Value from Coaching and Collaboration

A blog post on Ed Surge by Karen Johnson , 5 Things Teachers Want from PD, and How Coaching and Collaboration Can Deliver Them—If Implementation Improves, provides an important summary that I believe could guide a productive school based leadership team conversation concerning the quality of coaching and collaboration within your school.

Coaching and collaboration (PLCs) should assist school leaders in providing teachers with the elements that researchers have identified as being important to teachers concerning professional development:

  • Relevant and personalized
  • Interactive and hands on
  •  Lead/presented by teachers
  •  Sustained over time… not one shot PD Days
  •  Treats teachers as professionals

Johnson however shares a problem:

“But there’s a catch. After talking with more than 1,300 teachers, professional development leaders, principals, and experts, we were surprised by one thing: While these forms of collaborative PD are backed by research and highly valued by school leaders, teachers are far from satisfied with their implementation to date. “

She presents graphs that visually show the disconnect between leaders’ beliefs as well as researchers’ findings concerning the value of coaching and PLCs and teachers’ dissatisfaction with current implementation of both.

Motivation

Coaching

In my work I have continually stressed the need for a “Culture of Coaching” to be built in order for teachers to gain the maximum value from the work of instructional coaches, content coaches, and administrators’ engagement in coaching teachers. Without that culture it is unlikely that teachers will be vulnerable in the coaching setting and willing to do the hard work of improving one’s teaching skills through conscious practice with feedback.

Consider the comments of Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers in the classic article, The Coaching of Teaching, (ASCD 1982) where the authors examine the parallels between coaching college athletes and the coaching of teachers. For both athletes and teachers, changing what we do even slightly can throw off our execution.  Because a skill was mastered in its parts and practiced in a simulated environment in a workshop does not prevent a transfer problem in the game or classroom. Often the discomfort of awkward implementation leads to a return to a former smoother, if less efficient, performance. “Athletes do not believe mastery will be achieved quickly or easily.” As teachers we have often behaved as though teaching skills were so easily acquired that a presentation, workshop, or demonstration could insure classroom performance.“ To the extent we have communicated this message to teachers we have probably misled them.”

How does your leadership communicate to teachers the understanding of the complexity of teaching and the “hard work” of advancing teaching skills? How do you communicate that feedback from an observer isn’t expected to create an immediate change in teacher performance? How do you communicate the difference for teachers in knowing about a teaching strategy and successfully implementing it to impact student learning?

Johnson identified another practice that can decrease the value of coaching, “The majority of in-school coaching is focused on new and struggling teachers, a practice that attaches a stigma to the process.”  What do you do as a leadership team to promote your highly successful teacher leaders as models of the value and necessity of coaching?

Collaboration - Business Concept

Professional Learning Communities

Johnson reported the greatest gap in practice and belief in the current implementation of PLCs. “While teachers value collaboration with their peers, they say that current efforts like PLCs often lack engagement and are poorly planned or executed….. In short, current collaborative activities too often seem like a waste of time. ‘Feels like I’m being held hostage,’ one teacher said.”

 I have addressed the issue of teachers’ PLCs being hijacked for other concerns in an earlier blog . To what extent have your teachers identified PLC as a time of learning? How often do they perceive that PLC time is the time to get work done that has been assigned by someone else? If you asked teachers individually to share a recent learning that occurred from their time in PLC and how it has affected their students’ learning, what do you think you’d hear?

What should your leadership team do to support PLC’s impacting teacher learning and thusly student achievement? Here are three items Johnson shares that are present in schools where PLCs are having the desired results:

Formal collaboration time built into master schedules

Shared instructional planning responsibilities

Clearly defined grade-level and subject-area teams that work well with each other

In my backwards planning process I describe that when planning for increases in student learning you arrive at the needed leadership behaviors as a last step. Those behaviors are the first step in implementation. What leadership behaviors will be key for you at the start of the next school year to guide the effectiveness of coaching and PLCs to support teacher learning to guide student learning?

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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…