their Feb. 23 talk, the professors demonstrated their teaching technique as they presented "The Challenges and Rewards of Team Teaching." Instead of standing at a lectern together—in Landy's words, "like some kind of two-headed president"—Landy took the lead as lecturer, with Anderson positioned at the center of the room as "kibitzer," setting up some of Landy's points and interjecting his own.

Both professors compiled the list of "Ten Commandments of Team Teaching," presented by Landy. The commandments are:

1. Thou shalt plan everything with thy neighbor.

"Plan a lot. Plan early and often. Co-design everything," Landy advised. Everyone on the team has to be prepared to stand behind every element, he said.

A coherent course framework is vital, because team teaching makes it a little harder to keep things under control, he said. "Reassure your students there is still a line around which you are drawing this arabesque."

2. Thou shalt attend thy neighbor's lectures.

A course that presents five weeks of teaching from one professor followed by five weeks from another really isn't team taught. "They're two different classes," Landy said. Participation by professors throughout a course not only increases its coherence but "raises the game" for the lecturing professor, he said. And it gives team members opportunities to learn new teaching strategies from each other, he said.

3. Thou shalt refer to thy neighbor's ideas.

Team teaching is not a zero sum game, where a stellar performance by one professor takes away from the stature of another in students' eyes, Landy said. When individual teachers are performing well, the whole course benefits, he said. "Make each other look good."

4. Thou shalt model debate with thy neighbor.

A team-taught course offers opportunities to model high-level debate between advanced scholars, "demonstrating how two equally competent people might legitimately disagree," Landy said. "It shows students what the range is of permissible disagreement. It's not the case that anything goes—everything has to be argued for—but it's also not the case that there is one monolithic approach," he said.

Professors should "use evidence that is emblematic of your discipline," Anderson added. Students then learn to "come from the strength of both disciplinary perspectives and step from one to the other," he said.

"You can really show by example what kinds of questions are susceptible of this sort of beautiful openness, that there are four or five possible approaches, none of which commands a privileged right to our attention," Landy added.

5. Thou shalt have something to say, even when thou art not in charge.

Have some view about the material, Landy said. "It may not come round to you, but your responsibility is to be ready."

6. Ye shall apply common grading standards.

It's time consuming and difficult, but important for a teaching team to be explicit about grading strategies and to find mutually agreed-upon standards, Landy said. Since grading standards vary from department to department, it may be that "one of you is going to have to go up and one has to go down," he added.

7. Thou shalt attend all staff meetings.

"It's vital to have regular meetings, which everyone should attend," Landy said. "Keep testing the pulse of the course."

8. Thou shalt ask open questions.

"Ask questions susceptible of multiple answers," Landy said. "See what comes back."

9. Thou shalt let thy students speak.

It's important to make it clear from the first few classes that student participation is valued and expected, Anderson said. Faculty have to guard against being too technical in their responses to each another, thus keeping students out of the discussion, he said. "Police yourselves and keep things at the level of the class."

10. Thou shalt be willing to be surprised.

Team teaching offers a special chance to take students out to the leading edge and see what the production of knowledge looks like, Anderson said. "You have to bring [students] along far enough so they know the difference between questions that they don't know the answer to and questions that you don't know the answer to," he said.

It's risky, "but the job of teaching is to communicate momentum, not just information," said Landy. "It's vitally important to let ourselves be wrong, to let ourselves be challenged. We have to let ourselves get into those situations where we might fail and where maybe no one is going to come up with an answer.

"Get out of the way and let the thing happen," he said. "Just be a catalyst. Once the reaction has taken place, the catalyst gets discarded—hopefully not fired, but discarded."