"Alone or together?"

An article about the model of team teaching, published in the Hochschulmagazin of the Neue Musikzeitung (July/August 2020)

Alone or together?

About the positive effects and diverse potentials that team teaching at universities of music can offer as a supplement to individual artistic instruction.

The model of team teaching in the artistic main subject is not new, but it is still not practiced very much at German universities of music.
The reason for this probably lies in the quite complex challenges which precede a successful concept of joint teaching.
In the following I would like to reflect on these and try to present ideas which can contribute to the success of this creative form of teaching.
The article is based on the experiences we have had with team teaching within the vocal department at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München.

In the beginning, there was our need for communication and exchange of different pedagogic approaches. We desired to create a collective space in which all the teachers could propose their different experiences and competences. In our opinion, the students should eventually benefit from that. In a kind of self-experiment, we tried different forms within three years and also overcame some difficulties. In the meantime, however, team teaching has become a weekly course that is firmly anchored in the curriculum and is a great enrichment to individual lessons.

Some examples at other universities have shown that the respective setting can be very different. For instance, there are entire classes which are supervised equally by two main subject teachers in continuous co-teaching. Furthermore, there can be classes in which a sporadic exchange of students takes place; either interdisciplinary or within their own subject group.

Usually, artistic main subject instruction at German music academies is taught by one person. The teacher has a leading responsibility for the development of the individual student. However, it is often underestimated or perhaps even overlooked that multiple teachers are always involved in a successful education. The achievement of artistic-musical top performances always requires a team of support (in competitive sports such is common practice).

I don’t want to deny the crucial position and significance of the main subject teaching. However, I believe, that other teaching focuses, which are taught in individual or group lessons, can be of immense and often essential importance for the progress and development of students.

Team teaching with other main subject teachers can complement this diversity in teaching and also positively influence the overall teaching culture.

The team teaching model, which Andreas Schmidt, Lars Woldt and I developed and tested together with our former colleague Michelle Breedt, has recently been continued with our new colleagues Daniela Sindram and Julian Pregardien and their students.

Each week we hold a two-hour team teaching session, which can be chosen as a subject in the elective module for one or more semesters.

Invited are singing students who are already in various master`s programs or in advanced semesters of the bachelor`s program, i.e. who already have a certain technical stability and artistic independence.

The participation of the students is active on some of the weekly appointments and passive on all others.
The team teaching lesson itself is organized in a variety of ways, depending on the individual student and their repertoire. There are always at least two, but often all of the teachers are present. Sometimes only one teacher gives the lesson, sometimes they all teach together. Both students and colleagues can benefit from each teacher`s individual, special competences and skills. For instance, specific questions arise in the cooperation regarding certain role interpretations or vocal technical aspects.

After the joint lesson, the teachers can exchange information about the students and about their teaching activities, which results in a kind of collegial supervision.

Teaching goals, level of development and repertoire as well as the approach of the teachers and the perceptions of the colleagues are discussed.

Of course, this also results in contrary opinions and different aesthetic conceptions. However, these can, if conducted as a constructive discussion, be very inspirational and enriching for all participants.

In my opinion, however, the external form or organizational arrangement of team teaching is less important than how it is filled. Paying attention to the “how”, that is, the way of communicating, seems to me to be a crucial condition for success.

What does it take?

Essentially, probably openness, curiosity and a respectful communication culture!

It requires the ability for critical self-reflection and tolerance towards other methods and furthermore the willingness to always express appreciation in feedback.

From my point of view, one of the basic requirements for this is the clarity about one`s own actions as a teacher. The more aware I am of my strengths, but also of my limits, the less I feel questioned by other approaches, but can acknowledge them and let them inspire me.

This makes it possible to use the abundance of different teaching methods creatively, instead of remaining in methodical one-sidedness and exclusiveness. It is no longer one`s own path or one`s own aesthetics that are asserted as the exclusive truth – an attitude that is not only technically problematic but also questionable on the level of relationships.

The wealth of experiences and the high qualification of a teaching artistic personality can of course be a strong inspiration for students and a guarantee for a highly qualified education. On the relationship level in class, forms of admiration for the teacher`s artistic achievement can also be meaningful and good motivation and trigger a desire to emulate, which as such can of course also be experienced as positively and effectively.

On the other hand, the strong and absolute identification with the main subject teacher has its dangers. The traditional so-called “Meisterlehre” is often based on a strongly hierarchical relationship. It happens that teachers see their students as a kind of a narcissistic extension of themselves. Success and failures of the students are then too strongly linked to one`s own personality and success.

Relationships dominated by deification, dependence and humiliation can arise and prevent the students from developing independently.

But to enable them to work autonomously and in a team is, in my belief, one of our most important tasks as teachers. Our job comes with high human responsibility, which demands respectful and appreciative communication from us. This can be well illustrated in team teaching. The reduction of competitive behavior and lived collegiality also have a positive impact on the cooperation of the students, because they have to assert themselves less by devaluating others.

If teachers show an authentic and credible interest in the ideas of their colleagues` suggestions, question these impulses and possibly integrate them into their teaching, this behavior can animate students to discover value in diversity. We observe in our department that this openness also allows permeability within the otherwise rather rigid class structure. Usually problematic procedures, such as the change of a main subject teacher within a university, thus become a natural step. And the impulse to change teachers often even goes back to the initiative of the previous teacher.

Team teaching can therefore be a wonderful chance to exemplify tolerance, curiosity and team spirit, both humanly and musically. Moreover, it helps to prepare young people who will work in or with orchestras, choirs, chamber music formations and pupils for their profession.


Christiane Iven

Professorin für Gesang an der Hochschule für Musik und Theater München

June 2020