TEAM TEACHING AT ITS BEST The Cole – Bernardino Partnership

Gray – Team Teaching in the Northern Territory
Mr Henry Gray, Australia

This paper was published in February 2003.

Mr Henry Gray is Principal of Leanyer School, in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, Australia. He can be contacted by email at:

I have been around education since 1970 and a school principal in two Australian States and Territories for 30 of those years. During that time, I have worked in remote, rural, town and urban schools. It has been my privilege to have known thousands of students and to have worked with hundreds of teachers. No two students and no two teachers are identical. It’s the individuality of people that makes teaching and educational leadership so special.

For me, there have been plenty of high points and some that were low. There has been much to celebrate and heaps of challenges to contemplate. There have been countless educational initiatives to evaluate and teaching strategies to consider for possible benefit and potential pitfall. Part of the joy – and sometimes the frustration – of education, is that nothing ever stands still.

Team Teaching 
Over the years I have been presented, from time to time, with requests that I endorse a team teaching approach to educational delivery. Shared teaching strategies have both high and low points to consider. I’ve generally agreed to requests that teachers be allowed to team together for the purpose of educational delivery. This agreement has always been on condition that the teachers fully consult together on the notion within their units, with their senior teacher, and importantly, with parents of the children who are going to be taught by a teaching twosome.

It’s important to confess both a suspicion and a finding. In looking at teachers who team teach, it has always seemed that there is a disparity in terms of load sharing. It has always been apparent that one teacher puts in more of the underpinning foundational ‘hard yards’ than the other. And it has always seemed that the teacher who is ‘building’ the group, gets less credit and earns less recognition than his or her teaching partner. One seems to have the profile while the other more invisible, but ultimately more effective, teacher misses out on the recognition. Yet without the input of the less visible partner, the whole effort would crumble to nothingness.

In thinking about at least fifteen such arrangements over the years, it seems that this pattern has always fitted. Now, I’m not suggesting that one teaching partner has set out to earn the accolades and the praise for team teaching ventures, while setting the other to naught. Far from it. But in the eyes of the parents of the children and others observing from a little further back, it has often seemed that way. Maybe that has to do with some sort of preordained chemistry on which team teaching bonds are predicated and maybe it grows from the team ethos. But it has certainly happened in terms of my perceptions … until now, that is.

This Team is Different



Melanie Cole and Ana Bernardino are unlike teachers. Melanie Cole came to our school from Western Australia. She trained there and worked in regional remote areas, becoming a ‘top end’ West Australian pre-school coordinator.

She did lots of work in Aboriginal communities and was a ‘periodic visiting teacher’ developer of Assistant Teachers, as well as being an adviser to them and the members of the communities. Between visits to settlement pre-schools, she’d leave work for the on-site permanent assistants to undertake with children until her next visit. Melanie was both a teacher and a developer of teachers. She was a front runner in offering Aboriginal members of communities, a chance to become more responsible for the provision of educational services to their own people.



Melanie worked for a period with middle primary school students at Leanyer but then found her niche in Early Childhood.

Ana Bernardino trained as a teacher at the Northern Territory University. On graduation, she was appointed to Leanyer School, making a major contribution to our Early Childhood program. Ana has a lot of initiative. She absorbs new ideas and is able to develop them, in a wholly practical way, to meet the educational needs of our children. At one point in time, we asked Ana to work with teachers who had longer years of educational experience, in a developmental and mentorship role. Ana undertook this task so unobtrusively, yet so effectively, that those with whom she involved made significant advances. Together with Ana, they have become invaluable members of our school’s teaching team.



Ana is a teacher whose depth and breadth of educational experience attests hugely to the fact that she has worked in a quite extraordinary fashion toward self-betterment. Yet personal aggrandisement has been the least of her motivations. Her ‘getting on’ has been the outgrowth of her being there for others – children, parents and fellow teachers.

Transition in the Northern Territory 
It is necessary to explain that ‘Transition’ is an educational year or part-year that fits between pre-school (kindergarten) and Year One (Grade One) in Northern Territory schools. It’s a period when the rudiments of formal learning, including the exploration and development of ‘readiness’ for graduation into higher level learning are explored.

Children turning five years of age are entitled to enter the program. For the sake of organisation, intakes are not continual (happening the day children turn five), although this used to be the case. It works like this:

children turning five on or before the first day of the school year, start in Transition on Day 1 of Term 1;

children turning five between the start of the school year and Day 1 of   Term Two (around Easter) are entitled to begin Transition at the beginning of the term. They commence in Transition at the start of the eleventh week of  our 40-week school year;

children turning five between Day 1 of Term 2 and the commencement of Term 3 begin Transition on Day 1 of Term 3. That’s in late July;

children spend the year, nine months or six months in Transition, before moving to Year 1 at the start of the next school year; and,

some schools set up integrated (Transition/ Year One) programs for children who are still ‘bridging’. That can be the case for children who only have six months in a dedicated Transition group.

This continual movement requires principals to ensure that Transition teachers have quite extraordinary management skills. For the sake of a group that is constantly evolving, they need to be excellent at accommodating change and developing flexible, yet predictable, programs that meet the needs of individuals and the class collective. At Leanyer School, Ana Bernardino and Melanie Cole are teachers who fit that mould.

Philosophy and Methodology 
Ana and Melanie believe team teaching is an approach that helps create a positive, cooperative and harmonious learning environment. Through team teaching, they aim to build the self confidence of individuals. In writing about their program they said ‘we believe happy and reassured individuals have a greater potential to positively contribute to the class environment and their learning’.

Basis teaching methodologies are simple yet highly effective. Melanie and Ana have developed two working teams. Ana teachers the children who are working at a higher Transition level, while Melanie’s focus is on the group of children who need continuing repetition and learning consolidation. When these children have reached a stage where they are ready to further extend their knowledge, they move to Ana Bernardino’s working team, with new intakes of children going into Melanie Cole’s group.

For new intakes of children, the rudiments of Transition learning are applied, with Melanie working to further develop children continuing with her and who are not yet ready to graduate into Ana’s group.

Rewarding Application and Effort 
Positive reinforcement is a strategy underpinning the work Melanie and Ana do with children. They wrote that in Transition, ‘We do what we call ‘Legs. Look and Listen’ to target correct behaviour. Children are rewarded with counters, which are placed in their group’s container (this lives under the teacher’s chair). At the end of the week, we tally the counters. Children in the group earning the most counters, receive stickers, felt tip pens, erasers or other small rewards.

During Semester One, we introduce raffle tickets for ‘Safe and Happy Play’ in the playground. After relaxation time children sit on the mat to discuss with any problems they may have had at lunch. If there are any, they are dealt with straight away. Children who contribute to the discussion are given a raffle ticket on which they write their names.  Tickets are then placed in a bag. At the end of every second week, two names are drawn from the bag. Two children each receive a small gift.’

For Melanie and Ana, educational basics are ever so important. They hold high but achievable expectations for Transition children. Their focus is on English and mathematical development.

Expectations in English/Language 
‘Oral Interaction’, ‘Reading and Viewing’, ‘Writing’ and, importantly, ‘Listening’ are all areas of special focus.

Oral Interaction (Talking).

It is expected children will be able to:

speak English in order to interact with others in a school setting; and,

observe procedures, including turn-taking, and not interrupting others.

Reading and Viewing.

It is expected children will be able to:

predict written text through picture cues;

recognise upper and lower case letters;

borrow and return home books and library books;

begin to recognise common sight words;

recognise familiar words in their classroom environment; and,

independently choose books to read.


It is expected children will be able to:

hold a pencil to write;

understand the orientation of writing – top to bottom, left to right;

understand that words have spaces between them;

copy words; and,

recognise full stops, capital letters and spacing.


It is expected that children will be able to:

sit still, face and listen to others;

listen and follow two and three-step directions; and,

listen in a variety of situations, including group discussions, assemblies and performances, etc. to stories, and so on.

Phonological Awareness
Melanie and Ana’s English/Language program places great emphasis on phonological awareness, ‘the knowledge that words are composed of individual sounds and sound patterns and the ability of children to manipulate sounds and sound patterns by rhyming, blending, alliteration, repetition and comparison’.

In terms of phonological awareness, it is expected that children will be able to:

identify and name each of the letters of the alphabet;

identify most of the sounds that letters represent;

recognise initial and ending sounds in words; and,

begin to understand and recognise rhyming words.

Mathematical Expectations 
Ana and Melanie recognise and develop the three strands of the Mathematics Curriculum, which are ‘Space and Shape’, ‘Measurement’, and ‘Number’.

Space and Shape. 
It is expected that children will be able to:

understand and demonstrate positions, for example ‘under’, ‘over’, in’, ‘out’;
make constructions, paint or draw representations of familiar objects;
recognise familiar shapes – squares. circles, rectangles, triangles;
begin to understand patterning; and,
begin to understand symmetry.
It is expected that children will be able to:

use blocks or other materials to investigate length and width;

use arbitrary units (cups, spoons, drops, handfuls) to measure volume and capacity;

compare mass through lifting, hefting or balancing; and,

recognise the time of day, days of the week, events of the day/week and annual events.

It is expected that children will be able to:

begin recognising ordinal numbers (1st – 10th);

begin sorting, grouping, matching and sharing;

recognise and write numbers 1 to 20; and,

begin to recognise coins and the values they represent.

There is so much more to the teaching and learning program happening for our Transition children. Linked to and underpinning the work going on, is the fact that both Ana Bernardino and Melanie Cole recognise and subscribe to the fundamentals, the foundational planks the precepts, the basics, upon which all learning should be predicated.

Why So Special?
A visit to Ana and Melanie’s teaching area convinces visitors that they are developing a strategy that really works. The tone and atmosphere in their double classroom is second to none. All their 60 plus children are working, always working productively, happily, to capacity and in a self ordered and disciplined manner. Children follow the basic conventions of posture, pencil hold and paper positioning when writing. They are polite, happily explaining to visitors what they are doing and why. Above all, they have a love for learning.

The class is not cloned. There are over sixty individuals, whose capacities, idiosyncrasies and needs are recognised and catered for by their teachers. This group of young children is different in that they are taught to recognise each other. They are not self centered uncaring individuals. They are a group whose recognition of and care for each other, translates to the fact that they are children going places in life’s world.

Through their approach to teaching, Ana and Melanie are reinforcing one of life’s forgotten needs – others count. Their selfless approach to teaching and the professional care they have for each other, is ‘rubbing off’ on the children fortunate enough to be in their learning group.

What Makes This a Real ‘Team’ Effort
It was hard to know why Ana and Melanie are such a successful team teaching couple. Successful they are but it took me ages to work out why they were ‘one of a kind’. Then the penny dropped. They are there for each other and for the children in their class. Many professionals – and teachers are not excluded – do what they do in order to impress. They are out there building the ‘curriculum vitae’. Benefits for others deriving from their efforts are almost accidental.

For Melanie Cole and Ana Bernadino, ‘group’ comes first ‘they’ come second and ‘I’ comes last. As teachers, it is ‘us’ and ‘we’ who are there for ‘them’. The ‘thems’ in this equation, Melanie and Ana’s 60-plus students are blessed to be working with such fine teachers.

Three Corollaries 
There are three corollaries.

The first is that in many team teaching situations, it seems that one teacher does most of the work while the other gets all the kudos. In this case, ‘equality’ applies to every aspect of the initiative. Both Melanie and Ana do the legwork both do the teaching, both share all responsibilities and both earn praise for being excellent teachers.

The second is that some team teaching couples exist for a very short time, before the initiative, for multivariate reasons, collapses. Ana and Melanie have developed a ‘three year plan’, whereby ‘planning’ builds into ‘application’ and application into ‘consolidated outcomes’. They have teamed for two years and there is one to go. Few team teachers commit to long-term team planning.

There is a third corollary. Melanie Cole and Ana Bernardino were both nominated for NEiTA (National Excellence in Teacher Awards) this year. Their nominees were the parents of children who recognise and appreciate them as great teachers.

Ana and Melanie are great teachers. We need to recognise the excellent teachers we have in our schools. It has been a joy to uphold these fine teachers and wonderful people to the educational world. 

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