Coaching Outstanding Teachers - Steve Barkley

Coaching Outstanding Teachers

When I wrote Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching, I based it around two critical beliefs:

The first belief was that we should have structures that allow everyone working in a building to receive feedback at least once a week. That outcome would necessitate peer coaching because there is no way a building administrator and instructional coaches alone could make that happen. Leaders need to create opportunities where teachers are coaching teachers.

The second belief was that the more highly skilled and professional an individual became, the more coaching they would receive. The reality in most schools, is the reverse. A new teacher or someone struggling is likely to receive much more coaching feedback than a highly effective teacher leader.

New Teachers

A beginning teacher quickly notices that there are people in her classroom often and rarely does she find someone observing in the classroom of her mentor. Imagine a new teacher who is working with a mentor discovering that there are more people observing and giving feedback in the mentor’s classroom than there are in his classroom.  What vision would a beginning teacher gain from this experience?

Why do I believe the most highly skilled professionals should get the most coaching?

They deserve it! These teachers are committed to their students and to your school and to your district. Celebration and recognition of successful teaching are rewarding and energizing to effective teachers. Years ago, I was told by teachers that the way they knew they were effective was that administrators didn’t observe in their classrooms. It reminds me of the teacher who tells parents at conference time, “Your child is doing well. We really didn’t need to meet.”

High school students

If the best teachers in your building are observed the most, it creates the opportunity for those people who are doing the observing to be learning while they are providing coaching to the highly effective people. Frequently leaders tell a struggling teacher, “You’re struggling. Go watch the outstanding teacher.” Can you hear just from the phrasing that this doesn’t set up the right learning potential? The struggling teacher goes to the outstanding teacher’s classroom somewhat frustrated and early on decides, “This isn’t all that outstanding”,  or, “These kids aren’t anything like mine.”

Consider what happens when you switch the scenario and have the outstanding teacher inviting the struggling teacher to provide her with coaching feedback.The outstanding teacher goes to a struggling teacher and says, “I’m working on increasing student dialogue during my math class and am looking for as many people as possible who can stop in for a fifteen-minute observation and record the kind of conversations going on between pairs of students.”

When the struggling teacher goes into that classroom with the specific task in mind, she is much more open minded and begins to see things in that classroom that could bring about better instruction in her own classroom. It may lead her to question the outstanding teacher about how he causes particular student learning behaviors. Perhaps leading to a peer coaching request from the struggling teacher. This struggling teacher is more likely to learn and change than if she were “sent” to learn.

Another reason for working with the most outstanding teachers is to create continuous improvement that can move classrooms and schools from good to great.  Jim Collins writing in Good to Great, makes the statement, “Good is the enemy of great”.

“The greatness of an institution always begins with its people.”

— Jim Collins

Those of you who are working as leaders and instructional coachers in high performing schools have a really difficult task. You need to convince good people who are doing a good job to stop some of the things they’re doing in order to discover and perhaps innovate the kinds of learning opportunities that could lead to increased learning for students.

Creating a culture in your schools where everyone is engaged in continuous growth and improvement is an important leadership focus. Consider how you engage your highly effective teachers in receiving ongoing coaching feedback from instructional coaches, administrators, and colleagues. You might share an expectation with beginning teachers that as they develop skills and confidence their requests for coaching should increase rather than decrease. How are you requesting your own coaching feedback?

Hear the head of an international school and an elementary principal share their modeling of requesting coaching in this podcast.


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