Creating Coaching Conversations: Supporting Reflection

I recently provided a day of follow up training and facilitation for a school’s leadership team of administrators and teacher lead peer coaches. One of the issues we examined was the degree that conversation in coaching conferences illustrates a difference from evaluation conferences which can sound more like a report. Peer coaching is new to this school so teachers are forming their understanding of coaching from their initial experiences. Since their past experiences have mostly been evaluation and supervision they are comparing their new experiences to those. Therefore, it is important that the differences are clear.

Before we practiced pre-conferences, I presented these guidelines:

In the pre-conference seek clarity of the focus for the observation. What question or concern is the teacher looking to answer or solve?

Identify what observational data you can collect that would be most valuable for the teacher. (teacher behaviors, student behaviors, both)

Create a plan or process or template for recording. Confirm the design with the teacher.

The questions a coach asks during a pre-conference help to communicate a coaching rather than a supervisory purpose. Open-ended questions allow the teacher’s thinking to guide the direction of the conversation rather than the coach’s thinking.

Coaching questions might sound like this:

What’s important to you that students gain from the tasks you are asking them to complete?

How difficult do you believe mastery of this concept will be for your students?

What are the important student behaviors and actions you need to initiate for their engagement to create your desired learning outcome?

What do you believe are the critical actions for you to consciously execute during the learning activity?

How much will you need to be designing or altering the learning activity as it occurs? Why?

The teacher’s answers to these questions guide the coach. Teachers experiences with a coach will demonstrate that there are no wrong answers to these questions and that the coach accepts the teacher’s thinking in asking the next question and eventually planning the observation.

The pre-conference conversation should establish a focus for the coach’s attention and collection of information during the observation. I find that the coach and teacher together creating a form for the data to be recorded helps shape the agreed collaborative relationship. I am often asked for observation tools that might be used. In Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching,  I provided several pages of sample tools and you can find many more with an online search. It’s probably helpful to examine these for ideas, but my finding is that its best to avoid selecting a tool as it doesn’t generate the same collaboration as designing one together creates.

Here are guidelines I provided for post conferencing:

The focus is conversation rather than report

At least 50-50% of voice (75% teacher 25% coach is a good goal)

Keep all feedback on the focus as set in the pre-conference

Consider how the post can become the next pre-conference

Effective pre-conferencing creates the greatest likelihood for conducting a useful observation that leads to a valuable post conference. This quote from Joellen Killion describes for me a successful post conference: (Earlier blog on feedback in coaching)

Feedback is a process that engages the learner in review, analysis, reflection, and planning of future action. When learners actively engage in constructing feedback rather than passively receiving feedback, they are far more likely to own the information generated and to take responsibility for future actions. (The Feedback Process)

Analysis, reflection, and planning for the future are words that I pull from the quote which focus my thinking during a coaching post conference. A coach can assist the teacher in this thinking process. Again, the coach’s questions can be impactful. I usually ask the teacher to provide her observations before sharing what I collected. For example, if the teacher had asked me to record her feedback to students, I’d ask, “When were you most conscious of your feedback decisions?” As the teacher shared what she recalled, I would use my notes to reinforce that instance. I find that when the teacher realizes I saw and heard what she did, her openness to my notes of things that she didn’t catch increases.

As the teacher examines a desire to move some element of teaching and learning to a new level, the conversation switches to future action. Sometimes what emerges is another question which might mean the future action is another observation to collect more focused information. Other times an idea emerges to modify a learning design. In this case a future observation might be to collect similar data to see if the change created the desired effect. I believe future action provides motivation and encouragement that drives the continuous improvement process that leads to increased student success.

Quality coaching conversations are satisfying experiences for coach and coachee. Thinking through the complexities of teaching and learning is challenging and rewarding. Continuous educator learning and student learning is the payoff.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 35 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…