Coaching Teachers for Expertise

I’ve been reading with great interest an article in ASCD’s (February 2010) Educational Leadership, “The Strive of It” where Kathleen Cushman explores “What conditions inspire teens to practice toward perfection?”.

Cushman describes The Practice Project sponsored by What Kids Can Do, which examines the questions:

”What does it take to get really good at something?
“What habits do experts practice?”
“What conditions promote students building the habits of experts?”

In the Harvard Business Review (July-August 2007) in The Making of an Expert ,K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely cite the work of Benjamin Bloom:

”All the superb performers he (Bloom) investigated had practiced intensively, had studied with devoted teachers, and had been supported enthusiastically….”

I read Cushman’s writing thinking about my work with student effort, examined in an earlier blog, Effort and Work. Making schools more like the studios, stages, practice fields, and workshops where students practice hard aligns with my thinking about planning instruction for learning.

My thinking jumped as I reviewed Cushman’s list of Habits of Experts. I began connecting the list to the work of coaches. Do you see the connection?

Habits of Experts*

Ask good questions
Break problems into parts
Look for Patterns
Rely on Evidence
Consider other perspectives
Follow hunches
Use familiar ideas in new ways
Collaborate with others
Welcome critique
Revise repeatedly
Persist
Seek new challenges
Know yourself

Here’s a few connections with my coaching work:

Ask good questions…I often describe that learning what questions to ask is one of the most important outcomes from teachers’ work with coaches or mentors. After a quality coaching experience, teachers find that they continue to ask themselves questions that the coach had asked them. Especially for beginning teachers there is a need to learn from your mentor, not …“What’s the answer?”, but “What’s the questions that will guide my problem solving as a teacher?”

Look for patterns…Coaches who observe student learners and collect data create the opportunity for teachers to discover patterns more quickly than they could on their own. Teachers bringing student work to PLC meetings can collaborate on identifying patterns.

Consider other perspectives, follow hunches, and use familiar ideas in new ways…When coaches work from and reinforce teachers’ visions and beliefs about the value of their work with students, they build the desire to continually seek options to build toward greater student success.

Revise repeatedly and persist…Coaching feedback, encouragement, and support play important roles in helping teachers create the determination to work toward continuous improvement in student achievement.

Know yourself……… As coaches work to know the person they are coaching, seeking his/her agenda, they can cause the person they are conferencing with to know themselves better.

I believe that in many ways a quality coaching program models the very practices that we want teachers to implement with their students. That belief was certainly reinforced as I examined the habits of experts.

I’d love to hear the connections you find with your coaching, mentoring or leadership work.

*Educational Leadership, Feb 2010, Vol 67 Number 5, page 53

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3 Responses to “ Coaching Teachers for Expertise ”

  1. Hannah Jones Says:

    We often see critique as negative. However, when used regularly and effectively it can be a really powerful personal development tool.
    I love hearing what I am great at, it means that I can celebrate my strengths and work at making them even stronger.
    I also love to give positive feedback to the head teachers/ Principals I coach (and indeed anyone I interact with) because I get a buzz from the positive reaction that is has in others.

    I gave some feedback to a recruitment agency today and got an e-mail back saying thank you and complementing me on my ‘excellent feedback’. It gave me a big smile and I knew that the 15 minutes I had spent jotting down my feedback had been well worth it.

    We love moaning about what is wrong with the world, how about having a shout out today about what is great about the member of staff you work along side every day?

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Hannah…. have to agree that most teachers are starved for feedback.Peer coaching programs can provide an opportunity similar to cooperative groups in a classroom.

  3. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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