Observation to transformation: The power of classroom data for teacher growth

What we see depends mainly on what we look for. ~ John Lubbock

In my posts about my school’s teacher growth model, a growth-focused coaching initiative which sits alongside other professional development and evaluation work at the school, I have tended to focus of our use of Cognitive Coaching and the Danielson Framework for Teaching. As our model is being implemented this year, however, another aspect of the process is emerging as transformative in its own right: classroom data.

To explain how we use data in our collaborative coaching cycle, a one-year cycle looks like this:

a visual look at our coaching-observation cycle

a visual look at our coaching-observation cycle

  1. Self-reflect: Complete self-reflection against Danielson Framework for Teaching.
  2. Touch base: Pre conference with Teacher-Coach, identifying possible foci, deciding on type of lesson data to be collected.
  3. Collect data: 2 x 20 minute observations.
  4. Reflect & Plan: Post conference with Teacher-Coach following the Cognitive Coaching reflecting-into-planning conversation map and using Danielson Framework for Teaching.
  5. Repeat 2, 3 and 4.
  6. Self-reflect: Complete self-reflection against Danielson Framework for Teaching.

In this post, I would like to focus on Step 3, data generation.

You’ll notice that we use multiple short observations and the Danielson Framework for Teaching, as supported by the findings of the Measures of Effective Teaching study. A number of short observations mean that teachers build up a series of snapshots of the kinds of lessons in their classrooms, liberating them from feeling like ‘this 20 minutes is representative of all of my teaching all of the time.’ It is a moment in time on which to reflect.

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What classroom data is generated?

Generating lesson data is a crucial part of our coaching teacher growth model. While all teachers are expected to have classroom data collected for the purposes of their reflection on practice, this is differentiated in the sense that the teacher decides what sort of data will be collected, depending on what they would like to know about their lessons. Below are the main types of lesson data we have been using.

Non-inferential observation notes

These notes usually look like verbatim scripting. That is, the observer takes down what they see and hear in a lesson. No judgements. No praise. No criticism. Just observed sights and described sounds. They include times and may also include mapping of students or classroom movement. Our coaches are trained in this kind of observation note taking. It can be challenging to take self and own biases out of lesson data, leaving just what happened for the teacher to do their own reflections and evaluations.

Observation notes are useful for looking at instructional clarity, questioning, student discussion and student group or individual work. In the case of the latter, the observer may go to students or groups and observe them or interact with them, recording interaction and responses. This means that observers can record those parts of the classroom where teachers are not. It also means that an in-class observer can glean details of student work and conversation which a video would not pick up.

A caution about this kind of note taking is that the observer bias does appear in what the observer chooses to take down. For instance, in a fast paced classroom discussion, often an observer needs to make a choice between capturing the teacher’s or the students’ responses.

The benefit of notes is that the run of the lesson is written down in black and white, without the distractions of watching multiple elements in a video.

Video

We have a few video options available to teachers for the purposes of lesson data collection. Still video. 360 degree video. SWIVL video. These each have their pros and cons, and require choices to be made, such as whose audio is picked up, or whose movement is tracked.

The 360 degree video is a more obvious piece of equipment in the classroom, but it simultaneously shows teacher and students. The SWIVL makes it easy for teachers to collect data on their iPhone or iPad, but as the camera follows the audio lanyard it privileges the person wearing it, usually the teacher.

Video is great for teachers wanting to see their own teaching, including movement and wait times. Our Physical Education, Music and Languages teachers love it, but so do those in other learning areas and various year levels.

Audio

Some teachers want laser like focus on what is said in their classrooms. They are keen to listen closely to their questioning or instructional clarity, and to their students’ responses, for instance. Like verbatim scripting, by isolating audio, teachers can pick up on very specific aspects of their teaching, although others will be missed.

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Supplementary data include planning documents, goals and reflections, student work samples, student feedback and student achievement data. All data have their inherent biases, benefits and disadvantages. We are finding that mixing up the data so that teachers experience their classrooms in a variety of ways may be more effective than continually repeating the same data collection strategy for the same teacher.

Importantly, all data are owned exclusively by the teacher for their reflection and use. They are not for coaches or managers to use or publicise outside of the coach-coachee relationship. Focus groups with coached teachers at the school have revealed that teachers appreciate the choice and ownership over their classroom data. The trust in the coach-coachee relationship is paramount.by @debsnet

So while I have been focusing my own practice on refining my coaching skills, something else has been happening alongside. The data has been a tool for teacher learning and development, both in its own right and as part of the coaching cycle.

I’ve noticed that when, as coach, I get the data right, the conversation seems to almost take care of itself. The data, in these cases, has set off the teacher’s thinking, reflection, planning and action, before I turn up for the post conference.

In other conversations, looking at the data in detail, with well-crafted questions, can bring teachers to the point of an ‘a-ha’ moment or a change in practice. At times it is looking closely at the Danielson Framework for Teaching rubrics which allows teachers to see alternative teaching and learning possibilities, and refines their precision of language around practice. Other conversations require deeper coaching questions which drill into why lessons went the way they did, how teachers made decisions in their classrooms, what criteria they used to make those decisions, or what might have be going on for particular students in the lesson.

The data also provide an important ‘third party’ in the coaching conversation, allowing the conversation to be depersonalised and focused on the data, not the person.

Data is powerful stuff. And lesson data ‘done right’ – owned by the teacher, objective and giving the teacher a new perspective on their classroom, themselves and their students – can be transformative.

Good One, by @debsnet

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Can anyone be a coach? Selecting coaches for a school teacher growth model.

Coaches, to attain psychological safety and cognitive demand, must attend to both learning and relationship. ~ Costa and Garmston

Can anyone be a coach?

Who can and should coach?

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.

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.

by @debsnet

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.

'Where to today?' ~ the person, not the coach, chooses the direction & destination

‘Where to today?’ ~ the person, not the coach, chooses the direction & destination

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

keeping our focus on growth ~ growing people, not fixing people

keeping our focus on growth ~ growing people, not fixing people