Many years back, in a graduate level course for teachers that I taught, we explored tapping into students’ satisfactions as a way of building community and engagement. I facilitated an activity around “peak experiences.” Partcipants would identify three or four peak experiences that they have had. I defined peak experiences as times you felt like you were walking around with you head in the clouds. (A natural high.) Examples might be playing on a championship team, getting a first teaching job, having a student master a concept after a lot of struggles, or experiencing a magical moment in nature. Looking across a list of their peak experiences, participants could often identify common elements for themselves that were usually present in their peak experiences. For instance, looking at mine, I was working with a group more than on my own, usually in a leadership role, and persistence was present more than exceptional skill.
Knowing the elements of students’ sources of satisfaction, teachers can plan for creating opportunities for individual students to engage in meaningful tasks or activities. Knowing one’s own sources of satisfaction allows for choosing and planning opportunities where those satisfactions are more likely to occur. Coaches uncovering teachers’ sources of satisfaction can join in planning for increased opportunities for those experiences.
Here is a William Glasser quote that I have often used with teachers exploring the learning environment likely to generate quality learning. “Quality almost always includes caring for each other, involves hard work, and feels good.” The “feels good” element, I believe, is an indicator of satisfaction being present. Uncovering students’ beliefs and values connected to their satisfactions increases the teachers’ chance of designing learning in which students are willing to invest effort. They invest effort because the activity itself or the successful outcome of their effort will produce satisfaction.
I approach coaching with the same thoughts in mind. Quality coaching almost always includes caring for each other, involves hard (but different) work on the part of the teacher and the coach and whether you are the provider or the receiver of quality coaching, it feels good.
Coaching conversations, where the teacher’s agenda emerges and develops over time, increase understanding, build trust, and promote vulnerability and risk-taking. The teacher’s agenda includes the beliefs, values, and thinking behind the teacher’s decision-making. A general guideline, I recommend, is that a coach wants to know what the teacher is thinking before sharing what the coach is thinking.
When I am exploring student effort with teachers, I frequently suggest teachers explore with students when, why, and how to invest effort. At times I meet teachers who suggest students should “always do their best work.” It usually takes an example or two to identify how as adults we don’t approach things with that perspective. Compare straightening up the house to spring cleaning or planning a unit around a power standard to a spelling lesson. Knowing when you are executing “good enough” and when you are planning for “quality” is a key to finding satisfaction from your efforts.
As a coach I can be engaged in guiding teacher reflection and decision making around “quality” and “good enough” decisions. Sometimes my focus may be on planning and executing teaching for quality student learning with student satisfaction. Often, students having peak learning experiences generates peak satisfaction experiences for teachers. At other times, I might assist the teacher in generating “good enough” teaching and learning so as to have the time and resources for those quality peak experiences.
Here are some questions I use to uncover a teacher’s satisfactions in a pre-conference setting:
- What’s been a recent rewarding experience for you as you witnessed student learning?
- If you had full control of the curriculum, how much importance would you place on today’s content? Why?
- How do you describe your teaching style?
- What do you want students to learn with you that isn’t in the curriculum?
- How do you decide what learning goals to set for your most advanced students? …your most struggling learners?
- What do you know about your students that impacts your planning? What would you like to find out about your students? Why?
- If the school hadn’t adopted this program, how would your instruction be similar or different from your current practice?
- What elements from the school’s vision do you think are most present in your classroom? Why?
- What role do you believe your relationships with students play in their learning success?
Learning about the teachers you are coaching is an ongoing process just as learning about students is for teachers. Here are some questions I might use in a post conference:
- When during the lesson did student reactions or responses come closest to the “movie-script” you imagined while planning
- What was surprising as the lesson unfolded?
- You had asked me to record ____________________. What do you think you’ll find as you look at my notes?
- What decisions did you make during the lesson? What thinking led to those decisions?
- What would you say you learned during the lesson?
- How will you use that learning?
When you get a chance, reflect on where you as a coach find the peak experiences in your work. What modifications might increase your opportunities to have more of those opportunities on your schedule? Let me know if you are looking for someone to listen and probe a little.