In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve models a pre-conference with Kelly Stevens (@KellyStevens512) from the professional development staff at the Northern Valley school district.
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Steve: Hello, and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud Podcast. For the last 35 years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. In each of the coming episodes, I’ll explore my thoughts and my learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading. Thanks for listening in. Pre-conferencing, a critical element to effective coaching.
I approach the training of coaches and my own work as a coach using the process of having a preconference an observation and post-conference. The structure existed in most of the training that administrators have received in some form of a clinical supervision model. For me, a large part of what differentiates coaching from a supervisory model is that most frequently my post-conference turns into a pre-conference.
In other words, having a pre-conference with a teacher made an agreement on what to observe, having done the observation now met and then the post-conference provided the teacher with that feedback. That feedback most often leads to a next step. It might be that a question emerged during the post-conference and we’re going back for another observation to collect more information or it could be that an idea emerged for a change and so we’re doing a follow-up observation to identify the impact of the teacher implementing that change in his or her classroom.
For me, the pre-conference is the most critical element in order to have effective coaching and strangely enough, I find that the component that people who are pressed for time most commonly end up skipping. When I’m putting a training program for coachers, I put the greatest amount of training time into training that effective pre-conference because if my pre-conferences are effective the rest of the process flows.
In other words, because I had an effective pre-conference I know exactly what to do and record during my observation. I know exactly the feedback the teacher is looking for when I walk into the post-conference. I build my trust as a coach by delivering in the observation and the post-conference what we had agreed to in the pre-conference. What follows is a model pre-conference, that I recorded with Kelly Stevens from the Northern Valley School District in New Jersey.
Kelly and I recorded this for a coaches training that the district was conducting and at the end of our model a short de-brief takes place with Kelly and some of her colleagues. Okay, Kelly, you and I we’ll model this, all right?
Kelly: All right.
Steve: Kelly, thank you for doing this with me.
Kelly: Thank you.
Steve: Since I’m meeting you for the first time and other people in the audience are, give a quick introduction to Kelly the teacher. Describe a little bit– You answer that question. Who’s Kelly the teacher?
Kelly: I am a third-grade teacher, and I’m someone who’s interested in trying new things to help my students. I also, a little bit of [unintelligible 00:04:49] about that because I’m new and I want to do well in my observations. [chuckles]
Steve: When you say, “Help your students,” can you describe an outcome or two that you aren’t now getting with your students that you want to get?
Kelly: I would like to see overall in lessons increased engagement to make sure that I’m meeting all of their needs. I have some students who are classified and I have some students who are on a much more independent level. I feel like at this point I need some guidance in making sure that I’m meeting all of those needs.
Steve: Take the lesson that you’re going to invite me to see and talk to me about what student engagement would look like and sound like in that particular lesson.
Kelly: It’s going to be a math lesson on writing numbers in different forms, standard form, expanded form, and word form. One of the ideas that I wanted to try that I’ve been playing with is the math workshop model. There would be a mini-lesson and then there would be three stations that the students would cycle through three different activities, one of which would be with me, and then two more independent activities. What I would ideally like to see is in the stations when they’re not with me, that they’re engaged in what they’re doing and they’re working on the goal of writing those numbers in the different forms.
Steve: Is there any student interaction with other students during the independent one?
Kelly: In one of the stations, it is the partner activity, maybe it’s like go-fish matching game. They would have to match the expanded form of the number to the standard form of the number or the word form of the number depending on the cards.
Steve: Talk about what student engagement is there?
Kelly: There would obviously be some talking about math. I would ideally like to hear, in the distance, the words expanded form, word form, and standard form. I would like to hear them using the appropriate ways to say the numbers as well and helping each other if they needed it. If someone wasn’t sure which form it was having the partner there to bounce that off of.
Steve: In that center, how do you see that center fitting with your description of some of your students being more independent in their skill level than others?
Kelly: One of the things I had thought about doing was possibly having several sets of cards so that there might be some more challenging numbers for other students. My concern with that was that if other students see those numbers and that would make them feel badly that they didn’t get that particular deck.
Steve: What are you gonna do about that feeling you’re having?
Kelly: [laughs] That’s a good question. My idea was that I would just hand them the cards. I mean they’re they’re going to be in a similar area but they’re not going to be right next to each other. I have talked with them about how being fair doesn’t mean everybody gets the same activity. It’s everybody getting what they need. I’m hoping that my giving them the cards without them just picking them will alleviate some of that.
Steve: It sounds like you want to run the experiment.
Kelly: Yes, basically. [laughs]
Steve: Does it make sense if my coaching work is to assist you in assessing the experiment?
Kelly: Yes. I think this is a format that I would like to continue trying.
Steve: Since I don’t know your students, I’m wondering if you could get your students to wear a name tag.
Steve: I would focus on that center. I would actually record the students’ names. If two students pair up, I jot down both of their names. Underneath that I’d record the actual language that I heard the students using. If one one ask a question I’d write down the question they asked if one gave up I write down that they gaveup, if one told the other one the answer I record the exact information that I heard.
Kelly: Okay. Yes, I think that would be helpful since I won’t be at that center.
Steve: I’m wondering if the fact that I could do it by name, and when you looked at the data that I collected you’d be able to read a lot more into understanding the data that, and I’m going to understand that not knowing the students.
Kelly: Okay. Yes. I think that would be very helpful.
Steve: Sound doable?
Kelly: It does sound very doable. Thank you.
Steve: Okay, thank you. The piece that I have in mind when I go into that conference is two outcomes. I call one agenda and the other one focus. The agenda says I’m looking to understand what Kelly’s thinking is. She gave that to me rather clearly, what she wants to make happen. What her fears are, her concerns are. As much as possible I want to look at the classroom through her eyes. Then the second element I want is to establish a focus, and focus is what differentiates coaching from evaluation. When the evaluator comes into the classroom, they actually have to avoid getting a focus because if they get a focus that throws off the accuracy of their evaluation if we paying attention everything. When the coach comes into the classroom, they’re going to disregard the majority of what’s going on, and zero in on that on that small focus piece. If you think in this setting there’s a lot of stuff going on in your classroom from the other center to the groups of that your teaching, but all my focus is on recording that information. Questions you have or comments about what you observe there in the pre-conference?
Kelly: I think it was– Just being on the other end of it, I think it was super helpful the questions you asked were very open-ended, and I think that’s something that we’re looking as one of the things was a great model because that’s something that always comes up with our coaches is how do I get my Kochi to talk instead of saying, “Okay what did I do wrong or what?” We get a lot of that. Those questions were very very helpful in allowing us to be able to frame for the coaches that we’re going be training what kinds of questions they can be asking.
Steve: Let me give you a quick help then. If the person says, what did I did wrong, the question back is what would I see that would tell me something was wrong?
Kelly: Okay. I like that.
Steve: I’m not judging it from my criteria that it was wrong. When I turn that question back to you, and you tell me that there were a lot of kids who weren’t paying attention. Now, you’ve defined the problem. Now you’ve told me the student behavior you want to change, and now any suggestion I’m making to you is to help you get that change in students behavior.
Kelly: I’m just going to say with the instructional coaching that I have done, I have never requested named as on student. It’s always the situation where at one point you see them by their destiny you’re trying to guess and then you’re writing little notes about John, a boy with a striped shirt I think his name is Johnny and then writing him. That’s the takeaway that I will be taking with me some sure. Simple, but oh my gosh so much better. Thank you for that.
Steve: You’re welcome. That pre-conference with Kelly took 6 minutes. That’s a very short amount of time to invest in order to maximize the learning results coming from coaching. Folks if you have any questions concerning coaching that you’d like me to explore in a future podcast, please take a moment to drop me a note at berkeleypd.com. Again, thanks for listening.
Thanks for listening folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter at Steve Berkeley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at berkeleypd.com.
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