Thanks to Jim Knight, I had the opportunity to engage in a panel discussion with Jim, Sherry St. Clair, Christian van Nieuwerburgh, and Megan Tschannen-Moran as part of the Teaching Learning Conference. We were each asked to respond to the topic, The Art and Craft of Coaching. While we each took a different approach to the elements we identified, similarities emerged. I built my comments around trust and vulnerability, reflection, and future focus.
Trust and Vulnerability
Coaches and school leaders should create an environment of trust and a sense of team that generate vulnerability among staff members. As a teacher, when I open my classroom door, virtually or in the school, I am in some way putting my ego on the line. Similarly, when my students’ work is displayed for my peers to assess in a PLC, there is a discomfort connected to seeing the learning outcome as an indicator of my teaching abilities. I have approached the building of this safe environment through creating a team approach to teaching. When teachers have a shared responsibility for student success, they have a shared responsibility for each other’s success.
If we have been functioning as a team, my students’ work is “our” results, not mine alone. If we are a team, then when you are observing my instruction, I know that your goal is for me to achieve my (our)learning goals with students. Leaders and coaches should model vulnerability by being the most coached members of the faculty.
I’ve shared in an earlier blog the value of teachers maximizing learning by being warm demanders: high in relationships with students and high in expectations for student performance. We need the same environment created among the staff: strong relationships with each other along with high expectation for each other’s teaching performance.
John Dewey’s statement was right on. “We don’t learn from experience, but from reflection on experience.” Coaches and leaders need to be continually creating the time and opportunities for reflection. Often coaches’ skills in questioning are key to a teacher’s reflection. Just like students who often need guidance to expand the value of a reflective task, teachers need similar support. Coaching conferences both pre and post observation raise reflection and generate teacher learning. I get a great sense of satisfaction when a teacher pauses and looks at me during a coaching conference and says, “That’s really a good question.”
In a podcast on reflection I shared the results of a study that examined the impact of reflection compared to the impact of more practice on improving performance. Here was the finding: Once an individual has accumulated a certain amount of experience with a task, the benefit of accumulating more experiences is inferior to the benefit of articulating and codifying the accumulated experiences. That statement really reinforced for me, the importance of teachers working in professional learning communities, in peer coaching and with instructional coaches. The hurried school day with teachers working in isolation often limits extended reflection which is critical in learning from our experiences and increasing our ongoing success with instruction and student learning.
For years I have used the image of a balloon to illustrate the impact of my learning about teaching and learning. If I place everything I know about teaching and learning inside a balloon, the outside of the balloon represents my areas for further study. When I attend a conference or take a course, my new learning raises questions to explore that drive my learning further.
The experiences, demands, opportunities, and problems that the pandemic and the issues of social injustice raise today, require us to learn, grow, and change. Best practice research is important but insufficient. We need to be future focused on what we could be and what we could offer our students to empower them to be difference makers in the world.
Kevin Eikenberry, a leadership consultant, describes the need to take an action each day that is connected to our future focus.
“Do something every day that supports your desired future. Many days you won’t be able to do something big. But when you intentionally take a step, you do it knowing it is all about your future. Your intentional actions, whether making a phone call, doing some research, connecting with someone, practicing something, or reading a book, will move you in the right direction and remind you of that future each day.”
As school leaders and coaches, consider your personal investment in trusting, vulnerability, and reflection. How does that investment support your future focus? What are the skills and craft of coaching you use to generate these elements for your staff?