Differentiating Coaching

In the summer 2009 issue of The Journal of the National Staff Development Council, Gary Waddell presents a format for identifying the professional development/coaching needs of teachers.(Who’s That Teacher? Vol.30, No.3 pg 10)

Using two skill components: Knowing Your Stuff (content knowledge and instructional practices) and Knowing Your Students, he creates a matrix with four teaching identities.

Struggler—Low in both areas
Technician—High in knowing Stuff/Low in Knowing Students
Caretaker– Low in knowing Stuff/ High in Knowing Students
Master Teacher– High in Both Areas
I recommend you read the article to find Waddell’s suggestions for Supervision and Support.
Here are some of my thoughts for coaches and principals:

Struggler— If this is a brand new teacher, they hopefully have a mentor working most closely with them to help develop needed skills. Instructional coaches, mentors, and principals should be communicating so that the teacher is not getting mixed messages as to what “needs to happen.” If this is a more experienced teacher, it is critical that the principal is clear in the evaluation process as to what “needs to happen”. An instructional coach can be of great support to the teacher who wants to learn. I believe it is unfair and unproductive to ask coaches to work with struggling teachers who are unaware of the requirement to change from administration. Coaches can ask the struggling teacher, “What are you being asked to change?” and “Are you interested in doing it?”. If the struggling teacher knows and commits positive results are likely.

Technician—I often find that technicians are successful with some (or many) students. That success can provide a block when asking them about changing. They point to their current practice working. I tackle this from two approaches. First, spending time identifying the teacher’s desire to have all students be successful….reinforcing and valuing that belief and recognizing where the teacher’s current work is succeeding. Then, having the technician identify what the unsuccessful students would need to do to succeed. If the teacher doesn’t know… that becomes our coaching focus… finding out…studying the learners. When we’ve agreed on what the students would need to do, we then focus on what the teacher might do to cause the student to perform.

Caretaker– Similar to working with the technicians, coaches begin by reinforcing the strengths that caretakers bring to their classrooms. In this case the approval is focused on the relationships and commitment to students. In most cases the caretaker is unaware of the additional depth of learning that their students are capable of achieving. Coaches create opportunities for caretakers to self discover the untapped learning. This could occur through the caretaker enhancing their own depth of content. In this case they will want to share their knowledge with their students. Observing how master teachers use instructional strategies or expectations to increase student effort toward higher standards can also promote the self discovery of caretakers. Commitment to students will prod the growth and change of caretakers.

Master Teachers– I often suggest to new instructional coaches and principals new to having the services of coaches in their buildings to begin their coaching with master teachers. This is the best way to model that coaching is not a deficit based activity. Often master teachers are unconsciously talented. They are unaware of many effective practices they have. As coaches identify the reasons for the master teacher’s success, understanding and esteem are built. Master teachers who are conscious and confident can be key players in continuous school improvement as they interact with colleagues. Conscious, confident master teachers are effective mentors for new teachers. Coaches should also engage master teachers in experimentation. Through action research these professionals can contribute to new learning for all educators.

Coaching is for everyone…and students are served when all teachers learn.

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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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