Instructional coaches, along with school administrative and teacher leaders, can positively impact student success by building a culture of coaching among school staff. Listen in as Steve presents a message to teachers on why they would find value in entering into coaching and collegial conversations with instructional coaches and with each other.
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Announcer : 00:00 Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud is sponsored by the AAIE Institute for International School Leadership. Preparing educators for the unique challenge of international school leadership through online courses led by international school leaders. Learn more at aaieinstitute.org.
Steve [Intro]: 00:18 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:46 Why create a culture of coaching. I’m currently supporting a school district that’s beginning a focus on coaching with the addition of three achievement coach positions in their pre-K through grade five schools across the district. As I facilitated early conversations among the three coaches and the administrative teams from the schools, I stressed that the coaches see themselves as coaches of coaching. In other words, the real goal is creating a culture of coaching among staff members. What follows is a tape of my initial presentation to all of the elementary staffs across the district.
Steve: 01:41 I want to kick this off with why would a school, why would a district want to create a a culture of coaching? And I approach it through these two components. The first one being that in teaching, I describe there is no mountain top to teaching.
Steve: 02:03 So when you come in to work in education, you can be very, very comfortable that you don’t have to worry about mastering your career prior to retirement. Every time you learn a new set of skills, it just sets the stage for you to go higher and deeper in your learning. And many systems provide insufficient opportunities for the people who are high performing professionals to continue to constantly advance their careers. And coaching is one of the strongest elements to do that. I, you know, I’m at the stage where I could be retiring and one of the things holding me back from retiring is I think there’s too many things that I haven’t learned yet and I want to stick around around.
Steve: 03:10 And I have to say the whole thing with the pandemic and the quarantine and the changes that went into education, I think the next the next three to five years are going to be exploding with what we as educators can learn. And most of that’s going to be through our reflection on what it is that we’re discovering what it is we’re finding out. And so coaching plays a critical role in that. The picture that I like to establish is, if you think that a a balloon represents since everything you know about teaching and learning, every time you learn something new and you push it inside, balloon, the outside of the balloon represents the areas for further study. So each new learning going into my balloon just opens up a whole new area area for me to be exploring. If you go off to a conference and you and you learn something at that conference, actually less important – the actual learning you did at the conference os less important than the learning you’re going to do when you take that new learning and expand it out into your practices.
Steve: 04:22 The other reason that I focus on creating a culture of coaching is my strong belief that teaching needs to occur in a learning community. So I describe number one, that teaching is a team sport. Now, I kind of got vaccinated into the teaching career on that concept of team. I did my student teaching as a college senior in an experimental program where I was in a fourth grade classroom from September till June. So I got a whole year of student teaching. In that fourth grade classroom, was a master teacher from the university, two student teachers, a graduate intern and visiting professors and 18 fourth graders. And so, I was observed and got coaching feedback every day for 180 days in a row. So each time I taught a lesson, did an activity with kids, when it was over, I left the room with a cup of coffee, sat down with somebody and debriefed what occurred.
Steve: 05:40 And then I spent the rest of the day watching other people teach and having similar conversations with them. Then I got hired for my first job in Sussex County, it was in Hampton township. And at that time we had an open concept school. So I was teaching a fifth and sixth grade combination. So I had kids for two years. They’d spend fifth grade with me and they’d stay for sixth grade. I’d pick up a new group of kids coming in. But I was teaching on a team with three other teachers, and we had one giant, large open area. So we had a hundred kids in this giant room with the four teachers, two paraprofessionals, and usually two interns from the same university program I had just graduated from. I was so excited about my undergraduate program, that when my district hired me, I convinced the university to have my school become a professional development center for
the for the university.
Steve: 06:44 So what that meant was, at least informally, there was always someone seeing and observing what was happening in my teaching. So if I was having a great day, I’d look around the room and spot somebody’s eyes and give a thumbs up, you know, look at this and they’d give me a thumbs up back. And if it was a day that wasn’t going quite so well, I could look around the room, kind of question and wonder and they frequently gave me the same look back, you know? But it meant at the end of the day, there was somebody who had observed what happened and you could sit down and problem solve in that group together. After five years of teaching that fifth and sixth grade combination, on a dare, I transferred to teach first grade.
Steve: 07:35 And so I team taught first grade with Diane and I share with people I only survived my first year of teaching first grade because Diane was a experienced primary teacher and Diane coached and mentored me through all the things I had to learn. So Diane and I had a double classroom anywhere from 35 to 50 kids depending on the year. And it was Diane myself, a paraprofessional and usually one or two interns from the same university program. And then Diane and I were also part of a K, 1-2 team. So once a week, Diane and I were meeting with six other teachers and as a group, that group of eight was responsible for the planning and the design of what happened with K, 1-2 learners. So you were always going into the classroom and observing kids that you taught last year, and people were coming into your class seeing kids that they taught last year and being part of a problem solving ongoing conversation.
Steve: 08:36 Now, if you believe that teaching is a team sport, so I mean, you can see how I couldn’t imagine because of the way I started teaching approaching it differently. But I think things may have changed over the last 40 years. I think there may have been a time where you could be a great lone ranger teacher. You know, at the secondary level, you could go in and teach your four block periods of biology and as long as kids got good biology scores everything was fine. But today, if you’re a high school biology teacher, you’re being held accountable for kids’ writing skills. And as a writing teacher, you’re being held accountable for the kids’ ability to read a biology textbook. At the elementary grade level, I’ve got a reading specialist and who’s working with students.
Steve: 09:28 I have a speech pathologist working with students. I have the teacher working with students and they really need to be a team. I don’t think the standards that we’re being asked to achieve with kids today can be accomplished in a isolated, lone ranger teaching role. So if you’re going to teach on in teams that requires then building a high level of trust among us as staff. And that’s what pushed me to my second element there that said teaching is a public act. Now by public act, what I mean is, among the teachers in that school. And the reason is, I can’t figure out how I can develop a high degree of trust in staff members if I don’t ever see them working with kids, if I don’t ever observe the student work that that’s being produced there. I think that that publicness of our work with each other is critical to building the trust that’s necessary for us to be to be effective teams.
Steve: 10:42 So I work in a lot of schools where teachers are in PLCs, but they never go into each other’s classrooms. Well, it’s difficult in a PLC to take shared accountability for student learning and develop the trust that’s necessary if we don’t have that opportunity to take that next level of working with each other. So after 10 years of having the the teaching experiences that I did is when I first began to work then in professional development and I began to travel to other schools and that was the first time that I realized how different my teaching experience and background had been from a lot of other teachers. As I first got out there and I met teachers who told me that in the last five years, they hadn’t been in another teacher’s classroom and observed learning or they hadn’t had anybody in their classroom observing learning.
Steve: 11:41 So that’s what pushed me almost 35 years ago to start promoting the concept of peer coaching and teachers being coaches to each other. We’ve always known that individual teacher efficacy was critical. In other words, the teacher had to have a belief that I can make a difference for each and every one of my students. The newer piece for us to really sink into here is the findings on collective teacher efficacy. And John Hattie, who does the mega studies of studies, has identified that high collective teacher efficacy is the greatest indicator for a school to have a impact on student achievement. So when teachers in the school, not only believe in their individual capabilities of changing the lives of kids, but they believe in that collective component part. And as soon as I read that research on collective efficacy, it just reinforced for me so much more the need to be able to create those opportunities where teachers got the chance to see each other work and to raise our respect and our appreciation for what each other are doing and knowing that there’s people there in the building that we can count on to support us anytime that we aren’t reaching the goals that we would like to be reaching.
Steve: 13:31 I hope you found some elements in my presentation that you can use to support your work in creating a coaching culture within your school. Remember that your modeling of being coached is another important element. Thanks for spreading the coaching message.
Steve [Outro]: 13:55 Thanks again 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.