Coaching Conversations Uncovering Teachers’ Agendas - Steve Barkley

Coaching Conversations Uncovering Teachers’ Agendas

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.

Example Coaching Questions for Uncovering Agenda:

  • 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 impact 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?

“….a teacher’s ability to reflect on what, why and how they do things, and to adapt and develop their excellence in teaching is the one quality above all that makes them good.”

-Alexandra Spalding

Knowing and understanding a teacher’s agenda prior to observing allows a coach to watch and process the lesson through the teacher’s lens. This perspective communicates the key element that separates coaching from supervision and evaluation, where the observer is setting the agenda. Observing from this vantage point prepares a coach to extend the teacher’s reflection in a post observation conference.

Sample Reflection Questions 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?

In the post-conference, I especially want to work from the guideline of knowing what the teacher is thinking before I share what I am thinking. I’m also keen on knowing what the teacher saw or heard that is impacting their thinking. I suggest avoiding an initial post-conference question like, “How do you think that went?”

In many ways, this request for an evaluation is unfair to the teacher. It’s asking for a conclusion prior to the teacher’s reflection. It’s a quick stomach or emotional response that may set the teacher up to defend their evaluation or to appear shortsighted as reflection uncovers new thoughts.

As a coach, I am also limited in how to respond to the teacher’s evaluation as I do not know what observations and assessments are being used to reach the evaluation. I lack understanding of the teacher’s agenda. Did she not see what I saw, or did she interpret it differently?

Here are questions I recently prepared in advance and implemented for a post-conference where I had the opportunity to pre-conference with a teacher but did not observe in her classroom. This post-conference followed at the end of a teaching unit.

  • I’m anxious to hear about your experience with the Classroom Architecture Project. Where did you see student engagement and responses closest to what you were predicting while planning?
  • Were there any surprises?
  • You had mentioned a focus on student’s listening and reflection skills. What did you observe as you taught and coached those skills?
  • Thanks for sending me a copy of the discussion rubric you were going to consider. What’s your assessment of student progress?
  • Do you think you want to keep this focus for our next coaching session or take a different direction?

An interesting outcome from this coaching session: The teacher wanted to keep a focus on student listening and reflection. However, she wanted to consider the use of her conferencing practices with individual students. She agreed to record some of those conferences and forward them to me for our next coaching conference. I believe a focus on the teacher’s agenda encouraged trust and risk-taking that will extend the teacher’s learning.

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