In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is interviewed about instructional coaching by his last podcast guest, Nicole Turner.
Get in touch with Nicole: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steve [Intro]: 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: 00:00 Hints for instructional coaches. I had the opportunity to be a keynoter at the Simply Coaching Summit. It was a online virtual coaching summit sponsored by Nicole Turner at Simply Coaching. My keynote was entitled “Respecting Teachers’ goals and Values.” Following the keynote, Nicole interviewed me providing an opportunity for me to expand upon some of the thoughts and ideas I shared in the keynote. You can find a link to the keynote in the lead in to this podcast. I hope you find it helpful.
Nicole: 00:50 Well thank you so much Mr. Barkley for being here and thank you so much for your presentation – part of our keynote in the coaching summit for 2019.
Steve: 01:00 My pleasure, my pleasure.
Nicole: 01:02 So let’s dive into a few questions about your presentation. I really, really love your presentation and thank you. In your presentation you shared with us about respecting the teacher values and working with teachers. I also agree that we have to use this part as building trust with teachers. And I think that building trust is like the number one focus of coaches. So what are a few more things that you can share with coaches when it comes to building those relationship with teachers?
Steve: 01:31 Sure. One of the first things I put out, especially if you’ve got some newer coaches, is to make them make sure they go back and pull Joellen Killian’s writing about heavy coaching and light coaching. And Joellen and I were both here that at the beginning. And a big mistake was made early on is that coaches knew that relationships were important and they tended to look to build those relationships and build trust through what Joellen ended up labeling as a “light” kind of help and support for teachers. And what Joellen pointed out then, is as time went on, when the coaches look to get engaged in deeper critical, important things, there was a tendency on the teachers to have mislabeled what in effect coaching was. And so Joellen was the first one that got me thinking along those lines that yes, building trust is important. You build that trust by finding the things that are important to the teacher to make happen for students and then show the teacher that you’re working to make those things happen for students. So I’m real big on team building and you build a team by having a common goal. So if I can get the teacher to describe what the goal is that she wants to make happen for students and then I’ll commit as your coach to working alongside you to achieve that goal.
Steve: 03:21 Connected to that then for me is building your coaching around changing student behaviors. So I kind of like to build trust by getting the teacher to realize I’m not hired as a coach to change teacher behaviors. I’m hired as a coach to change student behaviors. So let’s figure out what your students have to do. The term that I use for that is learning production behaviors. What are the behaviors that students have to engage in that are going to generate the learning? And now, what would the teacher do to cause those things to happen? So that allows me to step away from wether what the teacher’s doing is right or wrong and instead to focus on: here’s the goal you wanted to meet with your students. We know that for that goal to be met, students have to spend their time doing these kinds of things. Now what would you do as a teacher to cause students to get engaged in those behaviors? Those are the things that I’ll bring to you.
Nicole: 04:29 Okay, perfect. And, you know, Joellen is a part of this as well. She was our kick off of the the summit on the other day and her message is so powerful. It was super powerful and I’m so excited that both of you guys got to be a part of this.
Steve: 04:48 Well, just a real quick history story to go with that. One of the earliest videos on peer coaching involved Joellen, Jim Knight and myself and all three of us appeared in the video and nobody never knew that – these were the old days. Joellen, Jim and I hadn’t met each other. We all appeared this same video separately and they put it together. So years later when we all became good friends and I’ve worked all these years on the same focus, it’s interesting back to that early time.
Nicole: 05:25 Oh, awesome. Okay, I love that you spoke about the pre-conference conversations and your video. Can you give a few things that you do to prepare for your pre-conference conversations? Because I know that a lot of times this is a part of the big coaching cycle and a lot of times coaches don’t know how to start those kinds of conversations with teachers. So I know you kind of dug into what should be said or what is said, but how do you start those pre-conference conversations?
Steve: 05:59 You know, it’s not much in preparing other than the mental realization that what I’m about to do is extremely important. So for me, the pre-conference is the most important part of the whole coaching cycle. If you conduct the pre-conference appropriately, everything else flows. So because we had a quality pre-conference, I know exactly what it is I should be doing during the observation stage. The teacher knows exactly what I’m doing during the observation stage and then when we meet in the post conference I build trust by delivering exactly what it says that I was going to do. So the preliminary elements for me are one, agenda. and that is I want to understand as much as I can the teacher’s thinking so that I’m watching the classroom through the teacher’s eyes. And then the second is arriving at that focus and that’s the easiest way to communicate the difference between coaching and evaluation is the focus. Because the evaluator goes in and has to be looking at everything in order to do a fair evaluation. The coach on the other hand is going to come in, disregard the majority of what it is that’s happening and zero in on that focus.
Steve: 07:44 And then the key for me is I like to design the observation tool that the coach is going to use as I’m seated there with the teacher during the conference. So now it gets real clear. The teacher looks up and sees the coach writing away during the observation. They know exactly what the coach is writing. There’s a lot of templates and stuff you can download, but I like to download them for ideas. I think when I asked the teacher to pick a template that they’re not as focused in on the fact that we designed this just for me to do the best job for you that I can.
Steve: 08:29 So the real bottom line key in the preconference is listening. It’s in taking the time and to see that the pre-conference is a reflective growth time for a teacher. If you think about an evaluation pre-conference, evaluators just gathering information they can use to assist them in doing the evaluation. When you do a good pre-conference, chances are very good you’ve impacted the teacher’s lesson. Sometimes the teacher will actually change the lesson because of something they thought through. Other times they will be extra conscious of the part that they have you focused on. So that extra consciousness actually has them practicing a behavior that they wouldn’t be practicing in that kind of a conscious format if it wasn’t as a pre-conference.
Nicole: 09:32 Now, so I have a couple of questions. So a lot of times we do, and in my experience or my role as a coach, I sometimes do my observation before. So if I go in and I may do a baseline observation and our kind of see what’s going on to get a feel for what’s happening in the classroom. And then I’m having my – I guess we’ll say the pre-conference conversation after my observation just to give me that. What are your thoughts on kind of what that conversation would look like?
Steve: 10:07 You just you just have to keep in mind that you don’t want to be giving the teacher any feedback from that first observation. So, in other words, the first observation was for you and that may help you to come up with the questions you’re using with the teacher in the pre, but you need to keep it in a pre mode. I guess just my gut response is that becomes not necessary as the coach has increasing competence that you can get the teacher engaged in the conversation. It’s almost like, I’m a little concerned that based on what I saw, I might want to be trying to influence the pre-conference on decisions that I’ve already made about what has to happen. And I want to really keep the teacher in charge and that I’m gonna be working from the teacher’s thinking.
Nicole: 11:11 Okay, perfect. It’s definitely a different perspective that I just gained a little bit.
Steve: 11:17 I’ve been in situations where schools have invited me and sent me in to observe a teacher that I’m going to post-conference with that afternoon and I hadn’t had a pre-conference. Okay, so I have the observation. So then what I have to do is my post-conference has to start as a pre-conference. Even though I’ve already seen this, it’s kind of like I’ve got to put it aside now have a pre-conference, let the teacher focus me and then go back and look through what I saw. For the teacher’s sake.
Nicole: 11:47 So this leads to a great question. So what about coaches who coach teachers based off of what the principal has assigned on a specific area? So for instance, previously in my role, I have a supported teachers with their PIP plans, or we call them in Indiana, their professional improvement plan. And so I, the administrator has said, “Hey Nicole, I need you to go and talk with so and so, so, and so this is what the areas of concern, this is a part of their plan. Let’s try to move them in this direction.” So what do you say or how do you start that type of pre-conference when working in that type of situation?
Steve: 12:36 I need to bring it back to the teacher’s agenda. So what I need to find out – I worked with secondary reading coaches. These are people who are going into math, science, social studies, classrooms to teach people reading strategies. Early on in that time the statement was every teacher is a teacher of reading.
Nicole: 13:00 Yes, I’ve heard that before.
Steve: 13:02 I said to reading teachers, not a good thing to say to the science teachers. My thing was to take that every teacher’s a teacher of reading, kind of put it in your hand and put it behind your back and now walk in there and find out what that teacher has to do. And when you’re looking at the textbook with the teacher and you can say to the teacher, “wow, this has to be two years above some kids reading levels.”
Steve: 13:34 That must make it really difficult for you to get kids to work with this. If we could find an easier way for kids to learn vocabulary, I’m guessing that would assist you in reaching your science goals. And when the teacher says yes, then I’m going to bring out my strategy of teaching vocabulary that’s a reading skill and I’m willing to bring it to you now. Not because the school said you have to learn this and you have to do it but because I found a connection to what’s important to you. No different than motivating a student in your content area by finding that key that that makes the link to the student. That is a different kind of coaching, but I still believe it has to be driven by the other person’s agenda. And if I can give you the severe example, it’s working with a very resistant teacher so you want to change as little as possible and still meet the principal’s requirement. When the teacher says yes, now I’m willing to work with you.
Steve: 14:46 Right, exactly.
Steve: 14:47 If you told me you weren’t gonna change at all, then I’m not going to work with you. But if you told me what you would like to see, I want to know your agenda. You’re stuck having to make a change you didn’t want to make. So know this, I won’t push you further then you want to go. So if I can help you make that first change, I’m banking on the fact that I’ll now start that relationship. So now I’m not working for the principal. I’m working for you. I’m helping you achieve what you need to achieve. Even if initially what you need to achieve is getting a an evaluator to stop hassling you. I’ll help you achieve that initially and my hope is through that process I can get you excited about what you’re doing for kids.
Nicole: 15:34 Yes. That is awesome. Perfect. That was great advice for teachers, I mean for coaches. And I know some of those coaches are maybe even experienced coaches and they’re struggling with that. I know that was one of my biggest struggles and I kind of approached it just like how you did, where I kind of meet the teacher where they are. It kind of makes some type of connection with the teacher at some point, some way to get them to at least open up and for us to start the journey together.
Steve: 16:01 And it’s honest. It honestly is your agenda, you know? Everything being left up to you, you want to implement this change in your classroom, but that’s not where you are. I’m going to recognize it and now we can put a plan together. Now that we’ve got that plan together, now the relationship can lead us somewhere else. Very much like helping a student meet the minimum requirement of your course. You have to build a relationship to get students interested and move on.
Nicole: 16:31 Yes. Alright, so in your presentation you spoke about the standards and I agree that teachers should use their own creativity. I think the peer coaching strategy you spoke about is a great strategy to start, but it’s not something that everyone is utilizing currently in their buildings. So can you give a few pointers as to how we can get started in setting up a peer coaching program in their buildings or in our buildings?
Steve: 16:58 So I think for starters, it’s the coach identifying that as the instructional coach in the building, I am the coach of coaching rather than I am the coach of the teachers.
Nicole: 17:15 Okay. Good perspective.
Steve: 17:17 So it’s my job to build coaching into this culture. And the first book that I wrote on coaching was titled quality teaching in a culture of coaching. And my title was very purposeful in that I wanted people not to see coaching as an isolated activity, but to see coaching as a tool that you used for problem solving. So you peer coach beginning teachers, you peer coach when you change the curriculum, you peer coach when you have a struggling student and you don’t know how to approach it. So almost anytime that there’s a need or a necessity, one of the first things I can do is use peer coaching as a way of gathering information and gathering ideas on increasing our effectiveness.
Steve: 18:13 And to me today, anybody looking at the research on teacher collective efficacy and John Hattie’s research identifying as the top indicator for predicting students’ success, I don’t see any way you can build collective teacher efficacy without getting teachers into each other’s classrooms. Without getting those PLCs to where we’re looking at eachother’s student work. So in my mind, I see, – if I were a school principal and I had an instructional coach, I would expect one of the tasks of my instructional coach would be to increase the coachability of my staff. So that cross-time. Now a good starting point is that the coach should be highly coached. So when the coach goes into do a model lesson in a teacher’s classroom, she should be inviting another teacher in to coach her on her model lesson.
Steve: 19:32 [Inaudible] classroom she’s modeling and sit in on it. At some point now, the coach can pull herself out of that and those two teachers can pick up that activity. So I sometimes – I’ve written a little bit about the coach being like a plate spinner at the circus. You find these three or four teachers, maybe they’re in a PLC, maybe they just have a common instructional strategy they’re working on or they share a common group of students. I pull those teachers together and I get them working together and peer coaching each other with a lot of my involvement. And it’s kinda like I got that plate spinning and some point I can hopefully sneak out of there and go get another group started and then I can come back to it. But seeing that I’m building that building that process and I think approach going to their administrator and pulling up an article on collective teacher efficacy and putting that in front of the school leadership team and saying, you know, we really ought to be building in this direction and coaching’s the way to get us there.
Nicole: 20:50 Perfect. I think that is some great points. As far as getting started, I know that we are in my building for next school year, I am going to start to help to develop a peer coaching program. And I currently am in a secondary class of secondary building, so I’m in 9-12. I’ve coached K-12 because I’m a K-6 teacher, but this year I’m in a 9-12 building and we are looking to help teachers to look at each other’s content area and have them to coach each other just based off of what some of the readings, like you said, the reading teacher will work with maybe the science and social studies and then we have computer technology and those things. And so we’re going to get those teachers having those conversations across disciplines in order to help share some of those strategies that they use.
Steve: 21:46 Sometimes at the secondary, I recommend that as the start because if you coach outside your department, it’s actually less threatening. You’re much less likely to be evalutive. A math teacher observing a math lesson starts thinking of how she would be teaching this and it interferes with collecting information and doing the coaching. Where if she’s sitting in an art class and the art teacher said, “here’s the information I want you to collect,” it’s pretty easy to stay on it. I’m not going to be thinking about a different way you can be teaching this. I’ll stay more in that [inaudible].
Nicole: 22:30 Yeah. Because I think they will look more at the strategies that they’re teaching and not the content. And I think that will be the help part.
Steve: 22:39 I’ll toss one other one out here since people will be looking at this in the summer going into the year. If I were instructional coach and there’s a mentor program in my building, I would use my mentor program to expand into a peer coaching program. If there’s a mentor working with a beginning teacher, get the mentor to allow the instructional coach to coach the mentor in front of the beginning teacher so that they can model for the beginning teacher how you use input from a colleague. Because most beginning teachers haven’t had that experience. And then begin to talk about how the mentor relationship can move more towards a peer coaching relationship and pulling people early in their career into exploring that coachability piece. I’ll give people one free takeaway reference here. I shot a short video similar to the one people have seen today called “The Gift of Coaching.” It talks about that everyone deserves a coach and that might be a piece coaches to use if they’re introducing that concept to their staff.
Nicole: 23:57 All right, perfect. I will link that at the bottom of this video so coaches can make sure that they get the opportunity to see that video that everyone needs a coach.
Steve: 24:10 No wait, “everyone deserves a coach.”
Nicole: 24:17 Everyone deserves a coach, not everyone needs one, right?
Steve: 24:19 That’s right. And that’s why I pulled the twist because a lot of people were saying everyone needs a coach. And there were teachers who threw their arms up, said, no, they didn’t. So if you changed the phrase then to “everyone deserves a coach”, then the stronger, the more competent you are as a teacher, the more you should be receiving that coaching. And that will help people set that mindset of being highly coachable because you deserve it.
Nicole: 24:44 Awesome. Well, thank you so much Mr. Barkley for being here.
Steve: 24:51 You are very welcome. My best to you and everyone joining in on the joining in on the conference.
Nicole: 24:56 Thank you. Thank you.
Steve: 24:58 Bye bye.
Nicole: 24:59 Bye.
Steve: 25:01 A big thank you to Nicole Turner at simply coaching for both offering the conference and providing me an opportunity to be one of the presenters and a special thank you for her great questions, which gave me the opportunity to expand my my thoughts and ideas. You can find a contact for Nicole and Simply Coaching in the lead into this podcast as well. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 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.