I was interviewed on this topic by Jonathan Mueller and Scott Linder for the BabblED podcast. They initially asked me for my personal experiences that speak to the power of coaching. Those of you who have heard my early history in teaching are aware that I was “vaccinated” into teaching as a public and coached profession. I did my student teaching on a team for a year. My first teaching position was on a four-member team of teachers who shared responsibility for around 100 fifth and sixth-grade students working in an open-space environment. This meant that nearly all instruction I provided was, at a minimum, informally observed by a colleague. The shared responsibility had most planning and assessment completed as a team. After five years working with this team, I spent the next five years teaching first grade in a double classroom with a teacher and a paraprofessional. Again, shared accountability for the group of students and the open classroom created coaching as a natural part of the job.
Those experiences convinced me that we should be introducing everyone into the teaching profession with a similar framework. If people began teaching as members of a team with ongoing frequent collegial feedback and support, I believe that no matter what conditions they found as they became part of a school staff in the future, they would seek out opportunities for peer coaching. School districts with a mentoring program for teachers new to the profession or new to the school should use mentoring to build and model a coaching culture. I worked with a district team that was trying to decide how long their mentoring program should last: one year, eighteen months, two years? Their final decision was that when the new teacher opened the doors of the classroom and said,” You may all come in,” mentoring was over. The job of the mentor was to build the skills and confidence of the new teacher to become a fully engaged professional member of the staff. I have suggested that schools shouldn’t have a mentor program unless they have a peer coaching program that one enters as mentoring ends. If there is no coaching program, the mentor program suggests that it is in place to “support or fix” the new teacher rather than a collegial relationship that all teachers deserve. (Video: The Gift of Coaching)
I was asked, how do we move past the flash of certain “professional development programs” and sustain high-quality professional growth? My suggestion was that when we build professional development based on the desired learning outcomes for students and identify the student learning production behaviors, we can create a sustaining culture. Therefore, backward planning. Knowing the student desired outcomes and the necessary student learning production behaviors we can provide the reasons for the professional changes in teacher practice. Teachers and coaches should identify observable teacher and student behaviors that are the results of professional development. Those behavior practices are the precursors to the desired student outcomes.
In an environment of teachers continually transitioning into schools, how do we communicate a coaching culture? This must be purposefully communicated and illustrated in actions. The first indicator should occur in hiring. Interviewers should communicate that the school is built on teams and that shared accountability and coaching support are expectations. An interview question such as, “What are your thoughts on inviting colleagues into your classrooms as peer coaches and observing in colleagues’ classrooms?” is likely to generate a response that indicates it as an important and powerful activity. It’s now critical that a month or two into the school year a supervisor asks the new teacher about what they experienced in their coaching activities. If those coaching experiences are not occurring, assistance in scheduling them should be offered. The second indicator should be staff members reaching out to new teachers inviting them into the professional exchanges of continuous teacher growth. A transition for new teachers needs to be purposefully planned just as we plan for new students’ transitions. I worked with an international school that invited new staff members to provide coaching feedback to two current staff members. Most schools would be more likely to offer the new staff names of staff offering to coach them. This reversed practice communicates to new teachers that the staff was interested in the coaching contributions they could make. A powerful way to communicate a coaching culture.
You can listen to the entire BabblED podcast here.
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages