Podcast: Where Are They? How Did They Get There? Where Do They Want to Go? - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Where Are They? How Did They Get There? Where Do They Want to Go?

Where Are They? How Did They Get There? Where Do They Want to Go?

These three questions can guide your coaching pre and post conferences. They help you understand what the teacher is thinking, what experiences have influenced the teacher’s current thinking, and where the teacher would like to be in the future. Possible questions for a post conference and a sample pre-conference with a teacher are included. 

View the Questions for Learning here.

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Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:00.890] – Steve [Intro]

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.

[00:00:32.560] – Steve

Where are they? How did they get there? Where do they want to go? These are three questions that I have in mind when I’m listening and questioning for teacher reflection during a coaching conference. Where are they? Coaching means working from where people currently are. I’m trying to uncover that. What are they thinking now? Which leads to the second question, how did they get there? The more I can understand the experiences that teachers have had, the easier it is for me to connect and to illustrate my understanding. Knowing where they want to go allows me to communicate my role as a coach rather than as a supervisor or an evaluator. As a coach, I’m working with the teacher to get to the point that the teacher is driving toward. I use a questioning protocol called questions for learning. It has me focus my questions in three different areas – questions for gathering information, questions for working with information that I’ve gathered, and questions for taking action. I’ve placed a link to questions for learning in this podcast lead in. One of the guiding tenets that I work from in my coaching is that I want to understand the teacher’s thinking before I share my thinking.

[00:02:22.420] – Steve

Here are some questions that I might use in a post observation conference where the teacher has requested a focus on engagement and perseverance. Listen for how the questions would help me gather the teacher’s thinking: As you planned this learning activity, how did you picture students responding initially to the task? How similar was that picture to the student’s actual response? Which students would you say persevered less than the majority of the class? What generalization would you make about student perseverance? Here’s a question I tend to avoid in my post conference, at least anywhere early in the post conference, and the question is, how do you think that went? This question requires an appraisal or likely even an evaluation from the teacher who has really had insufficient time to process the event. In addition, should the teacher give me a response, I don’t know what observations and generalizations led the teacher to her conclusion. Here’s an approach I might take: As an example, suppose a teacher asked me as coach to observe her use of pause time and her probing questions in a learning activity that she was facilitating. I might approach that post conference with these questions: Were there times during the activity when you were especially aware of your pause times?

[00:04:23.960] – Steve

What did you notice during that time about yourself and about your students? Were there times that you were particularly conscious of the probing questions you used? What did you notice then? Here are some questions that you used following a student’s response. Here are questions that you gave to an individual student about his or her response. Here are questions that you gave to the whole class. As you look at those questions that you used, what do you notice? What do you think or wonder? In the post conference, I’m looking to use my observations to reinforce a teacher’s observation and at times, add observations of which the teacher was unaware. It’s important, at this point, that the observations I’m sharing are things that I heard or saw, not conclusions that I reached. For an example, I might say to the teacher, when you probed Ryan’s answer with the question, “how would water temperature impact the reaction?,” he remained silent. Many students raised a hand. I’d stop and pause at that moment and wait for the teacher’s response which would lead where we would go from there. As the post conference continues with a sense of what the teacher thought when planning and is thinking now about what occurred, I begin looking to facilitate a future focus.

[00:06:18.960] – Steve

I approach coaching observations and conferences to be more focused on where we go from here as compared to evaluations which tend to be more focused on what did happen. A question like this may open that discussion: Was there a place in the lesson that you wish was recorded because you’d like to look at it and explore deeper or explore a different approach or strategy? Or, I might share an observation: I noted as the lesson continued, your pauses following questions were shorter. I’d put a pause there for the teacher to respond. I might continue: Was that conscious? With another pause. Do you think it may have been in response to something you were observing? With another long pause. These questions and observations may lead a teacher to shaping a next step. It might be repeating a similar observation with a different class or a different type of activity. Perhaps the teacher wants to repeat the coaching observation with a focus on a few students who might need a different probing or scaffolding as a teacher action. Perhaps an observation around the teacher using that different approach. What follows is a sample of similar questions being used in a pre conference setting.

[00:08:07.520] – Steve

I’m sharing the latter part of that conference after the sort of warm up stages and getting to know the teacher more. This picks up as I’m beginning to focus on the actual lesson that the teacher is inviting me to observe.

[00:08:28.040] – Steve

How would you describe your teaching style.

[00:08:31.480] – Teacher

Flexible and I try not to be that viewer of information. I try to be more the facilitator, the guide.

[00:08:43.740] – Steve

If I was observing and I’d see something that I would label as you being facilitative or working as a facilitator, can you tell me something I might see that you put under that category?

[00:08:55.690] – Teacher

I would be asking students questions like, currently we’re in a unit where we’re reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and in the social studies classroom, they’re talking about the nazi invasion to Germany and ultimately, we’re going to write this compare and contrast paper. So they’re having to do a lot of video watching, a lot of research finding out what is really fiction in the novel versus what really happened. And so I would question those kids on, why are you looking at a certain site? Or where would that information come from? Or how do you plan on using that information? Getting them to think instead of me telling them.

[00:09:43.760] – Steve

You’d be questioning their thinking?

[00:09:45.680] – Teacher


[00:09:46.390] – Steve

Getting them to question their thinking.

[00:09:47.940] – Teacher


[00:09:48.630] – Steve

Okay, so tell me a little bit about the learning activity that you’d be inviting me to see.

[00:09:54.900] – Teacher

We would be watching a video of an interview from an actual person who has survived the concentration camp, and we would then go into a discussion as to Bruno’s experience with the concentration camp, Schmule’s experience, and then this actual person.

[00:10:22.860] – Steve

So is one of them a person from the story?

[00:10:27.360] – Teacher


[00:10:28.020] – Steve

So two different people in the story and then the person in the interview?

[00:10:33.180] – Teacher


[00:10:33.780] – Teacher


[00:10:35.040] – Steve

So during the time that I’m observing, what would you say is the most important thing or among the most important things that you need to be getting the kids to do?

[00:10:46.100] – Teacher

To see how history is altered for fictional purposes.

[00:10:56.590] – Steve

Okay. So I think you’re describing an outcome for me.

[00:11:00.670] – Teacher


[00:11:01.260] – Steve

Is it an insight you want them to have?

[00:11:03.740] – Teacher


[00:11:04.250] – Steve

okay, so what do they have to do that’s going to cause them to get that as your outcome?

[00:11:11.900] – Teacher

Well, they’re going to have to review more sources than just what we have here.

[00:11:20.480] – Steve

So as they’re reviewing the sources, think about this. If you could walk around and put your finger on their head from time to time and hear what’s going on inside, what do you need going on inside?

[00:11:33.220] – Teacher

I’m going to need them to think about the information that they’re getting, the information that they’re getting in the social studies classroom about the actual event, and then sort that through as they’re reading the fictional account and separating it from the actual survivors account.

[00:11:59.580] – Steve

I want to try word “analysis.” Am I right?

[00:12:04.800] – Teacher


[00:12:05.230] – Steve

That word fit?

[00:12:06.300] – Teacher


[00:12:08.150] – Steve

Analysis, compare, contrast and find patterns.

[00:12:12.550] – Teacher


[00:12:13.530] – Steve

And what do you think is the most important thing for you to do that’s likely to cause that to be happening?

[00:12:22.580] – Teacher

I have to ensure that they have valid and reliable sources to gather their information, and I need to make sure that when there are clear misconceptions, that those are clarified quickly.

[00:12:43.960] – Steve

So you have to uncover the misconceptions.

[00:12:48.940] – Steve

How will you do that?

[00:12:51.260] – Teacher


[00:12:52.500] – Steve

Okay, so how important is student talk during this activity?

[00:12:58.330] – Teacher


[00:12:59.680] – Steve

Okay, so the analysis and the contrast and looking for patterns, that’s likely to be occurring in student conversation?

[00:13:09.660] – Teacher


[00:13:10.660] – Steve

And conversation that you’d be engaged in with them then, or just listening misconceptions?

[00:13:18.170] – Teacher


[00:13:19.220] – Teacher

Hopefully them starting off having those conversations and observing but if need be, to help make sure that the misconceptions aren’t compounded.

[00:13:32.800] – Steve

So you might be asking some particular questions to help you tell whether the patterns they’re identifying are accurate or whether there is a misconception there.

[00:13:44.190] – Teacher


[00:13:45.340] – Steve

So considering that I can be watching everything that’s happening, almost like a video camera, I want to give you a control of a focus lens. What would you like me to zoom in on and watch during this time so that I could give you some feedback that might be most valuable to you?

[00:14:05.780] – Teacher

I would like to see if students are engaged.

[00:14:12.760] – Steve

You want to define what engaged would be?

[00:14:15.370] – Teacher


[00:14:15.980] – Teacher

So are they developing questions that need to be looked at more deeply? Are they identifying accurate information? And are they sharing information, whether it be in their small groups or as a whole group, directly related to either the time period or historical accounting of this event?

[00:14:48.640] – Steve

So I’ve written down these things. By the way, if I were there, you’d be sitting next to me you could read what I’m writing down. So I want to put that back out to you now.

[00:14:58.120] – Steve

So if I could come back to you with questions that I heard kids raise, if I could come back to you with conclusions I heard kids offer, if I could come back to you. You use the term sharing, and as I listened to you, I turned it into they might be sharing information that supports what a colleague says. They might be sharing information that challenges what a colleague says.

[00:15:24.140] – Teacher


[00:15:25.050] – Teacher


[00:15:25.930] – Steve

If I could come back to you with that information, would that give you a starting spot to work from?

[00:15:32.380] – Teacher


[00:15:33.290] – Steve

So are the kids working most of the time in smaller groups or whole groups?

[00:15:39.860] – Teacher

Most of the time, smaller groups.

[00:15:42.290] – Steve

Okay. So I’m thinking what I should do is go where you aren’t.

[00:15:47.380] – Steve

So that I will hear students’ questions, conclusions, and sharing that you aren’t hearing. And that way when we meet, we could put what I heard against what you heard and look for patterns within that.

[00:16:03.030] – Teacher

Sounds perfect.

[00:16:04.520] – Steve

I’m looking forward to it.

[00:16:06.070] – Teacher

Me too.

[00:16:08.140] – Steve

I want to give a thank you to educator Chris Potterbaum for recording that pre conference with me. Consider how the post conference could extend this conversation that Chris and I had into a future preconference. My hope would be that my observations, along with the teacher’s observations and her reflection, would lead to continued planning. Planning around where the teacher wants to go. Uncovering the teacher’s thinking. Where are they now, how did they get there and where do they want to go can guide your coaching, planning, and conferencing. Good luck. Thanks for listening.

[00:17:10.080] – Steve [Outro]

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 at Steve Barkley. Or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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