Spotlight on Practice Worth Sharing: Team building in Higher Education

Photo credit: Dylan Gillis, Unsplash, CC0

In this Spotlight on Practice Worth Sharing post, Morag Crolla, a Teaching Fellow in the Moray House School of Education and Sport, reflects on what team building means for her and her colleagues….

In a recent Practice Worth Sharing meeting, we considered the need and place for team work on our courses and programmes. I wanted to focus on why team work matters, and why it is such an important aspect for us as reflective teachers.

However, to begin with it seemed important to think about:

  • What is team work?
  • Who is it for?
  • Why do we do it?
  • Do we really need it?

Looking at the literature, it became apparent that there were examples of team work amongst teaching staff in the sciences but very little in the humanities. Why was this the case, and what did this suggest about teaching in the humanities? This then led us to a discussion on the term ‘team’ and ‘communities of practice’ as recognised by Lave and Wenger (1991), where individuals interact with one another to develop their own understanding.

I was keen to explore how these teams might be defined in HE, and found:

  • Authority/responsibility relationships.
  • Groups where more can be accomplished by working together rather than independently.
  • Groups that are valuable because of the diversity of information they bring together.
  • Groups whose productive inputs are related (Burgess, 1994).

I then considered that the authority relationship was not what I saw in a community of practice but more of an equal relationship amongst team members. However, in discussion, there was consensus that working in a teaching team might mean that one person has authority because they have more knowledge, experience, skills etc, which they then share.

From this, it seemed that the collaboration involved in teaching teams could then lead to a shared understanding of the pedagogy, and increased motivation in exploring the teaching. Ramsden (2003) stated that the focus should be on good teaching as much as good teachers. Being able to share thoughts and ideas on the planning of lectures/workshops/seminars, as well as meeting to reflect on the pedagogy of these, helps to make for a cohesive team.

Brookfield (2017) suggested that “the best teaching colleagues are critical friends”, and this helped to explain why teams matter. I thought about the various teams that I had worked in and those critical friends who would listen and help me to articulate ideas or explore new ways to approach my teaching: those were the teams that I valued.

I realised that I had to feel that I trusted my colleagues as I was potentially exposing my own vulnerabilities as a teacher, therefore the team mattered on both a professional level and an emotional/social level. I much prefer to work within a team rather than on my own: this doesn’t mean that I team-teach, although I’m keen to explore this, but rather that I plan and reflect with a team of like-minded teachers whose aim is to improve the teaching in higher education classes.

This in turn led me to consider how much of this ‘team work’ is reflective and how much is ‘anticipatory” (Kreber, 2013). Through my own experience, the best teams involve members at both the planning and the reflection stages. Sharing worries or concerns about my teaching and listening to others interpretations of what happens in teaching have helped me to clarify or reframe what I experience. Trowler (2008) identifies an issue that I too have experienced where the students appear to look bored and I worry that my content, delivery, approach has led to this. After speaking to colleagues and to other students, I then find out that this has not been the case.

Building supportive, collaborative teams in HE benefits students as well as tutors and I have been fortunate to have worked in several of these teams at Moray House. Taking time to value the support that a team brings is crucial to its success and I aim to focus on this in my future teaching.


Brookfield, S. (2017). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, ProQuest Ebook Central.

Kreber, C. (2013). Authenticity in and through teaching: The transformative potential of the scholarship of teaching. London and New York: Routledge

Lave, J. & Wenger, E., (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to Teach in Higher Education, Routledge. ProQuest Ebook Central, .

Trowler, P. (2008). Cultures and Change in Higher Education. Hampshire. Palgrave Macmillan.

Morag Crolla

Morag Crolla is a Teaching Fellow in the Moray House School of Education and Sport, working on a range of ITE programmes since 2010 as lecturer and course organiser. Until recently, she was Depute Headteacher of a large city centre primary school, and has many years experience in primary education. Her main interests are in health and wellbeing and language.


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