Instructional Coaches Working with PLCs and Teaching Teams - Steve Barkley

Instructional Coaches Working with PLCs and Teaching Teams

This is the second of three blogs illustrating how coaches can apply the backwards process of connecting the desired student learning production behaviors to the teacher behaviors/practices/strategies that can generate those behaviors. This blog focusses on the coach working with PLCs or teaching teams and departments. The previous blog considers coaches working with individual teachers. The following will address working with an entire staff.

A middle school PLC made up of teachers who are working with the same seventh grade students in each of the content areas has invited the instructional coach to explore their concerns with the ever-increasing complexity of the standards their students need to achieve. The teachers are concerned that students currently complete tasks with compliance rather than engagement. Students invest the minimal (at times no) struggle needed to gain greater understanding and mastery. Complex standards will not be achieved without greater investment of effort from the students. High school and beyond success will require learning without teacher “spoon feeding.”

students highlighting book and studying

The coach prepares for the meeting with some questions to facilitate the team’s description of the student learning production behaviors they desire to gain:

  • What do you see and hear that causes you to label a student as compliant?
  • What do you see and hear that is different when the student is engaged?

Think of a time that several of your students came closest to that picture of engagement, what was the learning task like? What generalizations can you make about students getting engaged deeper?

With continued facilitated conversation the team centers on behaviors such as:

  • Students ask questions that initiate continued exploration.
  • Students self-assess and raise the requirement.
  • Student experience struggles/failures and start over.
  • Students support each other in achieving success.
  • Students commit time beyond class time.

“When I talk to students, I don’t ask them what they want to be when they grow up,
I ask them what problem do they want to solve?”

— Jaime Casap

The coach now facilitates the conversation around the type of learning activities/tasks most likely to gain these student behaviors:

  • What do you infer about learning tasks and student engagement?
  • What do you think are two or three most important things to consider when planning a unit with a desire for higher engagement?
  • How much responsibility do you think we as teachers should take for gaining student engagement? Why?

If the coach reads a willingness on the teachers’ part to explore options for increasing the student engagement, she might proceed to offer a resource.

Coach: The school has some online PD modules available and one of them, Content Exploration and Student Engagement, contains ideas that could provide what you are seeking. In a quick examination I saw some strategies that you might consider:

  • Probing questions.
  • Teaching mind mapping thinking processes.
  • Partner games.

It also had some lesson design options such as:

  • Structuring tiered lessons.
  • Creating learning teams.
  • Teaching with analogies.
  • Service learning as a more complex learning task, perhaps implemented with your PLC team, was included.

Here’s the access code.

Coach: I’d be happy to work with you further to explore any of these options in depth. Observing students during different strategies that you are implementing would be a great peer coaching option. I’d be happy to observe for student changes and/or assist with arranging your observations. The fact that you are observing students whom you know from your classroom will provide for some great learning insights for all of us.

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