Monday, October 14, 2019

Jiu Jitsu Three Minute Hack #3: Co-Teaching

Co-teaching is a concept that isn't new in the field of education, but is virtually unheard of in jiu jitsu. The idea is that two (or possibly more) teachers share the responsibility for teaching all of the students in any given class. Two instructors working in tandem confers several important benefits to our students. Different instructors have different teaching styles, which will resonate with different students. At the most fundamental level, co-teaching increases the effectiveness of BOTH teachers to the benefit of the students.

My first glimpse of the idea came when Shelly and I visited our "home" gym, San Diego Fight Club and took a class taught by Nick Oliver (for whom we know well) and Gary Padilla (for whom we had just met.) They were teaching the class together, and it was really cool (and effective) to have both of them explaining and demonstrating technique. We've been to many classes under Nick; he's an excellent teacher. But Gary's input made him even better.

Fast forward about three months.

When we started this school year (I teach high school), myself and several teachers started a co-teaching pilot program for our culturally and linguistically-diverse students (usually kids who are recent immigrants and speak little to no English.) Being the psychology dork I am, I immediately started day-dreaming about the possibilities of this co-teaching model in our bjj school. The memories of Nick and Gary seamlessly teaching that class a few months earlier was all the push I needed to give the idea a shot.

Around the same time, serendipity struck when we got a new member - Mike Gorski - a VERY experienced purple belt who has been doing jiu jitsu for twenty years. He's basically a human jiu jitsu encyclopedia who's knowledge is both incredibly deep AND broad. He has traveled far and wide, trained all over the place, and absorbed anything and everything he could from those experiences.

In short, he was the perfect co-teacher for this particular experiment. Over the last few weeks, we've been experimenting with teaching class together. While it's still in the early stages, the results have been even better than I expected. The students who have been attending these classes are already seeing HUGE leaps in their game despite the fact that the co-teaching is pretty rough right now because we're still very early in the experimental stage.

In the near future, I'll be testing four different models of co-teaching. Here are the four variations:

Supportive Co-Teaching

In this model, one teacher take the lead role and the other teacher plays a supportive role. The lead teacher does most of the instruction and the supportive teacher steps in to clarify, answer questions, and collect "data" (maybe by observing and taking notes) on what works and what doesn't work. That data will then be used to make future classes better.

One potential downside to this model is an unequal distribution of the workload. The lead teacher will end up doing most of the work. Another potential downside is unused expertise. The support teacher may have significant contributions they could make, but their supportive role limits the opportunity for them to share.

Parallel Co-Teaching

In this model, the class is divided in half and each teacher teaches their group. The teachers may swap groups at some point. In this model, both teachers get to share their expertise with students. Because the groups are smaller, there's also more opportunity to address student questions. This model also offers the cool possibility of developing a degree of intra-gym competitiveness between the two groups, which would be fun!

The potential problems with this model are time and noise. Coordinating the time needed to cover techniques may vary, which presents a challenge. Noise would be a concern if the students are in the same room, though this is easy enough to correct with respectful behavior.

Complementary Co-Teaching

In this model, both teachers play an active role in instruction. This is the model we've been playing with right now, only I framed it like Mike is the play-by-play guy and I am the color commentator (an analogy for you sports fans.) This model polls the expertise of both teachers, and gives the students two complimentary perspectives on the same material.

The negative of this system is coordination. This model takes some practice as each teacher adapts to the format. Because it requires close coordination, this model requires clearly-defined roles. This model also requires both teachers to be familiar with the techniques and concepts. 

Team Co-Teaching

In this model, teachers coordinate who does what, and teachers swap lead and support roles repeatedly throughout the class. This model requires A LOT of coordination. As such, this one's probably a bit complex unless the teachers are really familiar with each other.

The biggest down side to this model is planning - it takes a significant amount of planning to seamlessly teach a class this way.


Over the next few months, we'll be experimenting with these four models. I'm pretty stoked; co-teaching is a blast and, at least in the very early stages, shows incredible potential to make our classes significantly more effective.

If any of my readers own a school or teach at a school, give the ideas a try and let me know how it goes. I would LOVE to hear your feedback and experiences! Just shoot me an email to with the subject heading CO-TEACHING.



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Jiu Jitsu Three Minute Hack #3: Co-Teaching

Co-teaching is a concept that isn't new in the field of education, but is virtually unheard of in jiu jitsu. The idea is that two...