Coaching to Guide Teacher Reflection - Steve Barkley

Coaching to Guide Teacher Reflection

Writing in a blog, The Ultimate Guide to Reflective Practice in Teaching, Alexandra Spalding describes the value of teacher reflection:

Teacher reflection helps you move from just experiencing a lesson, to understanding what happened and why. Taking the time to reflect on and analyze your teaching practice helps you to identify more than just what worked and what didn’t. When reflecting with purpose, you can start to challenge the underlying principles and beliefs that define the way that you work. This level of self-awareness is a powerful ally, especially when so much of what and how you teach can change in the moment. If you don’t question what your experiences mean and think actively about them on an on-going basis, the evidence shows you are unlikely to improve.

I recently found the Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle which I think provides a framework that coaches can use in guiding teacher reflection. It was developed by Graham Gibbs to give structure to learning from experiences. It offers a framework for examining experiences and allowing you to learn and plan from things that either went well or didn’t go well.

GibbsThe process suggests six stages:

  • Description of the experience
  • Feelings and thoughts about the experience
  • Evaluation of the experience, both good and bad
  • Analysis to make sense of the situation
  • Conclusion about what you learned and what you could have done differently
  • Action plan for how you will deal with similar situations in the future, or general changes you might find appropriate.

Here are my thoughts on coaching with the process.


The goal here is to gather in detail what occurred. The coach’s questions can assist the teacher in recalling her observations.

What were you conscious of doing?
What did you do that was planned? What did you decide to do or change in the flow of the class?
What did you notice and hear during the lesson?
What happened that you had expected? Was there anything that surprised you?

This is the place in the conference where a coach would share the information a teacher had requested the coach to gather during the pre-conference.

Feelings and Thoughts

Here you can explore any feelings or thoughts that emerged during the experience and how they may have impacted the experience.

When were you most comfortable during the lesson? Less comfortable?
What were you feeling before and after?
How did you read the students’ feelings?

Here the coach’s role is asking and perhaps paraphrasing or empathizing.

“I hear that the number of students not completing the pre-reading really upset you and threw you off your plan.”


The teacher evaluates what worked and what didn’t. A non-judgmental coaching environment encourages the teacher to be as objective and honest as possible. The goal is for the teacher to gain the most from reflection on both the positive and the negative aspects of the situation, even if it was primarily one or the other.

What went well?
What didn’t go so well?
Is there more you need to find out to decide?

The coach will remain out of the evaluation process, other than providing the teacher with requested information. Teacher: “How many students did you observe using the academic content vocabulary as they meet in their groups?” Coach: “Here is the student dialogue I recorded as I move among the groups.”


The analysis step is where the teacher looks to make sense of what happened. Previous steps focused on details around what happened in the situation. With analysis the focus is to extract meaning from it. You want to target the different aspects that went well or poorly and ask why?

Here I think that along with the coach’s questions, the coach can join the teacher’s analysis thinking. Thinking out loud about possible cause/effect; not conclusions.

What do you think generated or caused that outcome?
What sense can you make of the situation?
What do you know about the learners that might have influenced the outcome?
What knowledge can help one understand the situation? Teachers’ and coaches’ knowledge can be shared. (Example- What does the research tell us about the role of previous knowledge? What do you know about the learner’s language level?)


Here the teachers make conclusions about what happened. They summarize their learning and highlight changes they might make or practices they want to continue to maximize future success. This should flow from the components that have preceded. There is a caution here for coaches not to force a conclusion as the conferencing time runs out. Better to identify what questions need to be explored further. Future observations may be established to explore those questions.

What are you thinking you discovered or learned from this situation?
What would you continue doing? What would you change?
What are you thinking is a next step?

Moving ahead, what do you want to observe and perhaps have a coach observe?

The Gibb’s reflection process can provide a coach some guidance in planning the coaching conversations with a colleague and in reflecting on their own coaching practices and outcomes.

“We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.”

(John Dewey)

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