I spent the last week with administrators, instructional coaches, and teacher leaders from Bismarck Schools in North Dakota. I’ve been working with these educators during the last two years as they focus on their mission and vision.
Mission: All students will have the academic, social, and personal skills to be career, college, and community ready.
Vision: Together, we inspire a passion for learning, discovery and excellence.
As we explored the tasks of leaders in coaching teachers and facilitating professional learning , I asked them to examine some ideas expressed by Jacqui Murray in a blog post titled 7 Ways Common Core Will Change Your Classroom. Here is a summary of her changes number 6 and 7:
Life skills are emphasized across subject areas— and An increase in rigor—
Accountability will be expected of students and teachers. Too often, passing a test was all the assessment that was expected. CCSS will look for more–transfer of knowledge (students must understand cause and effect, transfer knowledge from one subject area to another), evidence of learning, student as risk-taker, authenticity of lessons, vertical planning, learning with increasingly less scaffolding and prompting, and differentiated instruction so all learners get it.
The leaders considered the degree to which these changes were in place or needed to be initiated and extended. The conversation uncovered that all the changes that needed to occur in student performance also needed to occur as changes for teachers as well.
I suggested that if the sense of urgency was high, leaders would need to engage in what Joellen Killon has labeled as heavy coaching.
From a teacher’s perspective, coaching heavy feels heavy — in the sense of the weight of collective responsibility and commitment each teacher devotes to the success of every student. Coaching heavy causes them to feel on edge, questioning their actions and decisions.
Here is a mental model I have in mind as I work to make my facilitation or coaching “heavy.”
#1 Identify a commitment or belief that the teacher or team has to something of importance for students.
#2 Identify students whose performance/success falls short of what is acceptable to teacher’s or team’s commitment.
#3 Confirm the desire to so something.
#4 Examine ideas about “what we can do”.
#5 Get a commitment to action and assessment of the action’s effect.
Example: I was conducting a pre-conference with a middle school math teacher. She identified that her grade level team was focused on increasing reading skills across all content areas. She shared that she would provide an opportunity for students to read the math text as an introduction to the upcoming skill lesson and have them take notes identifying understanding and questions.
The teacher stated that reading in math was different from reading in other content areas (commitment/belief). I asked her how strong her students were at reading in math and she said some were strong. I asked, “If you had a continuum from 1-10 and we considered 9 strong, where would your students fall?”. She said some at 9, others at 6 and 4 and a few at 1. With another question she placed 4 students at 9, four at 1 and the rest split at 4 and 6 (student performance below teacher acceptance).
I asked which group she would like to select as a focus for our coaching. She said. “Those at 1”(desire to do something). I asked how the students would respond to her reading and note taking assignment and she suggested that the 1’s would likely fake read. She then added that perhaps she would give them “sticky notes” to use to create some accountability. I asked how confident she was that they knew how to read with the purpose of understanding and note taking. As she responded, ”not very”, she added that she would work with the four students in a group as the rest of the class worked on the reading assignment independently (what we can do).
The conference concluded with the teacher selecting to have the “reading lesson” observed for coaching and a follow up observation scheduled to watch the four students as they read in a later lesson (action and assessment).