How do teacher leaders work to build a coaching culture in a school? They should be the most coached teachers in the school.
Steve responds to these questions from teacher leaders:
• If I observe something that the teacher can easily fix, should I point it out?
• What if the teacher asks, “What should I do?”
• What do you do when a teach asks for suggestions and then doesn’t use them?
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Steve: 00:33 Supporting teacher leaders. I frequently work with teachers who serve as heads of departments or team leaders, often grade-level leaders, sometimes referred to as middle-level leaders. Often, my focus with them is on creating a coaching culture among the staff of a school. I just finished working with these teacher leaders in two different international schools and we ended both of my sessions with them by doing a short presentation to the whole staff, introducing the concept of coaching. I proposed to these teacher leaders that they first begin by coaching each other and then requesting that colleagues in their departments or on their teams coach them. Teacher leaders should be among the most coached members of a staff. Here are some questions that arose in recent sessions that I’ve conducted with teacher leaders and I’ll give you my responses as I shared them with them in the session.
Steve: 01:57 As I began having the teacher leaders coach each other, one of the leaders shared that she was invited by another teacher leader from a different department to be a coach. As they got into the pre-conference, she realized she had no understanding of the concept that the teacher was planning her lesson around. When we broke, she said, would it be best for us to start coaching experiences within the department so that we have a rich content understanding? Here’s the response that I shared: While there’s really great value in coaching members of your department and PLC colleagues, I suggest that it’s often best to initiate that first coaching experience outside of our areas of expertise. This can help the new coach avoid slipping into the “how would I teach this?” question. And that way, stay more focused on gathering the observation information that the teacher had requested and staying in a peer coaching role rather than moving into more of a mentoring role where those suggestions would likely flow from the mentor to the teacher more than the teacher working in reflection with the coach and having those ideas emerge.
Steve: 03:44 In both of the recent sessions that I did, introducing coaching to the whole staff, I had the staff sit with their grade-level teams and their departments all during the workshop presentation so that they could examine how they saw what I was talking about with coaching applying. But when it came time to do the first practice, I had all of them pick a teacher from outside their department and do that first pre-conference practice, listening to the teacher they were coaching in order to arrive at a focus for the observation. I find that listening increases when you are not familiar with the content. When you are familiar with the content, you kind of have to fight yourself to keep listening because your perceptions and your own understanding may cause you to rush ahead. In a video titled, “Do I Need to Be an Expert to Be a Coach?,” Nick Bosek presents a visual for understanding the coach’s role.
Steve: 04:49 He describes the client as the person in the driver’s seat of a car and that the coach is in the passenger seat. Coaching too strongly as an expert would be like grabbing the steering wheel, not a very effective approach. The coach may have strategies and information that the client can use, but the client, the teacher you’re coaching, needs to stay in control of the steering wheel. Another teacher leader asked, if I observe something that the teacher can easily fix, should I point it out? Here’s how I responded. Middle-level leaders often have some responsibility to provide mentoring support, which as I described earlier, differs from peer coaching. The key is to generate trust by staying in the role that was established in the pre-conference. If you completed a pre-conference around an agreed upon coaching focus, keep the focus.
Steve: 06:06 Sometimes because of an unpredictable occurrence during the lesson, the teacher may stray from the focus to another issue during the post-conference. I think a coach can comfortably follow the teacher. The key to peer coaching is that the teacher is driving the focus. As a general guideline, if you’re questioning yourself about raising an issue, don’t. Avoid using an observation from a coaching visit to address an issue that would better fall in your mentoring role. If there’s a concern or a problem, it will most likely arise again and you can deal with it in that different mentor-coordinator role. Another teacher leader posed this question: What if you’re in a coaching session and the teacher ask, what would you do? My response is, proceed with caution. Anytime that I’m responding to a request for a suggestion, I look to find out what the teacher is thinking. Knowing that helps me decide the appropriateness of my suggestion.
Steve: 07:33 If possible, I prefer to observe in a classroom and better understand what the teacher is dealing with before discussing options. So a teacher raising a concern or a question to me leads me to look at turning it into a pre-conference for an observation. Making suggestions without observations, I’ve compared to trying to coach a baseball player over the phone. The player tells you that they keep striking out and you’re trying to make suggestions without seeing them swing the bat. Teaching and learning are complex. At least as complex as baseball. Offering suggestions too quickly dismisses an understanding of that complexity. When coaching, I’m most comfortable when an idea for changing a practice or implementing a strategy emerges from the conversation that the coach and the teacher are engaged in. For me, that creates a partnership and the teacher owning the new strategy, even if it’s a strategy that came from the coach, it’s our partnership that’s implementing this strategy, not merely the teacher using the coach’s strategy.
Steve: 09:07 If it works, the coach gets the credit. If it doesn’t work, the coach gets the credit. I want to build that sense of partnership with the teacher owning the idea that we’re going to implement. Another question from a teacher leader really reinforced this dilemma that occurs around making and giving suggestions. She asks this: What do you do when a teacher asks you for a suggestion about a problem that they’re having and then they don’t try your suggestion? Another great reminder to go slow when it comes to making suggestions. Look to find out what’s behind the teacher’s request. Why are they asking for a strategy or a suggestion? Sometimes, I think the teacher doesn’t believe that a solution is possible and they’re asking for suggestions so that they can decide those suggestions won’t work, and thus they can continue with the status quo. My approach is to look for a commitment from the teacher to achieve a different outcome prior to offering a suggestion.
Steve: 10:37 Here’s an example – a teacher states to the coach: I know that the reading aloud strategy is an important component of our reading workshop time, but I’m not using it very often because the students don’t listen during the reading. They fidget and are seldom able to respond to questions that I ask. Here are some of the questions I’d likely pose to this teacher in order to understand and to lead the conversation around to possible suggestions: What benefits do you believe reading aloud offers? Which of these benefits are most important to your students? The teacher’s response there is going to give me a key to knowing if she recognizes the value that the read aloud offers and that she can connect those benefits with her students. If she can’t, that’s an understanding we’d wanna work on before we ever got to practicing how to implement the strategy.
Steve: 11:56 I might also ask this teacher, are these benefits important to all of your students or more important to some? What I’m listening for, and I might even ask, is how much time does the teacher want to invest in making the read aloud portion of the lesson effective and why? What’s her thinking? A general guideline that I share frequently is I keep in my mind, that I look to avoid sharing my thinking with the teacher until I know the teacher’s thinking. It doesn’t mean that if I disagree, I won’t be sharing that, but it means if I share information that differs from what the teacher’s thinking, I’ll know prior to sharing it that the teacher is processing from a from a different standpoint and I’ll need to build that into my planning to work with that teacher. As I stated earlier, my coaching goal is to create a partnership with the teacher. A partnership focused on gaining student success. And usually that’s going to connect to gaining student behaviors that are going to generate that success, and that’s the point that will identify possible changes in teacher behaviors to get those desired student behaviors. I’d be happy to respond to thoughts or questions you have on this issue. Feel free to connect with me at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 13:42 Thank you 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.