My school has a variety of people in a multiplicity of roles to help teachers develop their practice, including colleagues in PLC groups, line managers who balance nurturing and evaluative roles, and classroom consultants who offer teachers specific targeted advice on strategies to improve their instructive practice. Our teacher growth model sits alongside these other roles and relationships. The role of coach is a specific and clearly delineated one.
Coaches, to attain psychological safety and cognitive demand, must attend to both learning and relationship. ~ Costa and Garmston
While I believe that everyone is coachable, I’m not sure that everyone can be a coach. In my everyone is coachable post, I explain the dichotomy of peer (or reciprocal) coaching, and expert coaching (sometimes called mentoring). We have opted for teachers-trained-as-coaches to be the coaches for our model. These teacher-coaches are in some ways peers, as they do not hold a managerial position, and are experts in the sense of knowing how to record non-inferential teacher-owned lesson data, work with the Danielson Framework for Teaching and conduct Cognitive Coaching conversations.
Teachers choose what lesson data might be meaningful for them, whether written verbatim transcripts, audio recording of lessons or video recording (including 360 degree video or SWIVL video). For each coaching conversation, data is taken from two twenty minute lesson segments (for the rationale of we do multiple short observations, rather than full lessons, see p.25 of this Measures of Effective Teaching study report). The teacher coach, from a different year level and discipline, is responsible for helping teachers decide on the most useful data for collection, collecting that data and facilitating the reflection around that data.
The aim of Cognitive Coaching – to ‘convey a valued person from where they are, to where they want to be’ – shapes our view of the coaching role. The metaphor of the horse-drawn stage coach is used in Cognitive Coaching training. A passenger does not get into a coach, for the coach-driver to say, ‘Welcome, I’ll be taking you to a destination of my choice today.’ Instead it is the coach’s passenger who decides on the destination, and the coach’s job to get them there. So the definition of coach for us is: non-judgmental mediator of thinking committed to helping each teacher grow their own practice along their own trajectory.
Last week I had the opportunity to reconnect with a consultant and trainer for both the Danielson Group (on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching including involvement in the MET study) and Thinking Collaborative (Cognitive Coaching and Adaptive Schools). What was really pleasing was that from her outsider perspective she felt that our coaches were thoughtful, reflective and approachable, with a really clear sense of their role. In their work with her across the week, the coaches demonstrated their understanding of the role as building a non-hierarchical trust relationship which is centrally focused on the teacher being coached.This was affirming because we have been very deliberate about the selection and training of our coaching team. Firstly, we advertised internally for teacher-coaches and conducted interviews in which candidates were required to both conduct a coaching conversation (ten minutes) and answer interview questions about the role (thirty minutes). In the conversation, we looked for each person’s ability to develop rapport, be non-judgemental, pause, paraphrase and ask mediative questions. In the interview portion of selection, we asked the following questions:
- What does being a coach mean to you and why does this role interest you?
- Please give us an overview of how your background and experience are applicable to this role.
- What do you think the main issues are with regard to being a coach for teachers?
- What sorts of things help you develop your own teaching, and how might these apply to this role?
We assessed candidates on their ability to reflect on and analyse their own coaching conversation; coaching experience and knowledge; consciousness of self and others; efficacy; craftsmanship as a coach; interdependence; flexibility; and capacity to be a continuous learner. Some of those selected to be coaches had no prior experience or training, while some had been involved in the pilot model.
Having a dedicated, trained, collaborative and focused team allows us to discuss and work through coaching challenges such as ensuring the process is meaningful for highly-reflective veteran teachers. These are staff who are incredibly experienced, responsive to their students and with longstanding internalised classroom decision making. We are finding that two things are helping our coaches to reach these teachers:
- Using the Danielson Framework for Teaching as a rigorous reflective instrument, giving some precision to teachers’ reflections and helping to bring consciousness to the decisions teachers are making in their classrooms.
- Crafting a range of mediative questions for helping teachers analyse why lessons went the way they did, encouraging teachers to consider how they make decisions in their classrooms, what criteria they use to make those decisions or what might be going on for particular students.
Having a dedicated coaching team allows us to add layers to coaches’ coaching practice. Continuing to work and train together, and experimenting with meta-coaching (the coach being coached), is helping the coaching team to grow their own practice.
Additionally we are considering how technology might help coaches. While we are already using technology like SWIVL for some classrooms observations, we are considering how Voxer might be used for in-between coaching, to overcome logistical issues of having to meet face-to-face, or to give coachees ‘take away’ questions. Chris Munro tells me he has been trialling coaching via Voxer. Certainly it would allow the coach to listen carefully to the coachee and thoughtfully craft paraphrases and questions.
So, my school has worked from the belief that it isn’t enough for a coach to be given an acronym to follow or a laminated A4 conversation map; coaching is much more than following a protocol. As our model intends to be meaningful for all teachers at the school, coaches need to have nuances of training and expertise to apply mindfully in their practice. As we continue to iterate our model, we are adding tools to our arsenal and finding ways to differentiate and personalise the growth process for each teacher.
We all have the extraordinary coded within us, waiting to be released. ~ Jean Houston