Thursday, April 23, 2015

Coaching the conscious teacher

The last few blog posts have been based on the book Building Teachers' Capacity for Success by Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral.  As I've been reading this book, I've been trying to see the similarities between what I am reading and the Cognitive Coaching training that I've done.  This post is about teachers who are aware of best-practice, but where there is a disconnect between what they know and what is actually happening in their classroom, largely because these teachers lack motivation to apply what they know and so make decisions based on their own needs rather than those of their students.

This is a tough one, because the conscious teacher does know the difference between what works well and what doesn't.  These teachers have engaged in PD and yet sometimes these teachers will cherry-pick their way through the research to find and cite only those studies that support what they are currently doing.  Too often these teachers will make the sort of "blame it on the rain" excuses, rather than taking responsibility for what is happening in the classroom.  They will tend to blame the students, parents, lack of support from admin or lack of resources to explain why their students are making little progress - so demonstrating low efficacy.

Conscious teachers are also often unable to correctly diagnose or evaluate what the problem is.  Often there is a quick and superficial look at it, and then a solution is chosen - which is usually going to be the easiest one.  Conscious teachers are also easily distracted from their goals.  As a coach, you won't have much of a problem getting these teachers to set a goal (they will choose quick and easy ones) but the problem will be follow through and accomplishment of these goals as they are low in craftsmanship and flexibility.

Conscious teachers also collaborate inconsistently with their colleagues.  They can be really social, but withdraw from relationships that hold them accountable for their practices or from conversations that might require deep thought.  They also tend to take a defensive stance towards others who may come up with different suggestions or ideas than their own.  In terms of their states of mind this shows low flexibility and low interdependence.

Seen from the lens of Cognitive Coaching, therefore, the conscious teacher seems vague and imprecise, with narrow, egocentric views leading to isolation and separateness from their colleagues.  These teachers have an external locus of control so don't often engage in problem-solving or action.  Instruction is designed for their own convenience and is often focused on short-term planning.  Frequently these teachers struggle to link assessment and instruction.  Students in these classes are often just sitting passively, listening to the teacher, or doing time-filler activities.  Lessons aren't engaging or rigorous and there is little differentiation going on on a regular basis.  Often the conscious teacher is drawn to new ideas, but lacks the commitment to carry these through.

Hall and Simeral's suggestions for a coach working with the conscious teacher are as follows:

  • Develop a detailed action plan - to ensure the goal will have an impact on student achievement so you could ask questions such as "What will you look for in student work that will let you know you have achieved this?" or "How might this relate to the objectives of your grade/team?"
  • Focus on short-term attainable goals that will have a long-term impact - the conscious teacher needs to feel a sense of working towards and achieving his/her goals.  For this you could ask about the approaches or strategies the teacher is undertaking, for example "What will you need to do to be best prepared for this?"
  • Provide support for instructional goals and best-practice strategies - often the teacher will need information such as assessment data to understand the need for change so that he/she will take action.  Collecting data can be an important role of the coach.  
In addition, since this teacher is likely to be low in interdependence, I would suggest asking questions such as "How might others in your subject/grade help you to achieve this?"

Hall and Simeral have 3 other suggestions:
  • Setting weekly collaborative planning meetings
  • Modeling specific techniques, followed by time for discussion
  • Designing meetings around a specific instructional topic - this will also tap into low interdependence because others in the grade/subject can provide questions, ideas or examples.
Both the unaware and the conscious teacher provide their own challenges for coaches, next we will look at teachers who are at the action and refinement stages and how they can be best supported by a coach.

Original artwork by an ASB student

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