I was recently at an instructional coaches’ conference where a presenter put the following on a power point and asked the participants, collaborating with a standing partner, to put the items into the sequence in which they occur:
- Change in student outcomes
- Change in teacher attitude/beliefs
- Change in teacher practice
My partner shared her thinking that changes in teacher attitude, led to changes in teachers’ practice, causing increased student learning. She was intrigued when I suggested that teacher changes in practice and increased student success led to changes in teacher attitude/beliefs. When the speaker pulled the audience back together, she asked for raised hands to indicate people’s thinking about the first step. A substantial number of participants shared their initial thinking that teacher beliefs/attitudes changed first.
The presenter pointed to an article by Tom Guskey, titled Flip the Script on Change.
“‘Experience shapes teachers’ attitudes and beliefs (not the other way around).”
Guskey describes that “many professional learning efforts are based on the assumption that change in teachers’ attitudes and beliefs will lead to changes in their classroom practices, which, in turn, will result in improved student learning. However, modern investigations of teacher change show that this assumption is generally inaccurate, especially for experienced educators. Instead, significant changes in teachers’ attitudes and beliefs take place only after positive change in student learning is evident. These improvements in student learning result from specific changes teachers make in their classroom practices — e.g. new materials or curriculum, new classroom policies and practices.”
As I look at coaching for change, I see my coaching role as encouraging and supporting experimentation with a different instructional strategy, program, or approach rather than a focus on seeking “teacher buy-in.” I suggest to administrators that in the early stages of implementation of a new curriculum, positive feedback for the experimentation should be provided prior to the practice being effective. Communicating empathy and understanding during the early stages is a key leadership action.
Guskey shares these implications for designing and leading professional learning. These are valuable considerations for instructional coaches, teacher leaders, principals, and curriculum supervisors.
1. Efforts to change attitudes and beliefs directly rarely succeed.
My thoughts: The key is changing experiences. Sometimes this can be approached with professional learning activities that engage teachers in the new strategy as a learner. Observing a model with students in another teacher’s classroom can be helpful. The goal is to promote experimentation. “I think I’ll try this.”
2. Change is a gradual and difficult process, especially for teachers.
My thoughts: Conscious practice with a new move is a source of discomfort. Often the new strategy is initially less effective than past practice, leading one to return to previous practice. Coaching at this time can be cheerleading; encouraging investment in an effort that is not immediately producing a pay-off in student-improved learning. This diagram is a good reminder.
3. Feedback on results is essential.
My thoughts: Feedback generates encouragement for continued effort. The feedback can focus on the change order. Initially, the feedback is on teacher behavior… the change in teacher practice. Then, the feedback can focus on how the change in teacher actions is producing a change in student learning production behaviors. (Increased: student engagement, student perseverance, student questions). Lastly, celebrating with the teacher as indicators of increased student success emerge.
4. Change requires continued follow-up, support, and pressure.
Guskey suggests that support should be coupled with pressure. “Support allows those engaged in the difficult process of implementation to tolerate the anxiety of occasional setbacks. Pressure is often necessary to initiate change among those whose self-impetus for change is not great and ensure persistence in the challenging tasks intrinsic to all improvement efforts.”
My thoughts: My phrase for “pressure” is expectation. I often suggest that when school-wide professional learning is provided for a building or system change, teachers are asked that within four weeks, they invite the principal to observe early implementation. It’s important to communicate that the observation is certainly non-evaluative and at least partially for the administration to assess what additional support is needed. The expectation is that the change will be implemented. Whatever support and time are needed will be provided.