In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve looks at establishing trust in coaching by modeling a pre-conference with instructional coach, Chris Pottebaum.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:18 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud Podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:44 Establishing trust with coaching pre-conferences. Recently, I’ve been reading and writing about how respecting a teacher’s goals and values is a critical component of coaching. It’s equally a critical component of effective school leadership at all levels. In order to know teachers’ goals and values, conversations become critical. I recently used a sentence in defining the importance of this. When a teacher knows that the coach recognizes and supports her goals and values, she is more open, vulnerable to the exploration, reflection and experimentation in coaching that will produce new understandings and skills for the teacher. I am convinced that the pre-conference is a critical opportunity for coaches to do that type of questioning and listening. I describe going into the pre-conference that there are two major focus points that I have. I call the first one agenda. I describe that I want to see, I want to uncover the teacher’s agenda. By agenda I mean I’d like to watch what’s happening in that classroom through the eyes of the teacher as well as watching it through my own eyes.
Steve: 02:40 So uncovering the teacher’s thinking – thinking that went into the planning process, the value that the teacher is placing in the content component of the lesson, concerns that the teacher might have. As much as possible, I want that teacher’s agenda in my mind. The second element is that I am looking for a focus and the focus in coaching is what really differentiates coaching from evaluation. When an evaluator comes into the classroom, in effect, the evaluator has to avoid getting a focus because the evaluator needs to pay attention to everything. And if the evaluator focuses in on some element, it will actually throw off the accuracy of the evaluation. The coach on the other hand, has the opportunity to ignore the majority of what it is that’s going on in the classroom and to focus in on the piece that’s established with the teacher as the information that the teacher wants to gain from the coaching conference.
Steve: 04:01 What follows is a pre-conference that I recorded during a webinar with instructional coaches in Iowa. A big thank you to Chris Pottebaum for doing the role play conference with me. As you listen to the conference that Chris and I have, see what you would identify as her agenda and as the focus. What do you hear that tells you how to look at the classroom through her eyes and specifically what’s the job or task that you’re walking away from the conference with as her coach? Notice how it took some time in our conversation to unpack her desired student outcomes as student learning production behaviors that then led to teacher behaviors. The pauses giving her time to think are critical to this reflective practice. Here’s our conference.
Steve: 05:25 So Chris, since I don’t know you and I’m meeting you here the first time, could you give me a little bit of an introduction to who Chris the teacher is?
Chris: 05:36 Okay. I’m a seventh grade reading teacher in a small community, class sizes of about 27. Not much diversity in ethnicity, all English speaking for the most part and varied ability.
Steve: 05:59 How big of a spread in ability?
Chris: 06:03 I would say anywhere from two years below grade level to two years above grade level.
Steve: 06:13 What does seventh great reading entail?
Chris: 06:17 In My district, it focuses primarily on the reading standards. So we use a lot of literature, we incorporate a lot of nonfiction. We focus a lot on having kids support their answers with evidence from within the text. They do do a good amount of writing, but we also have a separate writing instructor. So usually I co-plan with the writing teacher so that it ties – she knows what I’m teaching as far as it fiction or nonfiction. And then we both plan – co-plan the units together.
Steve: 06:54 And how much is your curriculum spelled out for you versus how much autonomy either on your own or in a collaboration with other teachers do you have?
Chris: 07:17 I have a lot of autonomy, excellent principal support. As long as we can prove we are meeting those standards, we pretty much the ability to do what we’d like.
Steve: 07:31 And how would you describe your teaching style?
Chris: 07:36 Flexible. And I try not to be that viewer of information, I try to be more the facilitator, the guide.
Steve: 07:47 And if I was observing and I’d see something that I would label as you being facilitative or working as a facilitator, can you tell me something I might see that you’d put under that category?
Chris: 08:00 I would be asking students questions. Like, currently we’re in a unit where we’re reading “The Boy in The Striped Pajamas” and in the social studies classroom, they’re talking about the Nazi invasion of Germany and ultimately we’re going to write this compare and contrast paper. So they’re having to do a lot of video watching, a lot of research, finding out, you know, what is really fiction in the novel versus what really happened. And so I would question those kids on why are you looking at a certain site or where would that information come from? Or how do you plan on using that information? Getting them to think instead of me telling them.
Steve: 08:48 You’d be questioning they’re thinking.
Chris: 08:50 Yes.
Steve: 08:50 Causing them to question their thinking.
Chris: 08:50 Correct.
Steve: 08:53 Okay. So tell a little bit about the learning activity that you’d be inviting me to see.
Chris: 08:59 We would be watching a video of an interview from an actual person who has survived the concentration camp. And we would then go into a discussion as to Bruno’s experience with the concentration camp Schmuel’s experience and then this actual person.
Steve: 09:27 So is one of them, the person from the story you’re reading?
Chris: 09:32 Yes.
Steve: 09:32 So two different people in the story and then the person in the interview?
Chris: 09:38 Yes.
Steve: 09:38 Okay. So during the time that I’m observing, what would you say is the most important thing or among the most important things that you need to be getting the kids to do?
Chris: 09:53 To see how history is altered for fictional purposes.
Steve: 10:01 Okay. So I think you’re describing an outcome for me.
Chris: 10:05 Okay.
Steve: 10:05 Is that an insight you want them to have?
Chris: 10:08 Yeah.
Steve: 10:08 A picture you want them – okay. So what do they have to do that’s going to cause them to get that as your outcome?
Chris: 10:16 Well, they’re going to have to review more sources than just just what we have here. They’re going to have to –
Steve: 10:25 So as they’re reviewing the sources, think about this. If you could walk around and put your finger on their head from time to time and hear what’s going on inside.
Chris: 10:34 Right.
Steve: 10:35 What do you need going on inside?
Chris: 10:38 I’m going to need them to think about the information that they’re getting in the social studies classroom about the actual event, and then sort that through as they’re reading the fictional account and separating it from the actual survivors account.
Steve: 11:04 I want to the a word – analysis.
Chris: 11:07 Yeah.
Steve: 11:08 Am I right?
Chris: 11:09 Yeah.
Steve: 11:10 That word fit? Analysis. Compare. Contrast.
Chris: 11:14 Yeah.
Steve: 11:15 And find patterns.
Chris: 11:17 Yeah.
Steve: 11:18 And what do you think’s the most important thing for you to do that’s likely to cause that to be happening?
Chris: 11:27 I have to ensure that they have valid and reliable sources to gather their information and I need to make sure that when there are clear misconceptions that those are clarified quickly.
Steve: 11:48 So you have to uncover the misconceptions.
Chris: 11:52 Yeah.
Steve: 11:53 How will you do that?
Chris: 11:56 Conversations?
Steve: 11:57 Okay. So how important is student talk during this activity?
Chris: 12:03 Critical.
Steve: 12:04 Okay. So, the analysis and the contrast and looking for patterns that’s likely to be occurring in student conversation?
Chris: 12:14 Yes.
Steve: 12:15 And conversation that you’d be engaged in with them then or just listening?
Chris: 12:22 Yes. Hopefully them starting off having those conversations. But you know, and observing, but if need be, to help make sure that the misconceptions aren’t [unintelligible]
Steve: 12:36 So you might be asking some particular questions to help you tell whether the patterns they’re identifying are accurate or whether there is a misconception there. Correct. So considering that I can be watching everything that’s happening, almost like a video camera.
Chris: 12:56 Yup.
Steve: 12:56 I want to give you a control of a focus lens. What would you like me to zoom in on and watch during this time so that I could give me some feedback that might be most valuable to you?
Chris: 13:10 I would like to see if students are engaged.
Steve: 13:17 You want to define what engaged would be?
Chris: 13:20 Yes. So are they developing questions that need to be looked at more deeply? Are they identifying accurate information and are they sharing information, whether it be in their small groups or as a whole group directly related to either the time period or a recounting of this event.
Steve: 13:44 So I’ve written down these things – by the way, if I were there, you’d be sitting next to me so you could read what I’m writing down. So I want to put that back out to you now. So if I could come back to you with questions that I heard kids raise, if I could come back to you with conclusions I heard kids offer.
Chris: 14:11 Yeah.
Steve: 14:12 If I could come back to you – use the term sharing and as I listened to you, I turned it into – they might be sharing information that supports what a colleague says. They might be sharing information that challenges what a colleague says.
Chris: 14:29 Okay.
Steve: 14:30 If I could come back to you with that information, would that give you a a starting spot to work from?
Chris: 14:37 Yeah.
Steve: 14:38 So are the kids working most of the time in smaller groups or whole groups?
Chris: 14:44 Most of the time smaller groups.
Steve: 14:46 Okay. So I’m thinking what I should do is go where you aren’t.
Chris: 14:52 Yeah.
Steve: 14:53 So then I will hear students, questions, conclusions and sharing that you aren’t hearing. And that way when we meet, we could put what I heard against what you heard and look for patterns within that.
Chris: 15:08 Sounds perfect.
Steve: 15:09 I’m looking forward to it.
Chris: 15:10 Me too. Thank you.
Steve: 15:14 One of the strategies that I developed early in my coaching practice was to create a listening test for myself during the preconference. And I posed these three questions: You believe that. So as I’m listening to the teacher during the preconference, if I’ve uncovered an ending for that statement, you believe that, then it tells me I’ve got at least one chunk of the teacher’s agenda. So in this case, listening to Chris, she believes that her flexibility and her use of facilitation increases her students’ learning.
Steve: 16:09 The second question in my listening test is: My focus is. That means what is my specific job as a coach? I’ve learned across time that the best way for me to do that is actually to design my observation tool as I’m sitting there in the conference with the teacher. There’s lots of observation tools you can find online as resources. But my finding has been if I lay down tools and the teacher picks a tool, the tool ends up shaping our conversation and I’ve found it to be more powerful if a scrap of paper in front of me as I’m listening to the teacher and we’re finalizing our ideas, I’m actually mapping out on the sheet of paper what I will be recording. There’s thoughts in my mind that if the teacher sees me writing as I’m in the classroom observing, the teacher knows exactly what is it is I’m writing down because that’s the decision we made in the pre-conference.
Steve: 17:24 So in this case, I actually noted what I would be looking for in student language and by recording the student language, the statements, the questions that the kids made, we’re going to be able to build our post-conference off of her being able to reflect back on those and she’ll be comparing the ones that I recorded to the things that she heard. And then my last part of that listening test is: I should notice. And that is my cue to be looking for something that I know is important to the teacher. Sometimes it’s not even the actual focus that the teacher gave me, but something that the teachers mentioned in the conference that’s important in her belief and values that I can identify and share that. It’s a strong piece of approval and builds that builds that relationship with the teacher.
Steve: 18:24 So in this case, the chance for me to identify where a question or a discussion that Chris had with a student or group of students, caused the student thinking to go deeper. So her facilitation of that deep thinking. If I can point out a specific example of that, I feel that it builds that recognition on the teacher’s part that I understand and appreciate where the teacher’s values are. So those three questions again that you might want to play with in your next conference: You believe that. That’s part of uncovering the teacher’s agenda. My focus is. That’s the specific job and you can tackle that by the way you outline your observation – the way you create your, observation tool. And then I should notice. That’s that key point that allows you to come back and provide approval and recognition to the teacher. As I stated at the beginning, building an understanding of the teachers’ values and sharing that understanding increases the teacher’s willingness to be vulnerable, be open with the coach. Be open with him or herself and their reflections. That drives teacher learning. The pre-conference is a great spot for you to listen. And then when you get to your post-conference, you can build trust by showing how you valued the teachers beliefs and values and how you stayed committed to doing the task that you outlined with the teacher in the pre-conference. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 20:32 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.