Where to Begin with a New Teacher | Steve Barkley
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Where to Begin with a Beginning Teacher

An instructional coach recently sent me a request which matched some conversations I have had with coaches working with alternative teacher entry programs. It struck me that it might also match for experienced teachers who are now finding themselves in virtual or hybrid teaching environments that seem not to match any of their previous teaching experience.

Her request:

I am stuck and need help if you can share some guidance. I have a first -year teacher who is a MAT candidate. That means is he has no formal teacher training and is making a career change. Presently in a master’s program, he has never had foundational education (this is how you teach) courses. He is very positive and super excited to be teaching!

He needs so much help with everything! I have no idea where to even start! Help! He literally needs a foundational start, but because he needs everything, I have no idea where to start! Help! Can you provide any guidance or suggestions?

As I read her note I recalled a question that I have used in coaching training sessions.

You have a new teacher who has no classroom management skills and no instructional strategies. Where would you begin?

After I have given them time for participants to discuss in small groups, I share my response: “Wherever he wants to.”

Why is this my approach?

#1 – I want to maximize the new teacher’s buy-in, commitment, and perseverance.

This is easiest to do on a goal that the teacher sets. I would ask the teacher to describe the change he would observe that would provide him the first indicator of his success and progress. He might say something like, “gaining some interest and desire to learn this content from the students.” I would then ask him what he would see and hear from the students when that interest and desire were present? With those descriptions, I can now create a partnership with the teacher to achieve the goal he has described. We can agree on what we are looking to make happen and will both know when signs of progress begin to appear.

This is a solution focused approach which I explored in an earlier blog.

Solution Focused Core Beliefs:

    • We don’t need to fully understand the problem before we can find a solution.
    • Everyone has the strengths and resources to help themselves.
    • There will already be something that is working.
    • Change can happen in very small steps.
    • No matter how bad the problem is, it doesn’t happen all the time.
    • We can’t change the past so we should focus on the future.
  • Having a clear idea where you want to be makes it more likely that you’ll get there.

#2 – Management and instruction are strongly connected.

Therefore, regardless of the goal the teacher sets, you will be able to address both. Considering the teacher’s goal of student interest in content, you might discuss the role of novelty and curiosity in gaining attention. You might model an activity such as showing a film clip of a story the students are going to read and stopping at a climatic point. You could then have students individually write what they think happens next followed with a sharing of their ideas in small groups and then have them read the rest of the story. As you discuss the planning you did for the activity you can add your thinking about managing the engagement: seating arrangements, setting expectations at the start of the film, facilitating group work, etc.

As the teacher observes your modeling, you can have him look for times when you gained the student interest that he is seeking. He can analyze and discuss with you what he thinks you did that supported the desired student response. It’s valuable to share with the teacher what you observed while teaching and decisions you made “on the spot.” It’s important for the new teacher to understand that instruction and management practices while planned are also adjusted as the teacher observes students. This requires the teacher to have that “desired student response “in mind.

This should set the stage for the teacher to perhaps co-plan and co-teach a lesson with the coach. The planning for and debriefing of those experiences should present additional opportunities for sharing the connections between instruction and management. Ongoing coaching observations and conferences can continue to be built around the new teacher’s goals and pictures of success.

The new teacher’s experience in working in a coaching relationship where her goals and vision are driving the process should create coach-ability for her career.


Photos by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

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