Saturday, April 18, 2015

Coaching the unaware

One of the things that I've been doing as I've been reading Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral's book Building Teachers' Capacity for Success is to compare their approach to coaching with what I already know about Cognitive Coaching where the goal is to mediate thinking.  Since behaviour is produced by thought, Cognitive coaching aims to help teachers to be more self-directed, think of ways they can solve their own problems and to set challenging goals that will enhance their performance.  In Chapter 5 of their book, Hall and Simeral write about the "unaware" teacher who has little ability to accurately self-reflect and to identify what is and isn't working in the classroom.

In terms of Cognitive Coaching, the unaware teacher displays low consciousness about their actions and their effects.  In fact they are simply not aware that their instructional delivery isn't working or that some of their students don't understand.  Generally in these classrooms the teachers have the best intentions and may even believe that they are doing a good job, but the focus is on routines, following curriculum manuals, accomplishing tasks or doing what they have been directed to do by administrators rather than on student learning.  They frequently do not reflect about what is actually taking place in their classrooms or how they can play a role in addressing problems that some students face.  Quite often these teachers use a direct instruction approach of lecturing and assigning students work to cover the subject matter.  Lessons may lack a specific goal, or are not connected with standards, and there is little or no differentiation of instruction.  Partly this lack of differentiation is the result of having low consciousness - not only are they not aware of their own behaviours, they are also not aware of the differences in student readiness, so they are unable to maximize learning for all the students in their class by connecting their individual learning needs with effective teaching.

Reading through this description of the unaware teacher, it's clear that while consciousness is very low, other states of mind are also low.  Craftsmanship will also be low as teachers are not intentionally striving for improvement and efficacy may well be low because they are unable to make choices, solve problems and take action.  Flexibility is also almost certainly low, with few alternative strategies being considered nor the perspectives of the students taken into account.

So how can a coach work with an unaware teacher?  Hall and Simeral advocate working alongside these teachers to help them build awareness of better practices (consciousness and craftsmanship).  It is essential to build trust and rapport, and to be able to use these opportunities to model specific instructional strategies.  At this point, however, I feel the coach has moved out of the coaching role and has now taken on a collaborating role.

Hall and Simeral recommend identifying a specific problem to build awareness around, and then use it as a springboard for more self-reflection.  The Cognitive Coaching model does this through listening, paraphrasing and asking mediative questions that target specific states of mind.  These questions will be the "what" and "how" questions:  "how might you ...", "what might be some of the ways ....", "how did you make decisions about ..." or even "how does this compare with how you planned it?"  They will not be "why" questions which will tend to get a defensive reaction.

Some of the other strategies advocated by Hall and Simeral when coaching unaware teachers are:

  • administering personal belief and reflective questionnaires, since the more a teacher is aware of his or her personal beliefs the more the teacher will reflect on his or her role in the classroom
  • provide opportunities to observe in other classrooms
  • advocate journal keeping
  • facilitate opportunities to exchange ideas during guided meetings
The unaware teacher is certainly a challenge to a coach as there is a lack of understanding about why change is necessary.  The skill of a coach is therefore to help this teacher get from where he or she is now, to where he realizes he needs and wants to be somewhere else, and believes he has the capacity to learn something new in order to get there. 

Original artwork by an ASB student

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