Crystal Frommert, a middle school instructional coach, recently shared,” Coaches can do a lot to help even veteran teachers improve, especially when teachers know what kinds of support they’re looking for.” Her article presents 4 Ways to Maximize the Benefit of Having an Instructional Coach. She proposes that a start is for teachers is to:
- Not wait for the coach to reach out to you.
- Know that no ask is too large or too small.
- Invite the coach to your classroom with a “look for” request.
- Share your successes.
Here are three of my go-to reasons that teachers should be encouraged to reach out to available coaches: instructional coaches, colleagues, and in many cases building administrators. (Virtually, the availability of coaching has been multiplied.)
Conscious practice: Much of our teaching decision-making, by necessity, occurs unconsciously. (Similar to driving a car.) There is so much that a teacher is processing that many choices must be unconscious decisions, such as after I have asked a question, “Which student do I select for a response?”
Because of the reflection generated by a coach’s questions in a pre-conference, I can decide that for this observation I want to focus on which students I call upon and when. Having done that reflection in the conference, my practice is likely to be much more conscious, even if the coach has her schedule disrupted and misses the observation. If my coach is present, I will be extra conscious throughout the lesson, definitely influencing my selection of students. I label this as conscious practice. The coach sharing her observations of the students called upon will generate reflection and likely lead to me leaving with a conscious plan for the coming days. Consciousness continues beyond the coaching session.
Consider the comments of Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers in the classic article, The Coaching of Teaching, (ASCD 1982) where the authors examined the parallels between coaching college athletes and the coaching of teachers. “For both athletes and teachers, changing what we do even slightly can throw off our execution. Because a skill was mastered in its parts and practiced in a simulated environment in a workshop does not prevent a transfer problem in the game or classroom. Often the discomfort of awkward implementation leads to a return to a former smoother, if less efficient, performance. Athletes do not believe mastery will be achieved quickly or easily. As teachers, we have often behaved as though teaching skills were so easily acquired that a presentation, workshop, or demonstration could ensure classroom performance. To the extent, we have communicated this message to teachers we have probably misled them.” Invite a coach to assist you in carrying out the conscious practice needed to internalize new teaching practices.
Celebrations: The chance for teacher successes (magical moments) to be seen by a colleague is rare in schools that do not have a culture of coaching. Peer coaching breaks the isolation and opens the doors to celebrations that build perseverance, teamwork, and collective teacher efficacy. Today’s celebrated successes provide strength during challenging times. Many schools built conscious times for celebrating into staff meetings during the quarantine as they saw it as critical to teachers’ social/emotional wellness. We need to keep these practices post-pandemic. Celebrating a magical learning moment that a coach observed is worth the ‘cost’ of coaching.
Frommert suggested that teachers, “Let the coach toot the horn for you. These victories inspire other teachers with creative ideas, and before too long, the culture of creativity spreads like wildfire throughout the school.”
That connects to my third reason.
Gaining Options: Great teachers have an endless list of options. They succeed not so much by knowing “what to do” but by always having another strategy to try. Their list of options outlasts the student’s difficulty understanding or the student’s resistance to engaging. Working with coaches and having the opportunity to coach others, I am constantly adding to my available options.
As an example of the need for options, I began referring to this illustration of a Rubik Cube during the quarantine.
As a teacher begins a unit of study to address a standard, she identifies that some students are ready for the learning process, some will need scaffolding to engage in the learning process, and some who should accelerate to a different learning outcome. Then the teacher considers where to use direct instruction, collaborative, or independent options as well as whether students should engage asynchronously or synchronously; and with hybrid options, how might the teacher blend life and virtual learning activities?
My goal as a teacher is to have the largest number of students engaged for the greatest amount of time in the most appropriate learning processes. That requires endless options. I like the visual of the cube. I see it representing the complexity and options of teaching. Working with a coach, I can twist the cube to generate another option in my continuous focus on maximizing student success.
We need teacher educators, mentors, teacher leaders, and administrators all extolling and modeling the value of reaching out for coaching.