Friday, January 6, 2012

A vision without a plan

Quite recently I remember hearing the expression "a vision without a plan is simply a hallucination".  Therefore if my goal is to provide coaching to our teachers during the last 6 months of the school year, I know what I need is a plan as to how this is going to happen.  As I've been thinking about this I've been reading Michael Fullan and Jim Knight's article "Coaches as System Leaders".  In the article they write about the factors that limit the impact coaches can have on change and improvement in pedagogy:
  1. Giving coaches the wrong work:  this is mainly because the role of a coach is poorly defined and they are given work to do that doesn't help teachers to improve instruction.
  2. Unclear goals for the professional development coaches are doing with teachers.
  3. Lack of training for coaches.
These are obviously things I want to avoid.  Training is going to be difficult in the last 6 months of the year, but hopefully I can find many online resources to help me.

One really useful article I've read recently is "The Year We Learned to Collaborate" by Janice Silva and Kathia Contreras.  This explains the steps that one school in Mexico take when using collaborative coaching which involves teachers critically evaluating each other's teaching practice with the aim of enhancing it for all.  The steps they go through are:

  1. Plan - grade level or subject area teachers use their planning time to collaborate on designing a demonstration lesson.  The demonstrating teacher shares the plan with colleagues who review it and give input.  The demonstrating teacher may also ask for specific observation during the lesson, for example of how individual students are working together, or about whether all students are on-task.
  2. Demonstrate and observe - all members of the team watch the demonstration lesson and complete a standard form with both positive and critically constructive feedback.
  3. Debrief - this ideally happens on the same day as the demonstration lesson.  The observers use their notes to give feedback and suggestions.
I was really interested to read the protocol that teachers go through at this debriefing session:
  1. Clarifying questions - the observers ask practical questions about specific things they have noticed and the demonstrating teacher responds.  After this the demonstrating teacher moves to a place a little apart from the rest of the group and observed the next 2 steps.
  2. Warm feedback - the observers discuss together the positive things they noticed using the lesson, while the observing teacher just listens and makes notes.  Observers only address other observers, not the demonstrating teacher, therefore they always refer to this teacher in the 3rd person.
  3. Cool feedback - the observers discuss their critical feedback and give suggestions.  The demonstrating teacher cannot respond at this point, but certainly is able to reflect on these comments.
  4. Teacher's response - the demonstrating teacher rejoins the group and gives responses to the feedback.
When I read this at first I thought it might seem a bit of an uncomfortable situation to be in for both the demonstrating teacher and the observers but it seems that at this school collaborative coaching and learning is overwhelming seen as beneficial both in terms of professional development and also in terms of a new trusting and open relationship between teachers.  I went on to read further about this protocol, which has been based on the Tuning Protocol devised by the National School Reform Faculty.  The Tuning Protocol is based on teachers sharing samples of student work rather than actual observation of a lesson.  As always, when I read something like this I'm asking myself whether this could be something that could be adapted by myself for using with our teachers.

I can see that classroom observation can be a very powerful way of developing collaborative coaching and it's definitely something I'd like to try - but it will only work with the support of my administration and the teachers in a grade level.  It would mean having to get cover for the teachers who are observing the lesson and also having them make more time for the debriefing session.  I'm not sure how feasible this might be as I sense that teachers are already snowed under with work and new initiatives that have been introduced recently, but I also feel that unless I actually ask the question the answer is always no.  Possibly I might find one grade level that are willing to give this a go in the second half of the year.

Time is always an issue.  Today I followed a link on Twitter to Zen Habits and read the following:
If you want to make your new year count, you'll need to be intentional - not by setting goals, but by making space in your life for what really matters.
I think this basically sums up my dilemma.  If this is really important (which it is because it's my personal goal to investigate coaching during the last half of this school year) then I need to make the time and space for it to happen.  There's no point in having a vision, without a plan to make sure that vision is achievable.

Photo Credit:  I mean, I like her by Twmâ„¢ AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

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