The complexity of teaching and learning provides for great educator learning and satisfaction. Coaches assist educators in the conversations, reflection and conscious practice that are key to continuous teacher learning leading to increased student progress. Coach and teacher need to let go of having the right answer and focus on creating and discovering how to impact maximum success.
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[00:00:01.450] – Steve [Intro]
Welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. As instructional coaches and school leaders, you have a challenge to guide continuous teacher growth that promotes student success. This podcast looks to support you with strategies from our experienced guests and insights that I’ve gathered across many years. I’m thrilled you’re here. Thanks for listening.
[00:00:28.690] – Steve
Value and enjoying coaching within the complexity of teaching. I recently participated in Jim Knight’s TLC conference as a presenter, participant and learner, and that participation reinforced my appreciation for the complexity of teaching and learning, as well as the complexity of coaching educators who are working in that environment. At times, I express that complexity with the statement that “there is no mountaintop to teaching.” It’s a profession where we don’t have to worry about reaching mastery prior to retirement. As you think of it as no mountaintop, you begin climbing, thinking you see the peak, but as you come up out of the clouds, you find that the mountain extends further. So if I take everything I know about teaching and learning and I put it inside of a balloon, then the outside of that balloon represents the areas for further study. That is a complex field to be working in. The example that I shared with participants at the conference was that coming to a conference and learning, probably more important than what one is learning within the conference is what that learning drives one to learn as they return to their worksite and look to implement that learning back into their schools and classrooms.
[00:02:24.390] – Steve
So instructional coaches have the opportunity to assist teachers in that continuous reflection of how new learning, new understanding pushes the teacher’s next element of learning. And the coach’s engagement in that conversation with the teacher now pushes the coach onto that next engagement. It was interesting – a couple of times, ne of the conversations that arose as I met with instructional coaches during this recent conference was the idea that at some point, coaches work themselves out of a job. And I quickly add that only if the coach isn’t busy learning something new, that they can now introduce back to the clients that they’re working with within the school. Another way that I sometimes present this complexity of the teaching and learning process is in describing teaching as a profession rather than as a trade. And as I look at defining those terms, to me, if I work in a trade, I should learn the right way to do something. I may get taught and coached to do it the right way, and then my responsibility is to execute what I learned the correct way. I compare that to when I’m working in a profession. I’m working in a field where I study a lot and learn a lot, and then I conduct experiments with my clients.
[00:04:15.970] – Steve
So doctors experiment with patients and attorneys experiment with your case and teachers experiment with learners. As a teacher, I take what I know about my learners, what I know about my content and the desired learning outcomes, what I know about best teaching practices, and I design an experiment that I then implement to see if the actions I’m taking as a teacher generate the needed student actions that produce the desired student learning outcomes. So my coach and my colleagues can assist me, support me in that reflection process that leads to the design of what it is I’m going to implement with the learners. And then, an observing coach, an observing colleague, can assist in gathering what’s happening in my classroom, what’s happening with the learners, and providing that feedback to me to assist me in processing the impact of the choices that I made and the other choices that I might consider or the modifications that I might want to implement. That experimental element of teaching is reinforced in this following statement from John Hattie that he made in a podcast with Jim Knight. Hattie describes the results of the meta analysis research that he’s done as defining probability for the teacher rather than providing the right answer.
[00:06:08.150] – Steve
Here’s John Hattie discussing that element with Jim.
[00:06:13.510] – John Hattie
That’s why mantra analysis gives you probabilities. If you do these things, there’s a higher or lower probability you’ll get an impact. But the true hard reality is what happens when you implement it. Which is why I switched my mantra to, “know thy impact.” I want you to know your impact. I want you to choose high probability interventions. I also want you to look at some of the low ones. Like take teacher subject matter knowledge. Because it has an average effect of about, around about 0.1 does not mean you ignore it. It means you deeply understand why it’s so low so that you can improve it. And so, yes, one of the problems of using effect sizes is they look seductive, but they’re not. They’re just aides to help you know where to hunt, where to pack, where to go deeper, and where to put your time and energy.
[00:07:08.870] – Jim Knight
Yeah, I’ve got a couple of things I wanted to mention, but the first one is people love simple solutions and people are tribal. And so if they don’t like your simple solution, they’re going to divide up into camps and not actually have a dialog or a discussion about what’s really happening. So they’re like, if you give me a simple solution, okay, effect size, I’m going to do the top seven on the list. That’s what I’m going to do. You’re giving me a simple solution. People like simple solutions sometimes so much that they’ll embrace them even if they’re not working, because they just like the idea of that kind of false clarity. The thing about our approach to coaching, which I’ll mention, is, I think “know thy impact” is a great phrase because we begin with the change in the students. We say what needs to be done, what needs to work for the students. And then a coach, if the coach has had sufficient preparation will say, oh, I got a repertoire of possible things we could try. Which one makes the most sense to you? Let’s pick that, let’s implement it really well and let’s see if it works.
[00:08:04.590] – Jim Knight
If it doesn’t work, we’ll make adjustments until it works. So we talk about local validity. Is it really helping you work? And the reality is probably what works in one classroom with one teacher, with one group of students might need to look a little different in a different classroom. So it’s an adaptive challenge, not a technical challenge. It’s not the same thing everywhere. It has to work out. And you know, when we talk about evaluating coaching within a system, you evaluate it by saying what goals were set and what goals were hit and how do we measure those goals? That’s the bottom line. Are the kids different as a result?
[00:08:37.830] – Steve
This complexity of teaching and learning is why a coaching focus needs to be driven by student outcomes. When a coach understands the teacher’s definition of student success, what that goal is that the teacher wants to achieve, then the coach can explore with the teacher what students would need to do or experience in order to gain that outcome. And then, what teacher actions might generate those necessary student learning production behaviors. That’s the time to be exploring the best practice probability as the teacher experiments with those best practices, a coach can be the observer of the teacher’s execution of the practice as well as the impact of the practice on student learning production behaviors and eventually on the student learning outcomes. A lot of my coaching satisfaction is triggered by curiosity. Curiosity in the teaching learning process. I just get excited about the implementation of a teacher’s plan and then the discoveries of what the impacts of the teacher’s choices are. Years back, I read an article about Larry King, the TV interviewer, that really shed some light for me on the power of curiosity. In this article, they were asking other interviewers why Larry King was so successful.
[00:10:33.370] – Steve
And the other interviewers suggested that he went into the interviews without a plan for trapping or getting specific information from the person he was interviewing. And because of that process, people ended up sharing things with Larry King in their public interview that they had no intention of sharing as they went into the conversation with him. They then went on to ask Larry King why he was successful and his response was, curiosity. He said, curiosity didn’t kill this cat, it made him wealthy. He went on to explain that he just had a natural curiosity in finding out and learning about the people that he was interviewing. Boy, I just see so many connections of that to the role of a coach sitting down with a teacher. The coach not going in with a plan that ties in or forces the teacher into some specific direction, but instead, as I describe it follows the teacher. It’s when I am asked by people who are going to volunteer to model a coaching conference with me if I can send them the questions in advance and I have to share with them that I can’t because I don’t know what the second question is going to be until I hear the answer to the first question, because I will be following the direction that they laid out.
[00:12:12.380] – Steve
I believe that my natural curiosity in exploring the teaching learning process and the teacher’s thinking and the teacher’s planning leads the teacher to be excited about my observation being part of assisting the teacher in the experiment of teaching and learning that the teacher is executing. A key to capitalizing on curiosity is the ability to let go of the need to have the right answer or to have the solution for the issue that the teacher is exploring. When you can let go of that need, the coach plays a much stronger listener and allows their curiosity to drive and engage the teacher into the reflection that leads to really true new learning for the teacher. I’ll close this podcast out with words from Joellen Killion that she shared in a podcast with Jim Knight about the need for coaches to let go of being right. You’ll find the link to the podcast with John Hattie and Joellen Killion in the lead-in to this podcast. Here’s Joellen describing the power of letting go of the need to be right.
[00:13:49.290] – Joellen Killion
Give up being right. Just give up being right. There are multiple right answers in education, multiple needs that students have, multiple ways that we teach and we learn and there isn’t a right way. And when we can begin to construct what works in this moment, with this set of conditions, with these students, with this curriculum, the complexity of this lesson, that’s when we can really be successful as coaches.
[00:14:30.530] – Steve [Outro]
Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn at Steve Barkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and email@example.com.