A few weeks ago, I completed week 1 of the coaching teachers MOOC from Match Education. I’ve known for some time that I need to more formally develop my coaching skills but I wasn’t entirely sure how to achieve it. Technology has a crucial role in enabling lifelong learning and development for all, and often for free. The timing of this MOOC has been perfect as I embark on some new coaching relationships with individual staff. The skills I’ve already practised have, admittedly, felt a little too conscious and forced but that’s no bad thing; it’s an indication that deliberate practice is taking place and the more of this that happens, the more my approaches will become automated. Consulting my coachees and observing the impact our relationship has on their practice will all help me to ensure that what I practice is worthwhile.
I completed week 2 of the MOOC the weekend before last and and the content was asking me to consider the vital role of the ‘fixed mindset tax’ component of the ‘effective coaching’ equation we had been introduced to. I think that this week is potentially going to be the one with most impact on me, especially as the learning has real implications for working with students too.
A reminder of the equation- 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)
The first video of this week relayed how Mike Goldstein had been interviewing a candidate for Match Education and it came to the feedback part of the day.
‘Now I want you to open up your brain so I can drive a truck through it.’
He was preparing the candidate for feedback. This candidate was open to the feedback but it’s still important, for teachers we work with, to also prepare them for it- open them up to hearing the feedback (perhaps not in exactly this same way!). Staff we work with won’t necessarily be open to the critical feedback, at least, not all the time. They’re human and reflecting on how I’ve responded to feedback in the past, I know that my response is highly dependent on the timing of it and my state of mind.
When we talk about fixed mindset tax, we’re talking about the kinds of behaviours people exhibit that prevents them from hearing information that tells them they have to change in some way.
Effective coaching is all about ‘sticky change’ and if the person you’re coaching doesn’t truly believe they can make a change then you’re not going to get anywhere.
‘The Fixed Mindset Tax is therefore 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.’
Teaching is multi-faceted. Just because a teacher has a growth mindset about one thing, doesn’t mean they won’t have a fixed mindset about something else. Mindset also changes with a teacher’s mood. They might be growth about an aspect of their practice one day but fixed the next. I guess that explains why progress made can be so variable. Why teachers, and humans(!) ‘hit the wall’.
An effective coach won’t just coach a teacher in the areas they have a growth mindset already. An effective coach has license to coach a teacher in any area that will have payoff for students.
Effective coaching is about promoting growth mindset no matter the task or day.
Mr Good coach has been using the learning from this MOOC- especially the learning from the ‘Instructional Vision’ week of the course- he now has clear goals for his teacher and a rubric for what’s going on in the classroom. He and his coach now have a shared language. Quality of feedback is good too- he’s now learnt just to focus on one area and the thing he’s picked will have great impact on the students. He’s modelling the skill for the teacher and giving feedback along the way so they know how to implement it for themselves. It’s still a warm relationship but the actions are much more focused.
So- with the new teacher who’s keen to learn from everything, coaching is deemed to be effective. But what about with a teacher who’s not quite so enthusiastic?
The example we’re given is a teacher who is apprehensive about all kinds of aspects of teaching- in fact, he’s beginning to question whether he has the talents to actually stay in the profession.
Even the directed feedback and clear goals is lost on this teacher. The teacher is presenting all kinds of behaviour that prevent him from hearing and internalising the feedback.
As a coach, you can’t just say that you’ll only be effective with teachers who have a growth mindset, just as it’s not ok for teachers to say they’ll only be effective with certain students. Whilst the job is harder, it’s not impossible and we can’t just give up…
Being proactive is the answer and often the first step is getting the person to admit they have a problem with fixed mindset.
The four horsemen of fixed mindset
We’re first of all given the example of Orin being asked by his wife to get a check-up with his doctor regarding his health and weight. He goes to the doctor in the end as a wheezing basketball coach is never good.
The doctor tells him what the results have shown. The patient responds by saying, ‘I’m in great shape – look at me- you don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Look, the numbers don’t lie. It’s all here.’
The patient responds by saying, ‘I know. I suck at taking care of myself. I’ve let my family down. I’m setting a bad example to my kids.’
‘Ok, don’t get too down. There are steps we can start taking today.’
‘I just find it so difficult- what with managing this that and the other. Fast food is just so cheap.’
‘Well that might be true but…’
‘Actually, I’m not all that worried. This has happened before and I’ve always sorted myself out.’
‘But you really should…’
This is reminiscent of coaching sessions I’ve facilitated with teachers in the past, although this is a much more exaggerated version. At these times, I felt as though the teacher was doing all the talking but not in productive ways and I was a passenger to their monologue; attempting to steer it. It never felt as though we really got anywhere fast or anywhere at all.
In this example, Orin (the patient), has displayed the following behaviours-
- He was defeatist and pessimistic about being able to change his habits.
- He was overly optimistic and rejected the doctor’s sense of urgency.
- He blamed factors outside of his control for his poor health.
It’s easy to see why these behaviours may not exactly be all that helpful. We need to move beyond the teacher deflecting the problem or the feedback is never going to stick. And ‘sticky’ feedback is, after all, what effective feedback is aiming for.
Establishing some common language for naming these behaviours is an important step. This normalises the fact that we all feel fixed mindset at one point or another.
This isn’t something we tend to discuss openly but we’ll have to if we want to make progress with our teachers, as coaches.
Once this conversation is had, it can allow the teacher to be more mindful of behaviours and work to self-correct them.
The next series of clips we were presented with all involved a teacher who was working on how she notices and responds to misbehaviour. The coach had given her several strategies to work towards this- including use of demerits as a minor consequence for students not meeting her expectations.
In the feedback session, the teacher displays 4 common fixed mindset behaviours- the 4 horsemen of fixed mindset.
You’re right, I suck
This is a teacher who responds with a fixed mindset by talking about all of the things they’re terrible at and unable to do. Teachers in this mindset take feedback as commentary on themselves as a person rather than as advice on how to improve their practice.
The fixed mindset tax is paid in that the coach is required to take on the role of therapist- spending their entire time building the teacher back up.
You’re wrong, I rule
This time, the teacher responds by disputing the feedback. They’ve done things because you asked them to or they thought things were great when perhaps they didn’t.
The coach then spends time paying fixed mindset tax by justifying the data and observations they have in front of them.
Blame it on the rain
Third period, right after lunch. That student was out of control and completely derailed everything- he’s not usually that way.
The problem the coach wants to discuss is not something they can solve. They have no urgency solving the problem. They’re blaming it on everything other than the approaches they’ve been working to develop.
The fixed mindset tax is paid here in that the coach spends the entire session getting the teacher to focus on things that are a problem and convincing them that they do have the agency to change these things.
Optimist without a cause
This is a tricky one- they’re mostly agreeing with the feedback and they’re not disputing the narrative the coach brings to the session BUT they’re not placing the right level of urgency on solving the problem. They’re dismissing the complexity of the issue to the point that they’re not internalising what they have to do to make the changes. They merely assume that other factors and time will make it all fine in the end!
The fixed mindset tax is paid by the coach in the time spent trying to move the teacher’s general observations into practical and achievable actions that the teacher believes in the cause and potential of.
The videos alone are recommended as a really positive growth mindset intervention. They help teachers to see what’s ahead in a year of critical feedback but they also help them to see the issues with the kinds of language this teacher exhibits in each of the fixed mindsets. During coaching, our coachees are then often able to stop themselves during a feedback session when they see themselves exhibiting that behaviour and say, ‘Hold on…that’s not productive. Let me consider my response again.‘
I have already implemented the approach of explicitly speaking to a future coachee about the important part mindset plays in how we’ll work together. She loved being introduced to the 4 horsemen of fixed mindset and, like me, could also see the significance to her work with students as much as our work together.
Recognising and calling the mindsets out is only the first step though. Let’s see how ‘mindset’ plays out in the context of a full coaching cycle.
The snowman effect
Robert Pianta researched interventions that could potentially shape a teacher’s expectations for their students.
He knew that teachers with high expectations for their students were more likely to have high student achievement.
Group A of teachers got direct instruction about high expectations whilst group B received coaching about basic teaching skills.
Group B were the more successful group of teachers where resulting high student achievement was concerned. Pianta and his researchers believed this was because this set of teachers saw, more quickly, evidence that students could learn and display positive learning behaviours (ones that had previously struggled). This lead to them having those higher expectations because they had evidence to support it- they weren’t just told to have high expectations.
The mindset effect was two-fold in some ways- it affected their mindset about the students’ ability to learn but it also affected their mindset about their own ability to grow- as they saw that coaching was helping them to improve their practice. They were then more hungry for feedback and for growth.
The large circle of the snowman is the skill the teacher is trying to develop.
- The top of that circle is the first feedback session where the 4 horsemen are likely to be present. The coach must slow down their coaching to identify these behaviours. Time will also be spent developing common language to defeat some of those behaviours.
- Once some of the horsemen are back in the stable then feedback can take place- the kind that is internalised by the teacher. The teacher clarifying detail and processing- leaving the room with an idea of the way ahead.
- Imperfect implementation- Implementation takes place where the teacher is working to implement strategies and approaches. It will be imperfect at this point in the journey.
- Then improved, but sub-optimal, feedback sessions- because the teacher’s mindset has not yet been transformed.
- Then improved implementation and refined feedback
- Then acquisition of the skill
Having achieved this skill, the teacher can now see that they’re one small step towards achieving the vision of excellent instruction the coach has laid out for them. She now has evidence that she’s able to change and improve.
Skill B is the next part of the torso. The circumference is significantly shorter than it was for the first skill- this is because it takes significantly less time for the teacher to acquire the skill (without all the common language agreements and fixed mindset hurdles).
It’s shorter also because the most important thing that happened in A was not the acquisition of a new skill but the development of a growth mindset. If she can take that mindset and bring it to subsequent coaching sessions then the loop of acquisition will be much tighter.
- It will begin with a coaching session with fewer appearances of the 4 horsemen. Feedback is processed and internalised.
- There’s still imperfect implementation as it’s new skill development BUT there’ll be more confidence and optimism about acquisition.
- Improved implementation and refined feedback takes place
- The loop ends with the teacher feeling confident that the acquisition of this new skill will have real payoffs for his students.
For skill C, the feedback loop is even tighter.
So what are the implications of not developing a growth mindset or pushing our teachers to fully acquire a new skill?
You’ll end up pushing the Skill A snowball uphill and not really getting to anything else- the loop of feedback for Skill A just gets larger, picking up more and more horsemen along the way. What we want is a downhill trajectory where momentum is gained.