A project that I currently have underway has me examining the role of innovation for students, teachers, and school leaders. One of the pieces I read was in Education Canada: Bottoms Up….How Innovative Change Starts With Frontline Educators by Simon Breakspear, the Founder and CEO of Learn Labs.
“The purpose of innovation in education is to create continuously better learning for the young people that we serve…… I define learning innovation as a creative process used to create better learning in complex and people-filled systems. “
Breakspear describes that our work isn’t about implementing the “thing that works” but to see teachers as learning designers who use their creative talent to solve challenges because what works for some students or some schools doesn’t necessarily work for others.
In a report titled, Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Achievement , you’ll find an excellent summary of the research on professional development that changes teacher practice and leads to increased student learning. It suggests that new standards require teachers to foster classrooms of collaboration, debate, and reflection which are ironically often missing from teachers’ professional development.
The following statement struck me as being very important to the work of instructional coaches:
“Therefore, schools need teachers to not just be implementers of effective teaching strategies, but also innovators of strategies that foster critical thinking.”
What’s the role of a coach in supporting teachers as implementers of effective teaching strategies?
The research summarized in this article identifies that for teachers to implement a new practice they need:
A solid foundation of knowledge about the teaching strategy
Modeling of the strategy to increase understanding
Coaching before, during and after implementation of newly learned skills
The report illustrates how the support for teachers’ implementation of new strategies needs to be purposefully planned. To be effective, from 50-80 hours of instruction, practice, and coaching are needed for teachers to arrive at mastery. Without this support only 10% of teachers can be expected to struggle through the awkward and often failure filled initial attempts with sufficient practice. With coaching, 95% of staff can reach successful implementation.
In most school settings there will be insufficient time for instructional coaches and administrators to provide all the needed coaching, therefore creating cultures where teachers are coaching each other becomes critical. Teachers learning new practices together and then coaching and supporting each other through the “implementation dip” becomes a natural component for professional learning communities. Instructional coaches then coach the coaching process, teaching, modeling, and coaching the elements of peer coaching.
What’s the role of the coach in supporting teachers as innovators of strategies that foster critical thinking? The study suggests that the research on teaching for critical thinking is lacking (in its infancy) and that teachers cannot just wait for “best practices” to emerge but need to create instructional innovations.
Simon Breakspear suggests that school leaders need to protect teachers from doubt and fear as they consider innovations. If I need to answer too many questions before a new idea is implemented, it can raise doubt and cause me to teach with a past, proven, safe plan instead of an innovation that could achieve a greater outcome. One strategy Breakspear offers is responding to new ideas with a “Yes and” rather than a “Yes but”. “Yes and” suggest adding something to an idea rather than changing the idea which a “Yes but” signifies.
What kind of professional development do we provide to support teachers as designers of learning? What is the role of instructional coaches as they work with designers of learning? How do we support administrators who support these teaching roles? How do professional learning communities work on designing learning tasks that causes students to seek new learning?
Consider building a faculty conversation around the topic of innovation. What would staff identify as an innovation they are currently exploring? Where would staff like to explore finding an innovation to reach a student outcome that is currently not being met?