Our first video depicts a coaching session for a brand new maths teacher with enthusiasm and optimism in abundance.
The video we’re shown indicates the ‘coach’ doing all of the talking and sharing stories about their own teaching. This kind of approach clearly wouldn’t have a positive impact on her practice; the ideas were in abundance and not organised in any kind of framework for her to follow. It also wasn’t clear what she would work on first to improve tomorrow.
Coaching should seek to change behaviours.
Whilst what we were shown was an extreme example; I have been considering these things within my own practice recently-
- How often do I speak to someone about their practice and share tales from my own practice? How helpful are these and if they are helpful then am I using them in the right way to help with changes that will be long-lasting in their practice?
- How often do we talk about several aspects of their practice all at once without prioritising the aspects in any way?
- How often do I offer multiple suggestions for aspects of their practice without giving a single one time to settle?
I chose to engage in this MOOC because, like so many other educators, I’ve landed in a role where I’m influencing practice, having had little to no real grounding in what it means to coach teachers effectively (bar a one day session involving some role-play 5 years ago and a half day session on the GROW model a couple of years back).
Coaching is challenging in institutions but once it is in place, how do you make it effective? Just having it in place, whilst an achievement, will not necessarily lead to high impact.
Matt Kraft was involved to explore the impact of their coaching model (match residency programme)- access his publications here.
The coaching model was highly intense with full days in several sessions over the summer. There was a focus on aligning teachers with goals that were to be sustained over a long time period. A common language about practice and improvement was established and iteration was important with continual practice and feedback the day after. Significantly, all participants were open, eager and committed; essential for the intense coaching process. A randomised control trial was carried out. The studies are ongoing with a 3rd cohort of teachers participating in the randomised trial.
With the first cohort, they found a striking level of impact- observers, principals and students were all involved in evaluating the teacher and all of those teachers were deemed to be more effective by the end of the year.
The 2nd cohort was a larger group- coaching didn’t move the needle for this group. This might have been related to the fact that the total days and weeks of coaching were reduced (by 1 week out of a total of 4). Each coach was also required to work with more teachers. Their hope is that the 3rd cohort will help them to delve into this effect some more.
The Match Education formula for effective coaching
Teacher change as generated by coaching = clarity of instructional vision of the coach X quality of feedback delivered by the coach X (1- fixed mindset tax)
Teachers will often mistake coaching as being effective when really all it has been is good; merely as it has made them feel validated and supported. It is effective coaching we must drive for; the kind that leads to long-lasting change.
Clarity of Instructional Vision
Before work begins, the coach and the teacher need a shared vision of what great learning looks like. This vision should be focussed on the students- what the students are doing, saying and thinking at any given moment of the lesson.
Match Education have a rubric for this that will be shared in a future week of the MOOC-
- Students are on task, paying attention and working hard throughout the lesson.
- They feel like the teacher notices their behaviour so if they do slip of task for a moment, they’re able to be re-directed without much fuss or complaining.
- The students also feel like the objective of the lesson is clear to them and it’s rigorous too. It’s something difficult but still attainable.
- The activities of the class are aligned to that objective and they feel like they’re getting lots of opportunities to practise and get feedback from their teacher so they know how they’re getting on and what they need to do to make progress at any given time.
There are many sports movies with coaches in them that we can learn from. This MOOC uses the Hoosiers movie as the example-
The team in this movie gets a new coach in the form of Gene Hackman. His vision is very different to that of the team and the town. In his first practices, he doesn’t even use a basketball and when he does introduce it, he tells them they have to pass 4 times before they’re able to shoot. This is at such odds with the players’ philosophy that it took time to get his team on the same page. When they did then his practices made sense and the team became successful but this took too long. Ensuring they were on the same page to begin with would have helped.
An effective teacher-coach relationship requires an aligned vision.
Quality of Feedback
What should actually happen during a coaching session?
The first video did not have any of the expected components of good quality feedback and instead featured the following-
- Too many areas for the teacher to focus on
- No priorities set for high-leverage areas
- No accountability for previous feedback
- No opportunity set for the practise of new skills
Whilst coaching is a collaborative endeavour, it’s ultimately directive
- Here’s what I want you to change
- Here’s how we’re going to work together to make that change
- Here’s how I’m going to make you accountable so that the change actually happens
Feedback is reasonable in scope.
‘Teachers have a lot to think about. If you’ve ever been yelling the homework assignment down the hall after half the class has already left, then you know exactly what we mean. Given the cognitive demands of teaching a lesson, we tend to think that asking a teacher to keep one focus area in mind when they start teaching is already plenty.’
Feedback aligns with instructional vision.
‘If you’ve defined a clear instructional vision, it will keep your feedback focused and constrained within a set number of topics. You can think about this vision as the yearlong syllabus for your coaching relationship. A teacher might show up with burning questions about the Freire text she’s working through, but a quality feedback session maintains direction and urgency towards your goals around instructional coaching. Might we suggest happy hour for that very worthy Freire discussion?’
Feedback addresses a high-leverage area of growth.
‘Observe any teacher and you’ll be able to find elements of their practice that they could improve upon. Quality feedback, however, will identify the area of growth that is the biggest barrier keeping students from learning. Again, if you have a clear instructional vision, you can probably use it to identify the highest-leverage interventions to move the teacher closer to that vision.’
Feedback is supplemented with modeling and practice.
‘It would make for odd feedback if a basketball coach said, “Hey, your jump shot form is all wrong. Get back out and try it again,” and then sat down on the bleachers. Typically you’d expect the coach to stand up, grab a ball, and model the appropriate technique. We think the same is true in teacher coaching. If a coach is committed to modeling new skills and setting up opportunities for the teacher to practice those skills in the coaching session itself, they’re much more likely to see that teacher executing well in subsequent lessons.’
Teacher is accountable for implementing previous feedback.
‘This is a big one. It’s possible for a coach to have accounted for elements 1-4 above and still fall short of quality feedback if she’s not willing to hold the teacher accountable for following through and mastering new skills. We see plenty of almost effective coaching where teachers lose ground when gains are not solidified by closing the loop with implementation feedback.’
Fixed mindset tax
Most educators will now be familiar with Carol Dweck‘s teachings on mindset.
Our mindset changes depending on the task we’re faced with. You might be growth about being able to improve one aspect of teaching, you might be more fixed on another. When we’re in a fixed state of mind, we believe that our ability is fixed and there’s little we can do to change it. When we’re in a growth state of mind of then we believe we can, given time and effort, change how good we are at something. An individual’s mindset is not an overall disposition, and can change from skill to skill.
Even if the coach shares a clear vision with the teacher, if the teacher doesn’t believe they can make the improvement then they’re never going to get better.
Fixed mindset tax is therefore in the equation as it represents the learning lost in a feedback session between a coach and a teacher who isn’t optimistic about his or her ability to improve at the classroom skill they are discussing.
‘The Fixed Mindset Tax is the penalty a coach pays in a feedback session where the teacher is being coached on a skill that they’re not confident they can develop. The teacher with fixed mindset may demonstrate a number of behaviors that deflect the feedback a coach is delivering, or undermine the potential solutions that the coach offers. In these situations, the coach loses tons of valuable time supporting the teacher emotionally, justifying their perspective, or convincing the teacher to take ownership over barriers to student learning.’
Be aware of the apparent success of ‘good’ coaching rather than ‘effective’ coaching. Teachers can rate their coaching experience highly not because it changed their classroom behaviors for the better, but because interacting with a coach is emotionally validating for them.
A clear instructional vision allows teacher and coach to have a common language about which to discuss effective classroom practices.It will allow for goal-setting and progress monitoring of the teacher’s classroom practice. It will also keep feedback sessions urgently focused on a well-defined scope of potential topics for feedback.
Quality feedback consists of the following three elements-
- Feedback is accompanied by the coach providing direct modeling for new skills that the teacher will be implementing.
- Feedback that has been delivered is revisited by the coach to ensure that the teacher has successfully implemented previous discussed skills and techniques.
- Feedback is delivered with language that aligns with the instructional vision decided upon by teacher and coach.
A teacher with a growth mindset- “I’m actually really bad at this skill. We need to spend a lot of time discussing this so I can nail it down and not stress out about it anymore.” OR “This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn to do as a teacher. Everyone says it takes years to master, but I’m willing to give it a shot even though it’s daunting.” OR “I’m not sure that this is the most high-leverage thing we could be discussing. Don’t you think that making sure all students are engaged in the lesson would be even more valuable to discuss?”
Clarity of instructional vision- Regardless of where it comes from or how it is articulated, both coach and teacher come to an understanding about the specifics of the instructional vision.
‘At its core, effective teacher coaching is about change. And change is hard. Especially in a profession as fast-paced and cognitively demanding as teaching. We believe a coach needs to attend to all three variables in our formula in order to drive meaningful, lasting changes in a teacher’s practice that have real payoffs for kids. That’s legitimately rigorous work. But we also believe there is no more powerful lever to change a teacher’s practice than a coach – someone who will meet a teacher where they are, and work relentlessly to take them where they need to go.’