This week would be concerned with the all important quality of feedback. Yes- there’s a lot to it and it’s more than a sit down and a chat over a cup of coffee if we truly want to unlock the door to practice that sticks.

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)

Read week 1 here (an introduction to the coaching equation)

Read week 2 here (fixed mindset tax)

Read week 3 here (clarity of instructional vision)

An opening video involved Mr Good coach and Miss McRookie again.

We’re not totally satisfied with the coaching here- Clarity of Instructional Vision is good- they’re on the same page and there’s a great deal of shared language apparent. Fixed Mindset Tax is not being paid as the teacher is no longer displaying this.

So- what’s missing?

  1. Goal-driven accountability– one skill at a time, follow through on implementation- one area of focus at a time. Instead- a lot of advice was given and it will be a challenge for the teacher to keep ALL of that in mind whilst planning and executing a new lesson.
  2. Forward looking– A coaching session should be seen as a planning session for how to implement changes in future lessons. Most of what we saw was rehashing what had already taken place in the observed lesson. Look forward to future lessons and their context instead.

So- why is it important to have just one, well chosen, high leverage skill for the teacher to work on at a time?

We’re shown a clip of a teacher in a lesson- it’s clear that she’s making at least 20 different decisions in just a minute- how long to give for a task, who to check and in what order, when to nudge students and how, what feedback to provide, how to correct behaviours, narrate positive behaviours…

Multiply these minutes until you arrive at an entire lesson and we’re well into hundreds of decisions being made. Move this into someone being coached and we’re asking them to add the practise of a new skill in there too. Not exactly an easy thing to achieve- even harder if it’s more than one skill at a time that we’re asking them to practise.

Why forward looking?

If a coaching session just re-hashes something that’s already happened, that’s just a total waste of time in terms of moving the teacher’s practice forward. We should spend no longer than one third of the session on the past.

Don’t then just talk about the future- practise for it. Get the teacher to stand up, rehearse the skill in front of you, provide immediate feedback, model it if need be. Reason being, when we’re next in the classroom with them, we can’t just jump in with our immediate feedback- so coaching time is preparing the teacher for their next lesson- also so that they don’t have to squeeze it in at other times and feel like they have more work.

The more confident they feel about the skill, the more likely they will be to commit to it independently.

We can then hold them to account because we’ve given them the best possible support to begin with.

Directive Coaching

This works because the coach sets goals, sets up practice and drives accountability. This may not seem initially like the best way to develop reflective practice but it does provide a really clear framework for teachers to make use of when they come to reflect independently. After all, the goal is not just for teachers to reflect but to reflect in a way that drives real improvements. They’ll learn that when they reflect on their own lessons, they too should choose just one thing to focus on. They’ll know the importance of scripting, practising and rehearsing before they implement new skills in the classroom. They also know to hold themselves accountable to how well they implement their changes and have impact on students’ learning.

An example coaching session walkthrough

It’s important during observation feedback to close the loop from the previous big takeaway. The coach in this video did that- she achieved this in a really specific way- with examples given of what the teacher did and what the student response was/might be. We can then score it on a scale in terms of how faithfully and successfully they implemented their big takeaway from their previous session.

We can then move to positive reinforcement- this highlights when and how they’re making more effective decision and where they’re making good progress- this also contributes to the development of a growth mindset. This should be precise- the coach in this example was able to provide specific instances of the teacher’s behaviour she had displays and how students responded. Concrete actions taken were identified and teacher inputs were always linked to student outputs.

Deciding on the next big takeaway is next- the first big decision is whether to continue with an old takeaway or continue with a new one.

  1. What was the biggest student problem that prevented the students from learning as much as they could in this lesson? If it’s the same problem as before then yes, keep the same takeaway. If not, then move it along.
  2. The second question might help you to decide if the skill was partially there but not fully- Will this teacher benefit more in the long term from truly mastering this skill? They’ll really know what it will feel like and they’ll be more invested next time so wherever possible level up to 100%

In the example we saw, at this point it was clear the coach was eliciting, from the teacher, why they had chosen that particular ‘big takeaway’ for them- as the takeaway should be directed by the coach, although ideally chosen by the teacher. Once elicited, the coach then reinforced the kinds of student behaviours we could expect to see if the teacher was adopting the actions suggested (teacher input, student output always).

So, in framing the takeaway- select the student behaviour you’ve seen and connect this to a teacher input that may have caused it.

Whilst the coach should set the takeaway, it’s important that the teacher still has a voice in the process; engaging in reflection.

Clear actions are defined as being expected by the coach in the following session.

The feedback goes smoothly in the video we see because the two share a really clear vision with one another- each of them believes the same things about how students learn best. This provides a platform from which their relationship can grow- clearly demonstrating the importance of clarity over instructional vision.

NOW- the coaching session turns into a planning session-

One of the teachers was only calling on a few students to answer her most rigorous questions- the coach’s new takeaway is that Emily will improve the quantity of the student practice by more equitably distributing her questions across the class.

The coach could have just said- ask more questions to more of your students that challenge them more. This wouldn’t have helped her. Instead, the coach speaks about planning some of her questions and deciding, with a seating plan, who she plans to ask them to (obviously taking into account other things that will happen in the lesson to put her off this plan).

Frame the problem, lay out a solution, articulate some next steps.

Not done yet! Let’s develop some muscle memory around the new skill.

Set an opportunity for the teacher to practice.

It’s important that this practice element gives the teacher an opportunity to stand up as if teaching the class and they should then receive immediate feedback to support their practice. The coach created a variety of scenarios for the teacher to practice (in this case, using more positive language to correct behaviours). Several minutes of sustained practice should take place with immediate feedback that enables the teacher not just to get things partially correct but closer to fully.

A post-meeting, pre-next observation email helps- from the teacher to the coach and not the other way around. This is where the teacher should articulate what their big takeaway was, what they’re planning for the next session, what they’ve practised and how that will appear in the lesson- ‘you should see…’ with really specific examples of the behaviours, actions and language from both the teacher and the students.

This allows the coach to determine if the messages were internalised and understood. It also maintains the teacher’s mindfulness of the big takeaway.

  • Teaching is too cognitively demanding to ask a teacher to focus on improving more than one thing at a time while delivering a lesson.
  • Coaching sessions should give the teacher and coach the opportunity to collaborate immediately on applying feedback and planning for implementation.
  • A reason to move to a new big takeaway- Although the teacher hasn’t achieved full mastery of a skill, the coach observes a more significant impediment to student learning.