Sunday, April 26, 2015

Coaching action teachers

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post where I started to link what I know about Cognitive Coaching with what I've been reading about the different stages teachers may be at for coaching.  Today I want to think about what Hall and Simeral write about teachers at the action stage.   These teachers have recognized a problem of practice around student learning and have decided to tackle it.  They know they are responsible for their own personal growth and welcome ideas and support from a coach and want to "walk the talk".  They are responsible, motivated, approachable and committed to positive change, but they are unsure of exactly how to move forward.  These teachers can evaluate their classroom situation objectively as they are engaged in formative assessments that are giving them data about student learning.  They are also well aware of research about best-practice and engage in various forms of PD such as attending workshops and reading books.  Hall and Simeral note that these teachers reflect on their teaching only after taking action, which makes them more reactive than proactive.  Often, when they find a strategy that seems to work well, they believe that is only one way of doing things, and reject the idea that different approaches can also be effective (low flexibility).

As well as this, action teachers often struggle with long-term problems and with students who don't respond to the strategies they are trying.  This can indicate a narrow understanding of the big picture. They collaborate with colleagues on a limited basis, as their focus is mostly on improving themselves.   These teachers do accept feedback in a positive way, but Hall and Simeral point out that this can then lead them into a critical loop - as they start to improve they feel others should also be taking these new ideas onboard.  They want to collaborate more, but have difficulty seeing things from others' points of view (low interdependence and flexibility).

Efficacy, craftsmanship and consciousness, however can be reasonably high.  Action teachers are focused on the science of teaching as they want to learn and implement best practices in order to improve student learning.  They regularly assess students and evaluate what they need to change to increase student achievement and make changes in the best interests of their students.  They link their lessons to standards and have objectives and learning targets for each lesson.

Coaching an action teacher calls on the coach being able to help teachers build on their positive experiences.  A coach might start out validating the teacher's ideas and decisions by asking questions about craftsmanship or consciousness, for example  "What are some of the things you did that made it go so well?", "What were some of the criteria you used to ..."or "How did you make decisions about ....?"  Hall and Simeral write that action teachers are "eager for new ideas and will readily try what you suggest.  But at the same time it is essential that you gradually release responsibility for the learning and focus the majority of your coaching on building necessary critical thinking and discernment skills ... Engage them in the process of diagnosing problems, researching solutions and creating action plans to develop competence and discernment, which are essential reflective characteristics."  Other ideas for coaching the action teacher include:

  • Small group discussions, professional book clubs and PLCs - teachers at the action stage will benefit the most from learning teams (strengthening interdependence).
  • Using the apprenticeship model - working along side a teacher using a coteaching structure.
  • Classroom observations - and feedback that supports thinking - this is the only stage so far that Hall and Simeral recommend observations and there is always the danger that these might be seen as stepping out of the coaching role and into that of an evaluator.  
  • Video and analyze performance together (strengthening craftsmanship)
  • Collegial observations (strengthening interdependence)
  • Reflective questioning - open ended questions will promote critical thinking and nurture independence. (strengthening craftsmanship and efficacy)
  • Attending workshops with the teacher and sharing learning - it's best to attend together as reflection is more effective when 2 people share the same experience.  
  • Analyzing student data
  • Recognizing emerging expertise as often as possible. It's also important to create opportunities for the teacher to share his/her learning with others at school (strengthening efficacy).  At ASB we have encouraged teachers and teaching assistants to present at tech training sessions after school to share their learning from the Google Summits, for example, and have involved teachers in PlayDates and SpeedGeeking sessions.
In my experience action teachers are a delight to work with, and a coach can really quickly feel that there is an impact on student learning.

Ideas in this blog post are from the book Building Teachers' Capacity for Success by Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral

Original artwork by an ASB student

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