The Complexity of Modeling - Steve Barkley

The Complexity of Modeling

Many coaches and mentors spend a good deal of their time providing modeling of instructional strategies and practices for teachers. We know from the work of Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers that teachers “seeing a model of a practice” is critical in their learning and creating a change in practice.

• What new teachers want in their induction programs is “experienced colleagues who will take their daily dilemmas seriously, watch them teach and provide feedback, help them teach and provide feedback, help them develop instructional strategies, model skilled teaching, and share insights about students’ work” (Johnson & Kardos 2002).


• Following peer coaching, teachers report substantial increase in the use of skills and strategies to support instructional change (Bowman & McCormick 2000; Doughtery 1993; Kohler, Crilley, Shearer, & Good 1997; Wineburg 1995).

• Joyce and Showers (1990) reported that 80 percent of the teachers who had received coaching implemented new strategies versus only 10 percent of the teachers who received instruction without follow up coaching.


(From Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching)

During a recent coaching workshop I conducted a pre-conference with a technology coach who would be coached on a model lesson she was providing for a teacher. Early into the conference the complexity of the coach’s work emerged.

She was planning to model a lesson using an Active Board with students. She would work with a prepared, packaged program as she wanted to make it as easy as possible for the teacher to experiment with the approach following her modeling.

I asked her what student behaviors were most crucial for learning and she described active engagement. When I asked for specifics she said discussing in small groups, sharing with whole class, working with and manipulating the interactive board.

I then asked what behaviors were most important for the observing teacher in order for the modeling to be valuable. She said she wanted the teacher to note how easy it was to find items and manipulate the board. I suggested that “noting” was really an outcome. So what behaviors would cause that outcome? She said that the teacher needed to see (find) the items on the screen before the coach clicked on them….so watching carefully, looking for the item before the coach landed on it.

Now I asked the coach what behaviors would be most important for her to execute during the lesson. She decided that the behaviors needed to lead the lesson with the students would occur unconsciously because she was experienced and comfortable with the activity. Her conscious behaviors would be watching the observing teacher and timing her own movements to provide the necessary time for the teacher to “note” the important pieces of information. She also decided that she would need to ask the teacher questions during the activity in order to assess if she was “seeing” the necessary things.

The coach assigned me to record the interactions that occurred between herself and the teacher and to look for signs that the teacher was “getting it”. She wanted to look at her words for clarity and conciseness.

I was so glad that the participants in the training had the chance to observe this conference as it illustrated the complexity of modeling for teachers. Modeling is much more than teaching students and having the teacher observe the coach. Unless the teacher and coach are prepared for their roles during the modeling, much of the learning opportunities can be missed.

Here are some things to consider:


What is most important for the teacher to consciously identify?

When should the teacher be focused on what the coaching is doing? When should she be focused on what the students are doing?

What thinking/deciding went into the coach’s planning for the activity?

What is the coach thinking/observing/assessing during the lesson?

How will the teacher know that the coach is changing the plan during the lesson?

How will the coach know that the teacher recognized “what’s happening”?

Can coach and teacher question each other during the modeling?

How quickly can we schedule time to debrief the modeling?

Coaches and mentors who provide modeling are in effect planning two layers of instruction to occur simultaneously (students and teacher). Shifting back and forth mentally during the lesson is difficult. I encouraged coaches in my workshop to schedule a coaching colleague to observe them conducting a model lesson and debriefing the lesson. This creates a great opportunity for both coaches to learn from consciously exploring this complex coaching strategy.

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