Coaching the Complexity of Teaching and Learning

In recent weeks I have had several opportunities to spend time coaching coaches. In these settings I often observe a pre-conference that the coach has with a teacher, observe the teacher’s instruction and the coach’s post conference with the teacher. Then I get to coach the coach usually with some input from the teacher who took part in the coaching experience.

Spending several days in these activities, I was able to observe in many classrooms. In one unique experience I observed a coach model a reading lesson for a new teacher and sit in on the coach’s debriefing of the lesson with the teacher. The coach’s lesson was awesome…20 kindergarten students totally immersed in listening to a story, discussing and predicting story components with the teacher, and then reading the story along with the teacher. During the debriefing with the teacher, I stopped the coach to encourage a conversation about what parts of the lesson were preplanned and what decisions were made on the spot as she processed student responses and reactions. Great planning set the lesson up; on the spot decisions were key to the magic. My coaching of the coach covered the issue that understanding the thinking that took place in planning and during instruction of the lesson was critical to the teacher’s learning and growth. It’s really a ‘think aloud’ that the coach needs to share with the teacher.

Later the coach and I observed another teacher teach the same lesson. The teacher, relatively new, did a good job. The gap between her work and the coach’s was substantial. When I debriefed with the coach, she could not identify the difference in the two lessons. I stressed how the coach needed an opportunity to see her own work on video so she could examine teaching in depth and complexity. I was able to share an environmental observation: The coach sat on a chair, closing the distance between herself and students seated on the carpet. Hers eyes, face, and hands continually drew the students attention to the “big book” they were reading. The new teacher stood at the side of the easel, frequently resting hand on hip. A reading coordinator who was observing our entire process later sent me a note that really captured the difference.

“The coach was completely engaged with the children and was in essence a part of the lesson. In contrast, the other teacher stood “outside of the lesson” and merely delivered the lesson.”

A study published in the The Elementary School Journal provided a look at the mix of desired environment and instruction in first grade classrooms. After a study of 820 classrooms, they identified approximately…

· 23% of the classrooms as overall high quality. In these classrooms the teachers were constantly aware of and responsive to students’ needs- warm, friendly positive relationships. Teachers nor students displayed negative affect. Teachers managed well so learning could take place uninterrupted. Effective literacy instruction was provided with the teacher frequently engaging students in conversation about their ideas, their work and process of learning.

· 31% of classrooms as “high positive emotional climate, low academic demand.” These classrooms had sensitive/positive classroom climate, classroom management, and literacy instruction. These classrooms did not tend to promote children’s engagement in learning by giving them feedback that focused on mastery, developing understanding, or trying new strategies.

· 28% of classrooms as mediocre. Teachers in mediocre classrooms were generally rated as “sometimes” demonstrating the positive indicators of emotional quality, management, and literacy instruction. They rarely demonstrate any indicators of evaluative feedback and never demonstrate any indicators of an overtly negative emotional climate.

· 17% of classrooms as “low overall quality” possessed a tone of annoyance or sarcasm toward children, and children were not allowed to regulate their activities in a way that would allow them to learn through exploration. Notably, these were the most negative, low-quality classrooms in terms of both socioemotional climate and instructional support.

As I read through this article it was clear that the coach’s lesson that I observed would fit into the overall high quality group. The second teacher through practice and reflection can develop the additional management, feedback, and tone elements to increase quality. Coaching, video taping, and professional development within a professional learning community can speed this teacher growth process.

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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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