I am currently engaged with several school middle-level leader teams who have been studying and practicing peer coaching skills with each other as they consider the value of, and process for, introducing peer coaching to their colleagues. There is a tendency for teaching staffs to predict that the reason these teacher leaders (grade level leaders and heads of departments) are in the workshops with me is to become coaches for them. Rather, the plans are for these leaders to become “coaches of coaching.” Leaders who will promote teachers coaching teachers as a culture within the school. Initially, these leaders will move from coaching each other to requesting staff members to coach them; modeling how one can use a coach.
As we discuss ways of explaining to staff ‘what coaching is,’ I frequently use the phrase, coaching is a tool. Rather than a program, I envision coaching as a tool or process that we use when reflection with a colleague would be valuable. I have increasingly seen my coaching role as a supporter of reflection. Reflection generates learning, individually and collectively.
“Like a muscle, your mind needs reflection to reenergize and grow stronger.”
(Bailey and Rehman)
My thinking was reinforced as I read an article in Harvard Business Review titled, Don’t Underestimate the Power of Self Reflection.
Authors Bailey and Rehman state:
“Research shows the habit of reflection can separate extraordinary professionals from mediocre ones. We would go so far as to argue that it’s the foundation that all other soft skills grow from.
The practice itself is all about learning, looking back on the day (without bias or regret) to contemplate your behavior and its consequences. It requires sitting with yourself, taking an honest moment to think about what transpired, what worked, what didn’t, what can be done, and what can’t. Reflection requires courage. It’s thoughtful and deliberate. Being at the “top of your game” only comes when you extract from your past how to engage the future.”
While their focus is on self-reflection, I found their suggestions provided some guidance for coaches supporting teachers’ reflection. When they analyzed what executives reflected upon that had the greatest impact on their professional development, three themes emerged: surprise, frustration, failure.
- Surprise occurs when we act with a hypothesis that is based upon what has happened in the past. What we expected to happen that didn’t or what happened wasn’t expected.
- Failure describes times when we made a mistake, messed up. This is an opportunity to learn from a negative example. “I don’t want to repeat that.”
- Frustration occurs when our goals seem thwarted; when we are unable to make progress toward a desired outcome.
“Reflective thinking turns experience into insight.”
– John C. Maxwell
When using a coaching cycle of pre-conference, observation, and post-conference, I use questions that set the stage for teacher reflection.
In a pre-conference, I might ask these questions that support the teacher’s reflection leading to a focus for the observation.
- What are the most important things you need to get students to do during this learning activity? (Learner production behaviors)
- How do things you know about your students influence your plan?
- What are key teacher actions that you’ll plan on using?
- What are some decisions you foresee making during the learning activity?
- If I was observing like a video camera, what would you want me to zoom in on to capture information for you to explore?
Surprise, failure, or frustration may emerge when the post-conference reflects on the pre-conference and the observation information that was collected.
- When was the learning experience closest to what you envisioned as you planned the activity? When did it differ? Were there surprises? (A teacher might share that the students reached understanding more quickly than expected or that they were missing precious knowledge that the teacher thought they had). A teacher might describe a failure: that didn’t work at all.
- What were you thinking as ___________________________? (Plug in any element in the lesson i.e. the paired discussions occurred, students showed surprise in the experiment, students worked independently)
- What are you wondering about the information you had me collect?
- What did you learn during this activity?
- What are you thinking about what’s next?
Reflecting on frustration can be helpful when looking at goals for a professional growth plan or a PLC growth plan. Bailey and Rehman noted:
“Moments when our leaders felt frustration became growth opportunities upon reflection. That is, opportunities for improvement, change, innovation, and even to develop other soft skills like communication, problem-solving, and patience.”
- Where are you frustrated with the current results in student learning?
- Are there students for whom you are working too hard? (The outcome in learning is insufficient for your efforts investment)
- Do you wish you and your students could invest learning time in additional outcomes you believe might be more important?
Consider reflection on surprises, failures, and frustrations for yourself and for your coaching.