In my coaching training and modeling I stress coaches using open questions and paraphrases to create a dialogue in pre-conferences where the teacher is in charge and guiding the direction of the observation and coaching. I stress how these questions differ from evaluation pre-conferences where evaluators are getting information they need to do the evaluation. The coach is following the teacher’s thinking so that the coach’s job becomes defined during the pre-conference.
As a coach in a pre-conference, I want to understand “what the teacher is thinking” about the learning activity that I am going to observe. I want to hear and see the lesson through the teacher’s eyes and ears as well as through mine. As a coach, I’d like to take off my agenda before I enter the classroom and put on the teacher’s agenda. My humanness prevents that so I work to become conscious of the teacher’s agenda. So I might ask:
How does what you know about your students influence the learning design?
At this spot in the lesson, how do you imagine students responding?
How much of your teaching behaviors will be planned vs decided as the lesson unfolds?
What are the learning production behaviors you need from students to increase their learning success?
What behaviors of yours will you be most “conscious of” during the lesson?
Having observed initial post conferences of some new coaches, I identified two strategies that can increase the dialogue in post conferences.
The first is to record some specific teacher and student statements while observing that relate to the focus of the coaching that the teacher requested. The actual words of the teacher and students and observable students’ behaviors can be shared in the post conference and can spark conversation.
As an example, when one teacher wanted the coach to focus on the distribution of “help” that she provided students, her coach noted each time that she helped students with a check next to the student’s name. With a quick look at the observer’s notes the teacher could decide her comfort with the equity of her assistance and the amount of feedback she felt appropriate for developing the student independence she wanted. The conversation can grow deeper when the coach adds examples of the teacher’s responses next to student’s names.
“Is there another thing you could try?”
“Does that word on the sheet look the same as your word on the screen?”
“Can you remember where text styles are found?”
“I’m not telling you exactly where, but look in this area?”
“Tell me how you might get rid of this line.” “Can you make a line?” “Think about how you make a line and consider how you might unmake one.”
As a coach shares these comments, the teacher begins talking and reflecting on what the thinking was behind her responses and reflection raises a consciousness that self -assesses current practice. The post conference now feels more like a collegial conversation than a report (evaluation).
Secondly, dialogue is increased when a coach asks open-ended questions in the post-conference that uncover the teacher’s observations before the coach shares her observations. In the case of the example above, where the teacher is interested in the help she provides students, the coach might begin with, “Talk about some of the conscious decisions regarding ‘helping’ that you made during this lesson.” As the teacher shares her recollections, the coach can reinforce those he noted and add others that he recorded.
In another example, a teacher was interested in having the coach observe the level of comfort that a student had in being a participant in the lesson. Here the coach might begin with, “What did you notice about Caroline’s participation? How would you describe her level of comfort? How does what you noticed compare to what you expected?” How does it compare to what you want?” As the teacher shares her thinking on each of these questions, the coach can connect specific observations, thoughts, and ideas, even offering a suggestion into the conversation.
Dialogue and conversation will likely gain greater teacher vulnerability and reflection then reporting. Vulnerability and reflection will produce teacher continued growth to increase student learning.