“Coaching is a relationship between two equals, one of whom is committed to making personal and professional improvements. These improvements may come in the form of wanting to learn new strategies, to get unblocked or unstuck, to reevaluate beliefs or values affecting professional outlook. It could be to look at habits or change strategies. Whatever it is, the person being coached— the coachee— takes ownership of his or her own improvement. Therein lies its power.” (Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching)
I wrote that statement many years back in my first book about coaching. At that time my focus was largely on peer coaching (teachers coaching teachers) Across the years I expanded my practices and study; exploring mentoring, administrators’ coaching roles in instructional leadership, and later, instructional coaching, as that teacher leadership role emerged. I’ve learned along the way that when coach and coachee are both invested in learning, positive outcomes increase.
Recently while participating in Jim Knight’s TLC conference and facilitating a team of administrators examining approaches to feedback from walkthroughs, I connected Knight’s partnership principles with Joellen Killion’s principles of effective feedback.
Knight’s Partnership Principles (The Definitive Guide to Instructional Coaching)
Killion’s Key Attributes of Effective Feedback (Feedback Process Transforming Feedback for Professional Learning)
Feedback is a process rather than a product.
Effective feedback is…………………………………..
Responsive to the Learner
Here are a few of my thoughts as I examined the connections in Knight’s and Killion’s guidelines.
This statement from Knight is a great starting point.
“Coaches who act on the principle of equality have faith that the teachers they work with bring a lot to any interaction, and they listen with great attentiveness.”
My presentations with coaches are always built around listening and questioning as critical coaching skills. One guideline I provide is that I look to know what the teacher is thinking before I share what I’m thinking. That pulls in voice and choice. It also sets the stage for feedback to be desired and responsive to the learner.
My personal preference around walkthroughs is a system that doesn’t try to give teachers feedback from walkthroughs as it is difficult for the guidelines from Knight and Killion to be implemented. Years back, I had administrators sharing with me that walkthroughs were not evaluative or supervisory…. they were coaching. That was never the interpretation I received from teachers. I like to label the value of walkthroughs as learning for the leaders doing the observations. My question to a principal would be, “What is a recent learning from your walkthroughs and how will that influence your leadership actions?” In many systems, feedback from walkthroughs is required of administrators. In those cases, I suggest building continual dialogue before and after walkthroughs so that teachers can find personalization in the feedback…. process vs product.
Knight describes praxis as the act of applying new knowledge and skills. “When we study cooperative learning, for example, and then spend time planning how we’ll integrate it into our lessons, we’re engaged in praxis.” Reflection and dialogue encourage praxis and increase learning because the teacher is engaged in work focused on real-life situations and given opportunities to share ideas about that work. “Partnership is about shared learning as much as it is about shared power.” If you are providing feedback from walkthroughs, consider how likely the feedback is to generate reflection and dialogue. This requires purposeful planning and reflection on the part of the observer giving feedback. Consider Killion’s attributes of timely, responsive to the learner, frequent and future focused. I use the term “feedforward” to describe a feedback process. The coaching focus of walkthroughs occurs when the teacher and observer are focused on “where we are going and how the shared information might help us get there?” I recently observed administrators engaged in learning elements of a new curriculum so that a feedback process would be built around “where we are going” and “what’s the next step?” Rather than supervision of program implementation.
Lastly, consider the terms reciprocity (Knight) and reciprocal (Killion). When we focus on the teacher and the observer both being learners, we support dialogue and vulnerability. How does a school leader communicate the desire to learn from walkthrough observations? A key for me would be tapping into curiosity. I find the complexity of teaching and learning constantly creating an opportunity to explore “what was happening during a learning activity?” and “what could happen in the future?” In a recent session with administrators, we explored ways for them to seek feedback from teachers as to the usefulness of the current walkthrough feedback process and feedforward on ways to increase the value of the administrator’s practice. A great step in communicating the purpose of the process. A step in the direction of teachers finding walkthrough feedback to be coaching.