In an earlier blog, I described the importance of coaches knowing a teacher’s agenda…. the beliefs, values, and thinking behind the teacher’s decision making. What are the options the teacher considered in planning for learning? As the lesson unfolded what did the teacher perceive and consider as decisions were made about feedback to students or “where to go next”? A general guideline I recommend is that as a coach you should know what the teacher is thinking before sharing what you as a coach are thinking.
Coaches’ questions assist in generating conversations where the teachers’ agendas emerge over time and increased understanding builds increased trust, promoting vulnerability and risk taking.
I was emailed a question by an instructional coach that illustrates the importance of working from the teacher’s agenda:
“I have a second- year teacher who struggles with many things, but the root of it all is classroom management. When I question her on the academics portion it always comes back to specific students or anything other than what she is doing. I feel like I get sucked into this conversation and end up making her feel validated that it is the students and not her. How can I help her to come to that understanding on her own and move forward to improve her classroom management which will also improve everything else? Thank you!!!”
This is one of the situations where it is important for the coach to “see”’ the issue through the teacher’s eyes. In this case the teacher sees that the students are not exhibiting the learning behaviors necessary for the students (and the teacher) to be successful. Challenging the teacher’s perception will likely raise unnecessary resistance to progress.
I’d suggest beginning with paraphrases and questions that allow the teacher to clearly describe her perception and conclusions.
So, some of the students are not exhibiting the learning behaviors needed to be successful.
When you planned the learning activity, what did you envision students doing that would lead to their learning success?
Where did you find students doing that during the learning activity?
What results did you find with those students?
Which students did not do what you had envisioned? How surprised were you with how they responded? Why?
You see a need to change those students’ learning behaviors to achieve the learning outcomes you want.
(Hopefully the teacher responds, “yes”)
This conversation allows the teacher to consider her observations of students during the learning process and to compare them with the predicted responses she had during the planning process. The coach has gained a lot of insights into the teacher’s understanding of designing for learning and her observations and assessment of the learning process.
I might proceed like this:
As you think about the students who didn’t implement the needed learning behaviors, do you think they are capable of doing it and need to be motivated or do they need to learn the behavior? Are there some of each? How can you decide?
Would there be value in my observing the students in a future learning activity, where you requested these learning behaviors, with a focus on their responses?
How might you teach the learning behavior if that is needed?
How might you motivate the learning behavior if that is needed?
You are open to experimenting with a strategy or approach to change the students’ learning behaviors.
As you experiment, what focus might I have as an observer that could provide insights?
As I engage the teacher in this conversation, there would likely be opportunities to share ideas about changes the teacher might make in his/her actions to generate the desired changes in students. The teacher, involved in exploring possibilities is likely more open to consider the options than if the coach had suggested them earlier.
I find that coaches are often anxious to quickly respond to teacher’s problems, concerns, and questions with solutions. Taking the time to process the teacher’s agenda can increase the teacher’s investment in a solution. It also models a problem-solving process for the teacher to use on her own.