Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Coaching - the why (one shot PD -v- ongoing PD)

I've started to put together a Haiku course for our new tech coaches, and while doing this I've been thinking about the whys and the what's of coaching.  This post is about the whys.  Last year I was on the R&D task force looking at PD 3.0.  We all agreed that the traditional one-shot forms of PD fail to have much impact on teachers' practices and students' learning.  In fact, in my experience, traditional inservices are often resented by teachers, particularly at the start of a school year when they have so many other pressing concerns to deal with, such as setting up their classrooms.  Lynn Barnes, an instructional coach, sums up this in the following quote (taken from Jim Knight's book Instructional Coaching):
Quick fixes never last and teachers resent them; they resent going to inservices where someone is going to tell them what to do but not help them follow up.  Teachers want someone that's going to be there, that's going to help them for the duration, not a fly-by-night program that's here today gone tomorrow.
Initiatives and interventions -v- implementation
We've all been there - forced to attend PD about a new initiative or program that is the latest buzz in education.  In fact Eric Abrahamson has coined the phrase "initiative overload" to describe the experience of initiative after initiative being introduced with no attention to implementation planning, leaving teachers overwhelmed.  In these situations, it's no wonder that teachers come to start resisting change!  Yet in my experience teachers are engaging in informal PD almost every day.  They are learning from each other during collaborative planning sessions, sharing their lessons plans and engagements, building assessments, designing activities and discussing their ideas about individual students.  Jim Knight claim that "when teachers receive an appropriate amount of support for professional learning, more than 90% of them embrace and implement programs that improve students' experiences in the classroom.

Implementing new initiatives often fails to have the anticipated results because changing the way we do/teach something means we have to change our habits of behavior and create new routines, which is not easy.  (This summer our holiday reading at ASB was The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg - a great read for exploring this topic).

Cognitive coaching -v- instructional coaching
This summer I did a cognitive coaching workshop so I've been interested to read what Jim Knight writes about the difference between cognitive coaching and instructional coaching (and to see where they overlap).
Cognitive coaching:  a process for enhancing teachers' professional learning, involving communication and relationship building tools that coaches can employ.  Cognitive coaching works on the assumption that behaviors change after our beliefs change, therefore cognitive coaches work with teachers to mediate their thinking and so enhance their ability to reflect.  Cognitive coaches ask questions and encourage teachers to think about their actions; they listen attentively and use a variety of techniques to build and sustain rapport.
Instructional coaching: helps teachers to incorporate research-based instructional practices and to create plans for realizing their professional goals.  Coaches collaborate with teachers to help them choose and implement interventions to help students learn more effectively.
Both cognitive and instructional coaching: focus on communication skills and the ability to empathize, listen and build relationships and trust.  Both must be skilled at facilitating teachers' reflections about their classroom practices.

Knight writes "a good coach is an excellent teacher and is kind-hearted, respectful, patient, compassionate and honest.  A good coach has high expectations and provides the affirmative and honest feedback that helps people to realize those expectations.  A good coach can see something special in you that you didn't know was there and help you to make that something special become a living part of you."

To sum up, the why of coaching is about ongoing support for teachers, which is more effective than a simple one-off approach to PD.  I'll be writing about what is involved in coaching in the next blog post.

Photo Credit: nickwheeleroz via Compfight cc

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