Individualising staff performance development

doorway, Oia, 2008

This year at my school we are trialling a different approach to performance development and review processes. Historically, we have had a range of processes and each year staff have been assigned to the process they are ‘up for’ based on a chronological cycle. This has tended to mean that in the first year of employment at the school, staff go through a probation process. The next three years have involved a linear cycle of two years of coaching around teaching practice, followed by a year in which the staff member engages in reflection and performance review with their line manager around their role. And so on. Each year staff also have a reflection and goal-setting conversation with their line manager, which functions as an important check-in for the manager and a key feedback process for the staff member.

These processes aim to engender trust, build capacity, and provide support, while also facilitating a relationship between person and manager around performance, development, and needs. They are founded on a belief that our staff are capable professionals who have the capacity and the will to grow professionally; and an expectation that they will endeavour to improve, no matter how good they already are. Data, research, coaching, collaboration, mentoring, and self-reflection are all tools embedded into these processes.

Yet, despite the best intentions of these processes, and their basis in research, some staff have felt that the school-based development processes have not met their needs, or have not been meaningful. It has had me wondering:

How might school-based performance development be differentiated to meet the needs, aspirations and career stages of staff?

So this year we are trialling a non-linear, more individualised approach to our performance development. Teachers, for instance, will negotiate with their manager a choice from a number of options. Options for teaching staff include:

  • Coaching around practice with a teacher trained as a Cognitive Coach; involves using low-inference data for reflection and capacity building within a confidential and trusting space; leaders can opt to be coached by a peer or other leader
  • Working with an expert teacher who acts as a kind of classroom consultant; might include team teaching and mentoring with specific advice around classroom practice.
  • A reflection and feedback process with their line manager (which needs to happen every 3-4 years)
  • An internally-designed leadership development program for aspirant or early career leaders; includes leadership profiles, school leaders running sessions
  • A professional learning group, bringing staff together from across the school to engage in scholarly literature, reflection, and shared practice.
    • Teaching best practice
    • Pedagogies of learning spaces
    • ICT for teaching and learning
    • Post-graduate study

All staff will continue to complete their yearly reflection and goal setting conversation with their line manager. In order to support this work, all our school leaders, many of whom have previously completed the Cognitive Coaching Foundation course, are undertaking GROWTH Coaching training. This training will help them to guide and enhance the goal setting of the people they manage, and it supports our organisational belief (based in research and knowledge of our own context) that coaching is a powerful vehicle for building individual, collaborative and organisational capacity. We will also continue to provide additional leadership support and development.

The above options do not cover everything that educators do to develop themselves and others. All managers regularly check-in on the performance of their staff; they do not wait until the rigorous formal process rolls around. We have staff who mentor pre-service teachers, contribute to professional associations, present at conferences, write textbooks, or complete post-graduate study. The above school-based options do, however, provide a more flexible suite of alternatives that honour where our staff are at in their career journeys. As always, we will ask for honest feedback from staff as we seek to find ways to serve our students, staff, and the shared purpose of the organisation.

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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

Everyone is coachable: we are all capable of change & growth

All who wish to continually improve their craft … never lose the need to be coached. ~ Art Costa & Bob Garmston

dedicated to those who dream, by @debsnet

I was recently asked a question on Twitter: ‘Are some teachers un-mentorable?’ My response was along the lines of, ‘No-one is unmentorable or uncoachable; a person always has the capacity for growth.’ This belief underpins my ideas about school change and my school’s teacher growth model on which I presented at researchED conference in Sydney and ACEL in Melbourne.

In scholarly literatures, coaching (sometimes used interchangeable with the term ‘mentoring’, such as in the writings of Ellie Drago-Severson, who I talked with last year) seems to be divided into expert coaching and peer coaching.

Expert coaching involves an expert or master who provides guidance to a less-experienced apprentice. This includes Jim Knight’s instructional coaching in which the expert instructional coach provides judgements, feedback and suggestions, based on their expertise.

The other kind of coaching is peer or reciprocal coaching in which someone is paired with those of a similar level of expertise. These peers proceed to coach or mentor each other in a collaborative and non-hierarchical way. This approach, which is intended to develop a collaborative learning culture as well as the individual’s practice, includes models like instructional rounds, in which teachers form small professional learning groups which collectively work to enhance their practice.

Both coaching trends are based on use of data for growth (in a teaching sense, this would be some kind of classroom observation data) but are underpinned by different principles and beliefs. Expert coaching models assume that people learn best when someone with more knowledge and experience provides them with specific, targeted feedback for improvement, while the peer coaching models assumes that it is by working together that we can improve.

One form of coaching which can be conducted by a peer or an expert is Costa and Garmston’s Cognitive Coaching which is based in brain research like this which suggests that we are most likely to grow when we do thinking ourselves, rather than receive thoughts doled out by others. Cognitive Coaching focuses on developing individuals as self-directed learners who consciously reflect upon, conceptualise and apply understandings from one experience to the next. It is a data-based, non-judgemental, developmental and reflective model for conversations for planning, reflecting and problem resolving, as well as a tool for developing professional communities that value interdependence and individual capacity for self-directed learning.

The goal of Cognitive Coaching is the growth of individual and organisation through the development both of autonomy (of the individual) and interdependence (the development of a holonomous organisational culture in which individuals function as both autonomous, independent individuals and interdependent, responsive members of the larger system).

Unlike expert models of coaching which involve specific coach feedback, judgements and suggestions, Cognitive Coaching involves mediated processing. The Cognitive coach does not offer judgements, feedback or advice, but asks ‘artfully vague’ questions or presents impartial observational or other data, followed by silence, in order to encourage the cognitive and reflective processes of the teacher. There is certainly an art to the asking of well-crafted cognition-provoking questions, as I have found in my journey as a coach. This approach is intended to create personal change through new connections in the brain and reconstruct knowledge through a conscious, reflective approach to new experiences.

By avoiding positive and negative value judgements and opinion, by coaching ‘without manipulation,’ Cognitive Coaching aims to transform an individual’s beliefs about learning and refine their cognitive maps by encouraging them to talk and think about their decisions. In this way, talking aloud leads to examination and refinement of choices and behaviours.

The use of a Cognitive Coaching process for teacher learning and development is supported by Charlotte Danielson’s work (you can find my conversation with Charlotte here) in which she notes that mentors, supervisors, evaluators and colleagues should beware of imposing their own styles or preferences when observing. The question is not “Is this how I would do it?” but “Given the context, what is appropriate?” She also advises that classroom observations must be accompanied by conferences before and after observed lessons.

My own experiences as cognitive coach and coachee have shown me the power of this kind of coaching to allow people’s own internal resources to kick in to gear, their own passions and thinking to light up, and their confidence to solve their own problems and forge their own paths to soar. It has shown me the power of really being listened to and being given a safe, trusting place in which to verbally explore situations. It has also shown me that when you own your ‘a-ha’ moments, the learning sticks. Change happens. Practice shifts.

So, returning to the question of the uncoachable or unmentorable teacher, I wonder about the intent of the coaching or mentoring.

Cognitive Coaching aims to ‘convey a valued person from where they are, to where they want to be.’ There are some important assumptions being made here. The person is valued. They are assumed to be motivated and capable of reflection and growth. And they are helped on their learning journey to a destination to which they aspire. This model of coaching is not a deficiency model based on where the manager wishes the person would go or what an expert has identified as an area of growth. It is about the person. And. Where. THEY. Want. To. Go.

Do I believe that absolutely any teacher, any person, can be coached or mentored into professional growth? Absolutely.

We believe that all human beings are capable of change, that we continue to grow cognitively throughout our lifetime and that we all possess a vast reservoir of untapped potential. ~ Art Costa & Bob Garmston

buddha, by @debsnet