I read through a recent study on teacher coaching. The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Causal Evidence* identifies the potential of coaching as a development tool and illustrates the challenges of taking coaching programs to scale while maintaining effectiveness. Coaching effects in large-scale effectiveness trials with 100 teachers or more are only half as large as effects in small-scale efficacy trials.
One of the scaling-up challenges identified is the need for teacher buy-in:
“No matter the expertise or enthusiasm of a coach, coaching is unlikely to impact instructional practice if teachers themselves are not invested in or are uncomfortable with the coaching process.”
“Coaching requires teachers to be willing to open themselves to critique and recognize personal weaknesses. This openness on the part of teachers is facilitated both by a school culture committed to continuous improvement and by strong relational trust among administrators and staff members. Teachers that perceive the observation and feedback cycles associated with teacher coaching as a process intended to document shortcomings towards efforts to exit teachers may be unwilling to acknowledge a coach’s critiques or experiment with new techniques for fear that it may be used against them. This suggests that building environments where providing and receiving constructive feedback is a regular part of teachers’ professional work may be a key condition for the success of scale-up efforts.” (page 31)
The exploration of the need to have trust in order to have coaching be effective takes me into a “chicken and egg” dilemma. Which comes first? Do I use other activities and approaches to build trust so that people would begin experiencing coaching or do I begin a coaching program to build trust? Maybe I need to focus on both things at the same time?
Trust is a feeling that grows from experiences that an individual has. That’s why I see risk taking as being critical to building trust. One must enter an initial experience before the trust can be created. Entering that experience means taking some risk?
If we are convinced that continuous educator growth and development are key elements of continuous increases in student learning outcomes and that coaching feedback and support are critical for teacher learning, then we must focus on creating a culture and profession based on educator openness to coaching.
Here are some of my thoughts about strategies to consider:
Starting at the beginning, teacher education should be built around a coaching model. In each course, a teacher candidate would be working to practice skills and meet certain standards with the support of peer coaches in the class and the instructor’s coaching input. Imagine the power of undergraduates observing their professor engaged in a pre-conference at the beginning of class with a colleague and then holding the post conference live at the close of the class.
Student teaching would include sitting in on the coaching conferences that the cooperating teacher has with his colleagues and then receiving coaching as the intern starts practice as well as being asked to coach his cooperating teacher. As a first -year teacher working with a mentor, one should be coaching her mentor as well as being coached. It should be clear that developing the skills, aptitudes and attitudes to learn from coaching and provide coaching are components of meeting certification standards. Mentoring ends when a teacher is ready to open the door of her classroom to everyone for coaching.
The models of openness to coaching should be embedded throughout the system by school leaders. Whom does the superintendent seek coaching from? How does she share with the principals the discomfort, excitement, and success of being coached? When do teachers observe their principal, staff developer, and instructional coach being coached? When teachers move into leadership roles as department heads or team leaders, is it clear that part of the job description is that their participation in being coached will become more public as an important model?
Knowledge about learning new strategies and changing practice needs to be provided to all educators.
Coaching creates consciousness and practicing consciously creates a feeling of discomfort. Implementing new skills takes one into the learning dip which creates similar discomfort. We need a school culture where educators are comfortable with discomfort. (Podcast: Comfortable with Discomfort) The uneasiness one feels when growing and developing is natural. If we are going to have great schools, we need a culture where we are uncomfortable with comfort. Meaning, we have a need to constantly find ways to grow, reaching new goals that better serve our students and their futures.
*Kraft, M.A., Blazar, D., Hogan, D. (2016). The effect of teaching coaching on instruction and achievement: A meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Brown University Working Paper.