Reflection is key to teachers ongoing growth and empowerment. Too often, “quick feedback” misses the mark because of insufficient dialogue and therefore, too little reflection time. Steve shares some of the tips he has found helpful.
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Steve: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the Steve Barkley, ponders out loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening. I’m thrilled you’re here.
Steve: 00:31 Increasing dialogue and reflection in coaching conferences. I recently found a post by Alexandra Spalding titled “How to Encourage Reflective Teaching in Your School.” In the post, she identified five benefits of teachers using increased reflective practices. The first was professional growth. She said, “reflective practice in education is the key to improvement. If teachers don’t think about analyze and evaluate their professional practice, they cannot improve.” The second she identified as keeping up to date, being innovative. Self-Reflection allows teachers to create an experiment with new ideas and approaches to gain maximum success for their learning and development. Her third point was understanding learners. She suggested that reflective practice is required in order for teachers to understand their learners and their abilities and needs. Reflection helps teachers put themselves in their students shoes, which is something many skilled teachers do. The fourth item she identified was developing reflective learners.
Steve: 02:02 She suggested that reflective teachers are more likely to develop reflective learners. If teachers practice reflection, they can more effectively encourage learners to reflect on analyze, evaluate, and improve their own learning. And lastly, she suggested that reflection was critical to humility. She said, implementing extreme ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team. You’ll find the link to her blog in the lead-in to this podcast. More and more, I have been reinforced that reflection is really the big payoff of engaging in coaching conferences. Early on in my practice, I focused on the term, “consciousness.” Being coached gave me an opportunity to practice consciously teaching strategies that without coaching, generally occurred unconsciously. A coaching pre-conference would cause me to be conscious of choices that I was making while I was teaching. The choices that I explored in the pre-conference were conscious during my execution of teaching.
Steve: 03:38 So it might be something like, the feedback that I gave to students, questions that I used, my observations of students, nonverbals, my movement within the classroom. That consciousness is an important part of adding a new skill to your teaching repertoire or polishing and refining skills that you already have. I began to realize though, as I spent more time as a coach, that the reflection that occurs in a pre-conference frequently improves the teacher’s lesson. Not because of anything that the coach said, but because the teacher reflecting while explaining their thinking to the coach actually identifies areas of the plan that they end up refining, sharpening, and sometimes even dropping or changing as they do that think out loud, reflective practice with the coach. I encourage coaches to use open-ended questions and paraphrases to create the dialogue in that pre-conference setting, encouraging the teacher to take charge and guide the direction of the observation and the coaching.
Steve: 05:02 I like to stress that these questions differ from evaluation pre-conferences, where the evaluators are getting information that they need to do the evaluation. The coach on the other hand, is following the teacher’s thinking so that the coach’s job becomes defined during the pre-conference. As a coach in a pre-conference, I wanna understand what the teacher is thinking about the learning activity that I’m going to observe. I want to hear and see the lesson through the teacher’s eyes and ears, as well as through my own. As a coach, I like to describe it as taking off my agenda before I enter the classroom and putting on the teacher’s agenda. But I know that in my humanness, I’m prevented from doing that. So I have to work really hard at becoming conscious of the teacher’s agenda, what the teacher is thinking both in the design and the execution of the lesson.
Steve: 06:09 Here’s some questions I might use in a pre-conference to initiate that teacher taking charge: How does what you know about your students influence the learning design? As you described this spot in the lesson, how do you imagine your students responding? How much of your teaching behaviors will be planned versus decided or determined as the lesson unfolds? What are the learning production behaviors you need from students to increase their learning success? In other words, what is it that you gotta get students to do that’s gonna generate and cause the learning? And what behaviors on your part as the teacher will you be most conscious of during the lesson? When I experienced being coached in post-conferences, the coaches input either reinforced or enforced or extended my understanding of what I did do and what had happened. I saw the key of coaching being what I call feed-forward, deciding about what I’m going to do next rather than feedback, which is what we usually find in evaluations. As I’ve observed and coached coaches, I’ve uncovered two strategies that I find are helpful at increasing the dialogue in post conferencing.
Steve: 07:50 The first is when the coach uses questions in the post-conference that uncovers the teacher’s observations before the coach shares her observations. Consider a teacher who requested in the pre-conference that she wanted to coach to focus on how the teacher interacted when students were looking for help. In such a setting, I might start the post-conference with a question like this: Talk about some of the conscious decisions regarding helping that you made during the lesson. As the teacher shares her recollections, I can come back and reinforce those that I noted and add others that I had recorded. Another example, I worked with a teacher who was interested in a particular student’s comfort level of being engaged in the lesson. Here, I might start the post conference with a question like, “what did you notice about Caroline’s participation? How would you describe her level of comfort?
Steve: 09:06 How does what you noticed compared with what you expected? How does it compare to what you want?” And again, as the teacher shares her thinking around these questions, I can connect back with specific observations, thoughts, ideas, maybe even suggestions that I have because they fit into the conversation and the dialogue, rather than feeling like a report coming from the coach. Another strategy that I found to be extremely helpful is that during the observation, I look to record some of the actual words that teachers and students used connected to the focus that the teacher had given me to be paying attention to. Consider the teacher who was interested in her distribution of help that she provided to students. Her coach could note each time that the teacher helps students with a check next to a student’s name. With a quick look at the observer’s notes, the teacher could decide her comfort with the equity of her assistance and the amount of feedback that she felt appropriate to be delivering in order to develop the student independence that she wanted.
Steve: 10:31 The conversation though, goes much deeper if the coach adds examples of the teacher’s actual responses next to the student’s name. Imagine that the coach had recorded, “is there another thing you could try? Does the word on the sheet look like the word on your screen? Can you remember where textiles are found? I’m not telling you exactly where, but look in this area, tell me how you might get rid of this line. Can you make a line? Think about how you make a line and consider how you might unmake one.” As the coach shares these comments, the teacher begins talking and reflecting on what the thinking was behind her response is and how that thinking connected to different students. That reflection raises a consciousness that allows the teacher to engage in self assessing current practice. The post-conference now feels more like a collegial conversation than like a report. In her blog, Spalding noted, “although critical reflection plays an important role in teacher education, over time, our busy work lives tend to take over and we can easily forget to step back, look at our practice from a different perspective and identify areas of improvement to better support our pupils’ learning experience.” Let’s commit to increased coaching conversations, conversations that support critical reflection. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 12:25 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love 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.