In the March 2013 Educational Leadership,Will Richardson asked the question,”What do we mean by learning?” (Students First, Not Stuff page 10).
Richardson quotes Seymour Sarason (2004 And what do YOU mean by learning?
), “Productive learning is the learning process which engenders and reinforces wanting to learn more.” (p.x)
Richardson suggests that “wanting to know more” means a transfer of power over learning from teacher to student. It’s a shift from contrived to authentic creation and sharing of outcomes…from covering the curriculum to discovering it. These changes come with a change role in role of the teachers:
*Teachers must be co-learners with kids.
*Teachers need to be expert at asking great open-ended questions.
*Teachers should be master learners in the classrooms.
As I read this article it struck me that Richardson’s roles for the teacher creates a terrific guideline for instructional coaches and teacher and administrator leaders.
An instructional coach can be described as a partner who learns alongside the teacher. I find it exciting that often when I share what I’m discovering with one teacher with another, a continuation of learning occurs for me and the teachers I’m connecting. I currently am learning with teachers in North Dakota, Georgia, and Switzerland who are examining perseverance in elementary math classes. Each time I’ve shared with one group something the other found it is picked up, extended and then passed on. As a co-learner with each I’ve been able to extend a “wanting to learn more” environment.
Great open-ended questions
Questioning is a key coaching skill. I delight during a coaching conference when a question I ask a teacher gets the response, “That’s a great question”! Often as the teacher begins exploring an answer a new possibility for learning emerges for both of us. Recently I coached a Spanish teacher in Turkey using a video clip filmed with a still camera in back of the room. There were few clear observations I could make between not knowing the language and not being able to see the students’ faces. My post conference was built around questions which had the teacher recall perceptions during the instruction, compare them to the observations he made watching the video and examine with the expectations he had when planning the learning activities. A key question I asked was, “How would you place students’ engagement on a continuum from low to low- medium to medium to medium- high to high? How many would you place at each spot?” (Note: I had no assessment in my mind as to what it was.) The teacher’s reflection, with some probing from me, led to a picture in his mind of a next step he wanted to explore in teaching/learning. He developed another observation he wanted a colleague to conduct…“wanting to learn more”.
Model the learning process
I recently worked with a school introducing instructional coaching leadership positions in each area of student learning/curriculum. As teachers considered applying and administrators planned interviewing and selecting, I suggested that the ideal candidates would express their desire and excitement with what they would learn in these positions… exhibiting “wanting to learn more.” When considering selecting people to serve in coaching and mentoring positions, I worry when interviewees stress “how much they know”. My concern is that attitude leads to supervision over coaching. Cooperating teachers supporting university programs by opening their classrooms to interns can best support these future teachers by modeling how teachers learn. In my thinking, instructional coaches would be the most coached staff in a school.… Lead Learners!