APR Update: Family Law Concepts: An Arena for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Co-teaching

by Deborah Gentry, Ed.D., CFLE, NCFR Academic Program Liaison
CFLE Network
Content Area
Family Law and Public Policy

Over a number of years in the past, I taught an undergraduate course in Peace Studies. It was a general education course with a prefix or course acronym of IDS, or Interdisciplinary Studies. In my view, to teach the course as effectively as possible, I needed to do so with considerable interdisciplinarity. My primary contribution to the course was knowledge and skills related to family conflict and the various means by which family members resolve their conflict, including family mediation. I realized that, in order to maximize this interdisciplinary approach, I needed to become familiar with and then utilize relevant resource materials written by scholars and practitioners of peace studies whose roots were in disciplines different from my own.

Additionally, I thought it worthwhile to invite others to teach with me…to co-teach. While I primarily collaborated with a faculty member from the history department, I also invited faculty members who had expertise in art, political science, criminal justice, education, biology, international studies, religion, and gender studies to join me, in some capacity, in teaching my students. Because this course featured a service learning component, the settings where students carried out their service were diverse. The staff who supervised them were also from diverse disciplinary backgrounds.

While I believe I learned as much, if not more, than the students enrolled in my course, creating interdisciplinarity and team teaching was challenging work. As I assessed student learning and my own teaching, resulting outcomes indicated our shared experience was mutually energizing, cognitively stimulating, highly engaging and, at the same time, demanding and laborious.

Many of the CFLE content areas could benefit from, if not already call for, interdisciplinary perspectives to be examined. Perhaps, it is Content Area VIII - Family Law and Public Policy that does so more than any other. With some degree of frequency, there are approved CFLE academic programs that attend to the expectations of this content area by utilizing courses taught in departments/disciplines other than the one the program calls "home." Even when an approved program features a "home grown" course in family law and public policy, it is often apparent the instructor is incorporating course resource materials with interdisciplinary perspectives and often involve other outside experts as guest speakers or co-teachers.

As a refresher, the Handbook for Academic Program Review Application states the following with regard to this content area:


An understanding of legal issues, policies, and laws influencing the well-being of families. E.g., Family and the Law (relating to marriage, divorce, family support, child custody, child protection and rights, and family planning); Family and Social Services; Family and Education; Family and the Economy; Family and Religion; Policy and the Family (public policy as it affects the family, including tax, civil rights, social security, economic support laws, and regulations.)

Practice—A CFLE can:

a Identify current law, public policy, & initiatives that regulate & influence professional
conduct & services,
b Identify current laws, public policies, & initiatives that affect families, and
c Inform families, communities, & policy makers about public policies, initiatives, &
legislation that affect families at local, state, & national levels

When I first began teaching the Peace Studies course I mentioned above, I could have benefitted from reading Lisa R. Lattuca's book (2001) titled Creating Interdisciplinarity: Interdisciplinary Research and Teaching among College and University Faculty. The contents of Lattuca's book is largely based on the results of a study (focus group, n=38) she conducted with faculty familiar with interdisciplinary teaching who were attending a workshop offered by the Association of Integrated Studies, an organization that encourages and supports interdisciplinarity and interdisciplinary teaching).

This book has been the focus of a recent faculty development workshop on my campus. Lattuca's findings are too numerous to mention in this short column. However, one concept…that of types of interdisciplinary teaching and research…is charted below. As a reader of this column, should you teach a course in family law and public policy, or have a colleague who does, which one of the following type(s) of interdisciplinarity is(are) best characterized by what currently goes on in the course, or upon some effort and innovation, could go on in the course?

Types of Interdisciplinary Scholarship

Types of Scholarship



Informed Disciplinarity

Disciplinary courses informed by other discipline(s)

Disciplinary questions requiring outreach to other discipline(s)

Synthetic Interdisciplinarity

Courses that link disciplines

Questions that link disciplines


Courses that cross disciplines

Questions that cross disciplines

Conceptual Interdisciplinarity

Courses without a compelling disciplinary basis

Questions without a compelling disciplinary basis

Lattuca (2001, p. 81)

Just as there are multiple ways interdisciplinarity can be infused into a course, there are varying formats for co-teaching a course. Here are some possibilities:

  • Two or more teachers can plan and deliver instruction and assess student learning for the single group of students at the same time.
  • Two or more teachers can share ideas and resources as well as lesson planning tasks, then independently deliver instruction and assess student learning for separate groups of students.
  • Two or more teachers who share a common group of students can jointly plan instruction, yet simultaneously deliver that instruction to a different sub-group of the whole. The teachers may jointly or separately assess student learning.
  • Two or more teachers, often with differing specialties and skills, can jointly plan for instruction, then take turns sharing their unique expertise and insight with a single group of students. The teachers may jointly or separately assess student learning.
  • One teacher can undertake primary responsibility for planning instruction, yet coordinate with one or more guest content experts who will periodically assist in delivering instruction for certain lessons. The primary teacher is solely responsible for assessing student learning.

Depending upon the format of co-teaching utilized, some degree of "cost" or concern may arise. High quality co-teaching requires considerable time for joint planning of instruction and debriefing after instruction has concluded. This is time that deserves to be compensated, typically monetarily. Administrative support is needed as well. Problems can and often do arise when one or more of the teachers involved in a co-teaching arrangement 1) perceive such involvement to be coerced, 2) evidence different expectations regarding processes, procedures, and outcomes; and/or 3) demonstrate different levels of commitment to and investment in the endeavor.

Proponents of co-teaching say the potential benefits outweigh these possible disadvantages. When co-teachers function effectively, they model cooperation, collaboration, and civility (when differences of perspective and style surface) for their students. If their disciplinary origins are different, their successful ability to integrate those disciplines helps students to widen the lens with which they view the world, too. There may also be opportunities to provide students with more individualized attention. Finally, if the interaction among fellow co-teachers reignites their passion for teaching, this new energy and inspiration may well be transferred to their students and levels of student engagement may increase as a result.

As I was reading Lattuca's book on creating interdisciplinarity, I was simultaneously developing early drafts of this column. Wanting to include some applications and examples in this column pertinent to CFLE Content Area VIII, I recalled past occasions when I taught a family policy course. The following list of options includes some I have utilized and some I have not. And, I am sure others exist. If you teach a course in family law and public policy, which ones are, or could be, workable for you in your setting?

  • Consult faculty and other experts from related disciplines, yet with expertise in family law, to suggest readings and other resources which could inform both you and your students on relevant topics. While family law textbooks do exist, a compilation of readings originating from different disciplines could be a suitable substitute.
  • Invite a local attorney (with a specialization in premarital agreements; adoption; divorce; child custody and visitation; guardianship issues; small family business; family-school issues; wills and estates; or estate planning) or judge to be a guest speaker, or co-teach one or more lessons with you. Of course, if your institution has a college or school of law, a fellow faculty member associated with that unit could also be invited to guest speak or to co-teach with you on these topics.
  • Consult campus colleagues who have experience in international relations and programming. They can help to identify faculty, students, and community members who have lived and/or traveled extensively abroad whom could then be invited to provide your students with comparative information about family laws in other countries.
  • Arrange for students to observe and reflect upon the proceedings of one or more cases in a local family law courtroom.
  • Invite a state legislator or lobbyist to serve as a guest speaker or co-teach one or more lessons with you.
  • Invite a colleague from the history department to be a guest speaker, or co-teach one or more lessons with you, about how particular family laws have changed over time.
  • Invite a colleague from one or all of these departments to assist you in addressing the unintended consequences certain proposed family laws could have or enacted laws have been shown to have: psychology, economics/finance, criminal justice, and/or social work.
  • Arrange for students to observe, or better yet, help plan and carry out a Family Impact Seminar. Is your state one of the 26 that engages in Family Impact Seminars?

For my last two columns, I have stated that I often wonder how many and who may read a given column I have written and, in turn, what their reactions are to it. I have urged readers to contact me in response to a column, and a couple of people have done so. I would certainly welcome one or more readers to do so this time around, too, so please email me. Tell me about how you go about infusing interdisciplinarity into your teaching and classroom action research, whether it is related to Family Law and Public Policy or some other CFLE content area. Or, tell me about one or more experiences you have had with co-teaching. What you share may well give me inspiration for a future column.


Blanchard, K. D. (2012). Modeling lifelong learning: Collaborative teaching across disciplinary lines. Teaching Theology and Religion, 15(4), 338-354.

Gentry, D. B. (1994). Interdisciplinary team-teaching in peace studies: A role for the family life educator. Family Science Review, 7(1/2), 45-54.

Gentry, D. (1998). Family science educators' perceptions of and experiences with interdisciplinary team teaching. Family Science Review, 11(1), 33-47.

Lattuca, L. R. (2001). Creating interdisciplinarity: Interdisciplinary research and teaching among college and university faculty. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

McCoy, S. K., & Gardner, S. K. (2012). Interdisciplinary collaboration on campus: Five questions. Change, 44(6), 44-49.

Shibley Jr., I. A. (2014). Interdisciplinary team teaching. College Teaching, 54(3), 271-274.