2017: The year of the coach

Imagine, if you will, a small Quentin Blake sketch of a woman. She’s eagerly skipping around the empty page of a book – leaving sparks of colour with her feet as she goes. You watch her doing this from afar for quite some time before she finally lands at the bottom right hand corner of the page and lifts it up just a fraction. She turns around and eagerly beckons for you to join her.

That particular image was conjured on Thursday evening sat on my newly purchased beanbag in the corner of my office on the phone to Naomi Ward. Many such images have been conjured since November 2016 and whilst each have helped me to reach the point from which I write this now, few have meant so much.

Naomi has been working with me to identify and believe my strengths, crush my inner gremlin (the voice so that so often used to tell me I couldn’t do it), and articulate my values so that I could feel like less of an imposter in my leadership role.

Alongside coaching sessions, a number of other events have been pivotal on my journey over the last year –

In December 2016, I spoke to all of our staff at The Sheffield College about being 10% braver. Since then, staff have spoken to me about what this has meant to them and how they too have been propelled by 10% braver since.

The apparent impact of this message on my colleagues lead to me being more engaged with the work of #WomenEd and so 2017 lead to me attending my first WomenEd event in March. I left feeling so utterly uplifted by the people who surrounded me that day that I endeavoured to remain involved. This was a special place to be indeed.

I continued to connect with the WomenEd crowd and was drawn to present at TeachMeet Reading in June after linking with the incredible Anshi who exudes endless positivity. Just after I presented, I received an email from Jaz: a woman I admire so much for speaking her truth and empowering others through her vulnerability. Her words are pinned on my 2018 noticeboard so that I have a constant remind of the impact I have when I live my values:

Hey hey! I am so chuffed now I get the chance to send you a personal message to say YOU ARE AWESOME! Your presentation was honest, resourceful and powerful! Well done on being 10% braver.

Fast-forward to September 2017 and I had been selected to share my journey towards crushing my inner gremlin and finding confidence at the national WomenEd unconference in September. That day confirmed it for me. I had found a tribe – a group of people it felt good to be around. Here was a collective within which I felt empowered to be me. Truly me. No excuses. No apologies. For the first time in my life.

The last year has brought me to a position where my narrative has been rewritten. No longer is it penned by the dominant voice of my inner gremlin.

  • I have confidence about the impact I have on my team and colleagues.
  • I regularly celebrate the smallest of my accomplishments (mainly with star jumps!)
  • I recognise that proper rest and relaxation is necessary nourishment.
  • I have a clear vision of the supportive tribe I want to be surrounded by.

I emerge from a chapter of my life whose narrative had dominated me with its doubt and distinct lack of confidence in the impact I’m capable of having. I’ve chosen not to rip this chapter up but rather roll it up tightly so that I can hold it in my hand from time to time and remind myself of all the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

On Thursday, I sat on the phone to Naomi unsure of how I would ever thank her for the impact she has had on my life.

In 2018, I have taken a lead from Hannah Wilson and selected a word that will guide my actions for the year and this will be my first act of gratitude to Naomi. My word is ‘Believe’ and I will choose to –

  • Believe in being unequivocally and unapologetically me
  • Believe in the strength I possess to get through any challenge
  • Believe in the power of rest to nourish my soul
  • Believe that there is a tribe that awaits me where there is trust and collaboration
  • Believe in all of my strengths and the impact I am capable of having on others

On Friday, I wrote the following words to colleagues I have worked with for two years at The Sheffield College –

Today is my last day at the College and I hold a lot of fantastic memories of my last two years here. I have always believed in the power of sharing our learning journeys with one another and so I will share some brief reflections with you for one last time.

The work we do in Further Education is transformative and over the last 10 years working in the sector, I’ve witnessed the conditions that enable staff working within it to excel.

None of us can do this job alone. It is those staff who work closely with each other and value one another as humans above all else that deliver the best results for our students. I’m thankful to all the teams and individuals who have proven this during my time here.

Gratitude gets you far. I’ve seen, first hand, the impact of a sincere thank you: an email, a kind word, or a small token of appreciation.

Generosity in sharing of resources, ideas, and viewpoints enables great things to emerge. One idea sparks another until everyone is buoyed by their newly-discovered collective efficacy.

Developing people is about opening up a space for them to step into; a space filled with heartfelt encouragement, honest dialogue and listening. Being able to step freely into such a space allows us to step into change, growth, and learning.

No sooner than my message had been sent did I begin to receive responses from all corners of the organisation and I was reminded yet again of how important it is to never underestimate the impact you have when you live your values. These words came from a support member of staff who I had interactions with but someone I never guessed I would have had such an impact on –

Since you started work here you are the one person I believe has had the biggest impact on the College. I have seen how our staff development days have been transformed and how you actually engaged staff, made us think in new ways and have given us so many forums in which we can share our ideas. Most of all you have helped give us a feeling of belonging and empowerment.

As I read through all the messages received and considered my time in Further Education over the last 10 years; the colleagues I have worked alongside and the students whose lives have been transformed, I’m left feeling so privileged to have been a part of such an incredible environment for such a long time….But my Quentin Blake drawing is calling me to turn the page into a new chapter and I’m ready to follow her, or at least I will be after enjoying some days of leave ahead of my new adventure.

2018 will see me take a 10% braver step into a role as the Online Learning Specialist at the Chartered College of Teaching. The role combines my love of professional development and learning with technology and I could not think of an organisation that better aligns with my values. I believe I will find colleagues to form my trusted tribe for 2018 (alongside WomenEd) and I know it will be a brand new space from which I can continue to grow and flourish.

Thank you to all who have shaped my journey thus far. Here’s to a brand new chapter.

Working with ‘Novice’ and ‘Expert’ Teachers – David Weston

This is a rather delayed write-up of my notes and reflections on David Weston’s (@informed_edu) workshop at The Telegraph Festival of Education. Having heard David speak on several occasions, I felt certain that he’d live up to everything good CPD should and I’d leave with disrupted thinking and things to be curious about. I wasn’t disappointed.

Within a few weeks, I had shared my new learning with senior colleagues as well as fellow leaders at College. This has been learning that has locked itself firmly in my thoughts and will hopefully lead to more effective CPD approaches for colleagues.

Many of us used to facilitating CPD or introducing fresh approaches in our colleges and schools will be accustomed to colleagues often presenting with the rolling eyes of,I’ve been teaching for 20 years. What will be different about this new learning that I won’t have experienced before?’ And why blame them? Much of education policy seems to take a cyclical motion. Something experienced 6 years previously appears again but those crafty politicians have disguised it to look like something else, assuming that we’ll all be fooled into thinking they hold all the answers to our prayers. Alas, we are not as stupid as we clearly appear and we can see through their thinly veiled attempts at revolution. So when teachers pitch up at yet another workshop or coaching session claiming to ‘revolutionise their practice’, there is little surprise many present with an initial cynicism. 

So how can we approach teacher learning in a way that lands with novices as much as it does with experts?

I mean, apparently the inclusion of a brain or the word ‘science’ could get us pretty far…

But seriously, what answers might science hold for us?

Please excuse any inaccuracies in what follows and please feel free to leave feedback on anything you think is scientifically awry. It’s not especially my strong suit and it’s new learning for me!

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The images used are ones I created – I’m sure David Weston (@informed_edu) wouldn’t appreciate you thinking they were his handiwork!

Schemas formed the basis of the first part of David’s exploration of teacher learning. For those of you who don’t know what these are, they’re essentially ‘packets of information that help us anticipate what we’ll find when we encounter a certain concept, category, person, or situation.’ (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Psychology)

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When we encounter a new situation, our senses pick up on aspects of this new situation and add to the packet. For instance, we learn at a young age how to tell if things are hot and how best to respond to this situation in the future – ie. don’t put your hands directly into fire. In fact, remain a safe distance from it.

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It’s important that things are discarded from the packet or placed in a different packet at times though. For instance, when we learn what a dog is, we recognise it has ears, 4 legs and a tail. As we come across more dogs we learn that they’re furry and bark. But what happens when we come across a cat? They’re furry, they have 4 legs, they have ears and a tail. But they don’t bark… If this information were to be added to the existing dog schema then it may cause some considerable issues… Luckily, we check this thought with those around us and they confirm that what we’re seeing is not a dog. As we learn and form schemas, there is a continual adjustment to what our senses are presenting; causing equilibrium and disequilibrium as our schemas adjust and are formed.

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So, our brains respond to sensory information and begin to form associations; constantly causing this shifting movement as our schemas form and adjust based on our responses to the environment we find ourselves in.

Let’s translate this to the teaching environment then. Think back to being a brand new teacher. How did it feel? An assault on the senses? New things, faces, people, process, approaches, knowledge… You can see where this is going! A serious sense of disequilibrium and one can easily imagine the impact this might have on our learning.

 

When working with ‘novice’ teachers, it’s important that we help them to navigate the choppy seas and their feelings of being overwhelmed by the assault on the senses and their confused attention trying to make sense of everything they’re coming across.

How many of us when we first started teaching (especially in Further Education) were plunged straight into a classroom on day 1 with no training and a full timetable (my hand is up!)? How many of us were sent to observe more experienced colleagues to see how they did things? How many of us left those observations thinking all teachers were gods with magic powers and presence we couldn’t work out how to get our hands on?

This is the point at which I realised that what David was sharing could be absolute dynamite for the profession if we all took it on board.

Novice teachers have few relevant schemas already formed and no real clear idea of what a good lesson looks like. Lessons lead to confused attention and there is a sensory overload but they struggle to make connections and associations as they have no existing schemas in this area to help. It’s an exhausting experience and their working memory becomes overloaded as what they’re experiencing is in a brand new domain of expertise.

Novice teachers are unable to make sense of what they’re seeing in a more experienced colleague because they don’t have existing schemas yet. They see students engaged, attentive and working well. They see a teacher in command of the room and seemingly effortlessly involving each and every student in answering questions. The novice teacher sees only the end product and conclude that there’s just something magic going on or they try to piece together what they’ve seen based on little knowledge of teaching and form incorrect schemas.

If they were to have a colleague or mentor with them whilst watching the session then that colleague could act as the translator of the effective practice- ‘They’re reacting in that way because of the teacher’s position in the room, their stillness, the routine they’ve established with the ‘do now’ activity and meet and greet at the door.’ ‘She’s getting every student involved and boosting their confidence by taking a look at their work first, and spotting which ones have the answers before asking them to share with everyone else.’

You get the idea. It’s essentially a walkthrough of what a teacher has achieved so that the work of a teacher is demystified for a novice and made to seem far more achievable. That it’s not just down to experience. Most things written by Doug Lemov achieve this kind of thing perfectly, see this example of cold calling. (I might be a little obsessed by Doug Lemov at the minute).

The dangers that exist if we leave novice teachers to their own devices is that they begin to form schemas that won’t lead to effective practice in the future or a continued sense of being overwhelmed that ultimately leads them to leaving the profession.

So what might help?

Well, the paired observations would go far to support the formation of effective schemas. As a result of a paired observation, novice teachers could then benefit from clear procedures to follow for just 1, 2, or 3 aspects of their practice at a time so the disequilibrium is reduced. We shouldn’t be asking them to develop all aspects of their practice at once or expecting them to; this will only increase their feelings of being overwhelmed.

After recalling my own start in teaching, I feel some of these approaches could have seriously reduced the negative impact of being thrown in at the deep end. When I recalled what I’d heard from the Head of Michaela earlier on in the day speak about how their new teachers receive feedback on specific aspects of their practice 4 times a day, I made the immediate connection and my schema about effective CPD for novice teachers had expanded.

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So what of expert teachers?

As experts (experienced teachers and not necessarily effective ones), we have a lot of relevant schemas to make use of and we can therefore direct our attention effectively to whatever needs it the most. What we choose to pay attention to is easily decided upon as we’ve become accustomed to the classroom environment and have well-established schemas to help us respond.

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The issue with well-established schemas is that ‘unlearning’ is not easily achieved and whilst learning something new, we are easily drawn back to old habits and existing schemas. We demonstrate bias and reject the unfamiliar. Learning and change becomes a much greater challenge.

What biases should we look out for in our ‘expert’ teachers?

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Most leaders, coaches, mentors, and facilitators of CPD will undoubtedly recognise some of these biases in colleagues they’ve worked with at one point or another.

This is the curse of ‘knowledge’. We have an inability to remember what it’s like being an overwhelmed novice.

So what might help?

  • Get ‘expert’ teachers to articulate existing thinking- ‘What are you doing now and why? How does it impact your students?’ (In order to change or at the very least challenge their existing thinking).
  • Leaders being more transparent about their learning and the journey taken, including their own biases they had to challenge along the way. All the better if they can demonstrate, too, their evidence-based decision making proving that whilst their experience had taught them to make one decision, they routinely choose to check this against what other sources of evidence have to say.
  • Encourage expert teachers to gain a new perspective on existing thinking by following a student around for a day to see learning through a different pair of eyes, a different lens. A colleague to join them help them reflect on this experience would surely help them to correct and form new schemas just as it would for a novice?
  • As a leader, use social connection to change and overcome resistance. Form connections and make relationships. Admit your own failures and reassure them.
  • Experimentation, a sense of agency and high quality feedback are all essential.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about expert teachers is that it’s vital to sustain the change over time on order to suppress and replace incorrect or ineffective schemas. Short interventions mean that existing schema will just reassert themselves so it needs to be continuous.

Once more for the cheap seats…

Development must be continuous for expert teachers. One offs can even be actively harmful for experts as they might reinforce schemas we already have- ‘It looks similar to something I already do so I’ll just continue doing that as there’s nothing long term to influence my thinking in any other direction.’ There’s no depth to one off experiences and so the learning has all the stickiness of a sticking plaster ready to fly off at any moment.

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Novice to expert is the journey that we want and we want it in its most effective form. Just repeating procedures won’t make us great teachers. We need a higher level of expertise than that. We need an adaptive approach. Responsive teacher learning will support this so that a teacher’s learning is pursued based on the classroom happening in front of them.

This session from David at the festival has seriously disrupted my thinking about teacher CPD and, along with the online Match Education course on coaching, has already had impact on my practice and approach to working with teachers.

Now that’s the level of impact we want from CPD.

If only it could all be great as this.

I believe it can be.

We just need to listen to David!

Transforming Teacher Education – Mentoring

A few weeks ago now, I completed the ‘Transforming Teacher Education’ course with Sheffield Hallam University and the Education and Training Foundation.

Week 1- From Teacher to Teacher Educator and Observation Skills

Week 2- A Teacher Education Curriculum, Teacher Identity and Developing English and maths skills

Online session- Use of Technology

One of our online weeks covered the topics of effective mentoring and these are my notes.

Trainees’ areas for development may consist of any or all of the following-

  • Acquiring teacher expertise
  • Understanding different situations
  • Understanding how an institution works
  • Acquiring a new approach to learning
  • Overcome setbacks and obstacles
  • Adjust to change
  • Understand appropriate behaviour
  • Develop personally

Trainees have a wide spectrum of development areas as they have the dual role of being both a student and a teacher.

Tutors on teacher education courses have a more coaching than mentoring role; they’re concerned with the tasks trainees need to complete and there’s an emphasis on feedback to enable them to perform better. Tutors will typically address their short-term needs.

Mentors of trainee teachers are focussed on capability and future progression of the trainee. It’s a relationship for life, or at least has real potential to be.

Tutors and mentors should ideally be working in tandem to help a trainee to adjust personally and professionally, as well as adjust to the context and culture they find themselves in.

Developing an effective relationship

Being mindful of ego states will be helpful for all parties in a mentoring relationship.

TA_ego_states_diagram

Image available from here

Whilst we will strive for an adult-adult relationship, there are moments we where we fall into being more of a parent, or even a child.

Communication levels

  • Common niceties
  • Sharing of information
  • Sharing of opinions and ideas
  • Sharing of beliefs and values
  • Peak rapport

The levels have to be taken one at a time- we can’t skip to peak rapport; the relationship is built over time.

In order to bring a trainee along, we need to take the step first before other trainees feel it’s do-able for themselves. Once we share opinions and ideas for instance, then other people will feel it’s safe to do so.

Clear boundaries need to be maintained. As a teacher-educator, we don’t have to share everything so we should set boundaries in advance about what we’ll choose to share.

What might the consequences be for providing too little support to a trainee? How about too much? We need to work to get the balance right

Trainees will require different levels of support at different times. We won’t always get it right but it’s important to continue reflecting to get it right

Mentor-teacher educator relationship

When discussing the progress of a trainee, it should be discussed within an evidence-based model so that it doesn’t become about their personality.

It’s vital for each party to share honest and open feedback and thoughts about the trainees so that the trainee can be supported in the best way possible by both parties.

Forming a directive and stretching environment is important and can be achieved through coaching- we know what they need to do and help them achieve it. The relationship could be more nurturing at times as we’re moving them towards a future goal. At a point of high emotion (good or bad), it’s important to provide a nurturing and empathetic, non-directive manner. Our decision about what approach to use (coaching, guiding, empathy, networking – whether directive, non-directive, stretching or nurturing), should be based on the specific context at the time.

We watch a couple of observations from a secondary school to learn about different mentoring approaches. When observing trainees, making a minute by minute account of a lesson gives you things to speak about and demonstrates a thorough approach.

Some comments are more directive (where there’s something REQUIRED). Other comments are just much more coaching and stretching to help him think.

For me, the mentoring conversations I saw could have focussed far more on a teacher’s fixed mindset but also a range of areas were discussed with no single area of development prioritised- likely to lead to trainees being unclear about what action will have the greatest impact on trainees (see my learning from Match Education here).

Feedback

Adjusting to change is as important for trainee teachers as skills and knowledge development.

Feedback is avoided- we’re often in denial. It can feel confrontational. It can also be difficult to hear- we respond emotionally but can be reluctant to share how we feel. BUT- if feedback doesn’t take pace then there is no change; no longer-term development takes place and teaching & students suffer.

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Balanced
Observed
Objective
Specific
Timely

  • Pick your moment
  • Make an accurate and short statement
  • State the general (evidenced) case
  • Say how it makes you feel
  • What you want to happen
  • Ask the trainee to respond

‘John, today, I noticed…’

‘I noticed’ can introduce evidence but also demonstrates to a trainee that we’ve been paying attention.

‘It makes me feel…’ demonstrates empathy

Share what point you want them to get to- through a coaching conversation
Do they feel like they can respond/act in the way agreed or not – if not, then what else might help?

Self-evaluation questions can help trainees to evaluate their progress

  • What do you like about what you did?
  • If you had the opportunity to teach this again, what might you do differently?
  • What help do you need from me? (Take care not to fall into a parent-child relationship)

My concern with these questions was how far they focus on impact upon students (not very). I see it as vital that student teachers, early on in their career, are able to identify the impact they have on students. This way, their continued development and actions taken to improve their practice are more closely connected to impact on students.
A model that can be used for coaching rather than mentoring within the relationship is ‘GROW’, but it may also be helpful for trainees to use as self-assessment too.

Goal – what will success look like?
Reality– What have you already tried?
Options– What haven’t you tried yet?
Wrap up– ‘So what are you going to do?’

We were then give a trainee to respond to who had emailed us about workload and how far behind he felt he was on everything.

Hi Sam, 
 
Thanks for contacting me.  
This email is an important first step in getting back on track and so I appreciate your honesty.  
 
This is not a unique situation to be in and whilst it is far from ideal, there are positive steps you can take almost straight away to feel more ‘on top’ of your workload. 

 
1- Visioning for success 

I’d like you to first of all take a step back and consider what ‘success’ looks and feels like with your workload. What point would you like to get to, by when and why? (It’s important to be realistic as well as hopeful for this activity). This exercise should get you into a state where you can see light at the end of the tunnel. It may also be helpful for you to think about times when you have felt this way before- what has lead to success in these situations? What approaches did you try that worked or didn’t?

2- Prioritise 
It will then be helpful for you to write down all the things that are causing concern for you currently and prioritise them according to the level of urgency and importance (the Covey time management matrix shared on our VLE at the start of term might be of use here). 
 
3- Reflect 
What have you tried already?- Make a list of everything you’ve tried so far (whether it’s worked or not)  

4- Problem-solve 

What else could you try?- Now make a list of anything you’ve yet to try- consider where you’re trying to get work done, how you’re prioritising it, what time of day you’re working, distraction factors, how to de-stress so that you’re in the right frame of mind to work. 

Support from me 

Hopefully you should arrive at some short-term steps you can take. If not then let me know as I have some availability tomorrow afternoon and we could work through some approaches together. 
 
Thanks, 
Hannah.

Coaching Teachers- Promoting Changes That Stick- Week 5

This was to be the final week of my Coursera course from Match Education. I knew when I began this learning that coaching was an area of my practice I felt that it was vital for me to develop. I don’t think I could have chosen a better way for me to begin this journey and having applied some of the approaches to my practice already- I am beginning to see how transformative these things might be for me, fellow leaders, coaches and our colleagues- and therefore how transformative for our students too.

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)

Read week 4 here (quality of feedback – currently missing)

As it’s the final week, we’re able to see that Mr Good Coach has now graduated to Mr Effective Coach!

He is clear about the teacher’s last big takeaway before he goes in to observe and this is clear and specific- ‘Improve student time on task by more quickly noticing and responding student misbehaviour, particularly students having side conversations when they’re in group discussion.’ There’s clearly some actions to be expected from the teacher in relation to this being observed but there’s also clarity about the behaviours we can expect to see from the students. He’s clear about the ineffective practice seen in a previous lesson and he’s also clear about the impact this has on the students’ learning- when the side-conversations are taking place – the students are not able to hear the feedback she’s giving to their peers therefore there are wasted opportunities to learn.

After the observation, he’s able to provide a summary easily as he knows what he’s been looking at and for. He has also ensured that the debrief is 20 minutes after the observation to give each of them some time to take notes and reflect but not so long that the learning opportunity has faded away.

The coaching session begins with a ‘let’s dive right in’. There will be no time wasted on chatting but the relationship between them is warm- they’ll achieve what they need to in this session. What was your big takeaway? The teacher is prompted to share the takeaway and he asks her to reflect on how it went. The teacher reflects and is able to reference the things they had clearly practised together in their previous session.

He is able to prevent the teacher from diving into a fixed mindset by referencing solid evidence of what he’s seen. He’s able to compare the number of side-conversations last lesson with the number this time around. She still believes that she’s not ready to move onto another target as she feels she hasn’t mastered this one. He is able to point this out as an ‘unhelpful moment’ and says, ‘I want you to think about it differently.’

‘You didn’t miss one side-conversation you went from missing 7, to missing 1.’ He asks the teacher to repeat that back to him in order to help her out of her fixed mindset. She’s now ready to move on and so he asks her to remind herself what strategies they had discussed to address the side-conversations. She is able to recall these and now the coach is able to share how many times he saw these approaches displayed; when, with whom and their effect on student learning. Specific moments of the lesson are referenced continually. He’s then able to give her his implementation score for how well she implemented the approaches (and the impact on the students).

He gives her some praise for something else he saw (positive praise of a student) as he felt it was well worth noting and he moves on to the next big takeaway.

He’s able to reference the Kraken (their shared instructional vision) and which category within that they’ll be moving into- student practice. ‘Remind me, in a nutshell, what our vision is for student practice?’ The teacher is now able to share what she understands about this area of practice so that they can continue to move onto the next big takeaway in partnership.

He had been able, during his observation, to calculate the number of minutes students had spent on independent practice (9) and he’d also observed that during group discussions, there were maybe 5 kids engaged. He asks her, ‘What are some problems with that?’ This is where the coach is working to elicit what the next big takeaway will be for the teacher and the focus is on the students and their learning at all times.

After she’s articulated the problems for learning with this, the coach is then able to provide her with an action- ‘You’re going to turn 3 of your discussion questions from discussion questions into ‘stop and jot’. 

He was able to quote some of the approaches she’d taken to these questions during the lesson- ‘Which was the most rigorous and why?’ He’s encouraging her to use cold call and she can see that this will help her students to engage and therefore learn but also stop and jot at other times so that she’s able to assess their response to provide feedback and all students will have the opportunity to practise.

Now to the teacher’s opportunity to practise- he discusses what she’s teaching tomorrow and asks her to note a string of questions she’ll ask tomorrow.

He makes it authentic by getting her to stand up.

She begins, ‘Johnny, what effect…’

The coach questions her about the effect of saying the name first and the focus is on the impact on students of questioning in this way. Feedback is immediate and helpful.

She says ‘think about’– he repeats, ‘Think about?’ She says, ‘Write about!’ They go on like this for some time until she’s written an effective question. The coach keeps the session to time so he asks her to script another moment and practise them in lessons before he will see her next in a week’s time.

The next steps for me will be to-

  • Try out the coaching approaches for myself with staff I work with
  • Introduce the approaches to our leaders
  • Produce some quick guides and resources to support us
  • Explore more coaching learning from Match Education and elsewhere

Explore ‘Match Minis’ here for yourself to support the development of your own coaching skills.

Coaching Teachers- Promoting Changes that Stick- Week 3

Clarity of Instructional Vision

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)

After the first two weeks of this online course, I was really excited to begin week 3. Even better that I could learn sat on a deckchair outside in the sun. For me, this week was all about diving to the depths of what ‘effective’ practice looks and feels like.

The first video this week is back in with Mr Good coach and a new teacher he’s working with. The teacher is taking on board all of his feedback about improving students’ learning. He’s got so caught up in watching all of her new teacher moves, that came from his advice that he’s forgotten one crucial part of the picture: the students.

The fundamental question should always be, ‘In what way did her new teacher moves impact the students?’ ‘Did it change their experience in any kind of meaningful way?’

Students actually have a lot of expertise on great teaching; after all, they’ve been ‘subjected’ to plenty of it in a variety of guises.

Read the article below about ‘measuring’ effective teachers-

Ensuring fair and reliable measures of effective teachers

Whilst we may feel good because a teacher has effectively implemented strategies you’ve discussed with them, it’s the equivalent of a teacher feeling great because the students in class were ‘highly engaged’ – (a poor proxy for learning).

As a teacher coach, our job is not just to get the teachers changing their behaviours but to promote changes that will have a real and meaningful impact on students’ learning experiences.

Clarity of instructional vision is therefore not just a vision of what the teacher is doing. We mean a clear vision of what students are doing, saying and thinking. We need to help teachers to make the connections between what they’re doing and students’ optimal levels of behaviour and thinking.

Ultimately, a coach needs a student-facing vision.

An effective teaching rubric is the starting point for our relationship with our teacher. It defines the language we’re going to use to discuss instruction in our coaching sessions. A rubric will also add a level of urgency to those sessions; we have a finite amount of time we’re able to spend with our teacher and a rubric helps us to use it effectively.

The rubric is like a syllabus; it constrains the relationship and defines the paraemeters of what we’re going to talk about when we sit down in our coaching sessions.

It can be quite common for teacher coaching sessions to turn into a grab bag of topics related to teaching. Whilst spending time speaking about education philosophy and politics may be really interesting, sessions are best spent focused on skill acquisition. Defining the skills the teacher will need to achieve the instructional vision laid out in your rubric.

If we can bring focus and urgency to coaching sessions then we can shorten skill acquisition loops (see the snowman effect from the last blog).

Match Education’s rubric is just intended for analysing classroom instruction to set out a teacher coaching session. By no means does it capture all the aspects of a teacher’s job.

Their rubric is named, ‘The Kraken‘- Named after teachers voted on what to call it so that it wouldn’t just be ‘Match Education Resident Teacher Evaluation Rubric‘…

They’re looking for students who are working hard throughout the class; consistently putting forward real effort on rigorous thinking tasks. Those thinking tasks are well-aligned and ordered to help the students achieve a bigger goal from the lesson. They’re getting lots of opportunities to practice and the teacher is assessing that practice in order to give them really meaningful practice so that students know where they are at any given moment and how far they have to go to improve.

 

The Kraken

Daniel Willingham has shaped many of their beliefs for the rubric.

Specifically, two principles for learning that he lays out in, ‘Why don’t students like school?’

Principle 1- Memory is the residue of thought

The longer you spend thinking about something, the more likely you are to commit it to long-term memory. This informs their beliefs about practice in a lesson. The more students are practising a set of coherently aligned thinking tasks, the more likely they are to commit that content to their memory.

Principle 2- Learning is memory in disguise

What we perceive as learning, is really just memory at work. So if we can get students to remember the content that we teach, we have real, genuine, learning coming out of lessons.

The rubric is student facing so the best way to explore the particulars is to look at learning through the eyes of a student.

Kraken 1

 

Kraken 2

Kraken 3

Behavioural climate

What teachers are doing to set the necessary conditions for lots of learning to take place in the lesson.

  •  Time on task- to what degree are students engaged, focussed and working hard throughout a class period?
  • Teacher radar and student response to questions- the degree to which students feel like their behaviour is noticed by the teacher. If the teacher does notice the behaviour, how does the student then respond to those corrections.

Target task mastery

A task the teacher expects all students to be able to master by the end of class. There’ll be something each of the students is required to complete independently to indicate they’ve met the learning goal in a given lesson.

  • The rigour of the target task- the students feel it’s challenging but not so challenging that they couldn’t achieve it during the lesson.
  • Thinking tasks- once the student knows what the target task is, the end destination, the next question is, ‘What’s happening to get me there? What are all the inter-related thinking tasks, activities, prompts and questions that are helping to build me up to accomplishing that target task on my own? This is one of the most challenging parts of a teacher’s job but ultimately for the students, ‘Do the activities make sense to me, in light of the destination task of the lesson?’

 

Student Practice

If the teacher is giving the students lots of opportunities to practice content throughout the lesson then they’re doing more of the mental heavy lifting than the teacher. Of course teachers need to explain difficult content and make connections between ideas but ultimately they need to get out of the way to let the student try to do the work on their own.

Students require space to try out new skills but they’ll also be able to give the teacher lots of information about their learning, which allows the teacher to give students meaningful feedback to help them improve their practice.

 

Teacher Feedback

This is a broad category as feedback takes on many forms; directed at individuals, or to the whole group; the teacher writing notes on student work or whispering advice as students practice something on their own; how teachers respond to a student answer during a discussion that isn’t quite correct.

  • Students get lots of feedback- individually and as a class
  • The teacher is strategic about the feedback given so that it’s actionable and pushes students along towards mastery of the target task

Once all teachers aligned with the same instructional vision and language; feedback can take place.

 

 

 

Coaching Teachers- Promoting Changes that Stick- Week 2

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

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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…’

‘Thanks- bye!’

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.

View the videos for yourself here.

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.


A Hannah Tyreman original (I know, it’s pretty special!)

The large circle of the snowman is the skill the teacher is trying to develop.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Then improved, but sub-optimal, feedback sessions- because the teacher’s mindset has not yet been transformed.
  5. Then improved implementation and refined feedback
  6. 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.

  1. It will begin with a coaching session with fewer appearances of the 4 horsemen. Feedback is processed and internalised.
  2. There’s still imperfect implementation as it’s new skill development BUT there’ll be more confidence and optimism about acquisition.
  3. Improved implementation and refined feedback takes place
  4. 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.


(Another Hannah special. You’re welcome!)

 

Coaching Teachers: Promoting Changes that Stick – Week 1

You can still sign-up to the MOOC here

Learn about Match Education’s case for a student-facing rubric here

A story

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

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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

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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

  1. Here’s what I want you to change
  2. Here’s how we’re going to work together to make that change
  3. 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

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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.’

Final messages

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-

  1. Feedback is accompanied by the coach providing direct modeling for new skills that the teacher will be implementing.
  2. Feedback that has been delivered is revisited by the coach to ensure that the teacher has successfully implemented previous discussed skills and techniques.
  3. Feedback is delivered with language that aligns with the instructional vision decided upon by teacher and coach.
A teacher with a fixed mindset- “We talked about this in grad school, and I never really got the hang of it. To be honest, I think we’d have more success if we moved on to improving my questioning techniques.”

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.’

Transforming Teacher Education – Week 1

Last week saw me start a new learning journey- because the journeys of-

  • Teaching new spec GCSE English
  • Doing my job
  • Photography

…weren’t quite enough for me!

The course is a collaboration between the Education and Training Foundation and a number of universities around the country, one of them being Sheffield Hallam.

This is one of four regional projects, funded by the Education and Training Foundation. The ETF commissioned the projects to inform a set of professional standards and a qualification for FE teacher educators. By being involved in this project you are helping shape the future of teacher education in the post-compulsory education and training sector (also known as the FE sector).

It appealed to me because I work with new teachers often through my role and working to develop their practice is something I’ve never had training for. The conversation went more along the lines of- you’re a great teacher, you’re keen and willing, you have a positive demeanour- off you go! As is the way with all things ‘FE’, in at the deep end was the way so having the opportunity to reflect and learn was welcome- even if it did mean some Saturdays and some online activity for the coming few weeks.

This is the first of my blogs in this series and summarises my learning from week 1. There’ll be subsequent blogs for the rest of the programme:

  1. Day 1: Session 1 – From teacher to teacher educator
  2. Day 1: Session 2 – Developing observation skills 
  3. Online: Session 3 – Working with mentors
  4. Day 2: Session 4 – Designing and ITE curriculum
  5. Day 2: Session 5 -Developing English and maths skills within the ITE curriculum
  6. Online: Session 6 – Using technology to enhance learning
  7. Day 3: Session 7 – Making feedback and feed forward effective
  8. Day 3: Session 8 – Safeguarding within ITE
  9. Day 4: Session 9 – Reflection for action
  10. Day 4: Session 10 – Becoming a practitioner researcher

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Qualities and skills of teacher educators

To develop our understanding of the qualities of teacher educators, we were first invited to reflect on the images of ‘teachers’ around the room; what skills and qualities did they possess?

Dalai Lama / Brian Cox / Dumbledore / David Attenborough / Salman Khan / Albert Einstein…

Whilst there were a multitude of differences between them, we identified some commonalities most of them shared (bar them all being men):

  • Their reach is wide
  • They have the ability to make the complex simple, but not so simple that we feel like fools
  • They have tremendous passion and presence
  • They have strong subject knowledge; experts in their field
  • They connect with their audience and build rapport
  • They generate curiosity

So if these are the qualities of the world’s (arguably) best teachers then what of teacher educators?

Our pre-reading was entitled, ‘Train the Trainer: A study of the professional skill competencies and psychological qualities of teacher trainer’

We spent some time discussing this article at the start of the session; exploring its content but also our opinion of it. We spoke about the findings of the study, that:

  • Facilitation skills
  • Pedagogical knowledge
  • Rich experience
  • Good understanding of the participants’ expectations
  • Confidence
  • Self-regulation of emotion

‘are the most essential skill competencies and the psychological needs of the teacher trainers’. 

In addition, ‘a range of ‘critical abilities’ and ‘reflective attitudes’ would also ease he anxieties raised from the trainers’ changing roles during their transitions from subject teachers to teacher trainers because teacher training is a much more complex and demanding job.’ (Yuk-Kwan Ng, R and Yee-Shun Lam, R, 2015)

Although we felt that a lot of the study pointed out the obvious, at least to educators working in the UK, I felt comforted by its incorporation of the psychological demands of the job. I’ve read little related to this whether teachers OR teacher educators and I think those aspects are as important, if not more so, than the skill competencies required. It made me question my own ‘psychological readiness’ when I first entered the realms of teacher education. I’ve certainly developed this ‘readiness’ over the years but having mentored a new teacher educator a few years ago, I realised the level of ‘readiness’ the job demanded. So much of what we spoke about were her approaches to difficult student-teachers and how to lead these individuals towards success in their studies and career.

We were then able to draw some similarities between the two via a venn diagram (what qualities and aspects do they share?)

We then spent some time speaking about aspects of perception and reflection and how they might be important as teacher educators:

Self-efficacy – the accuracy with which you are able to gauge how successfully you can do something

Self-esteem– the attitude and feelings you have towards yourself and your worth

Stepping through a mirror – we need to move past the immediate things we notice and towards the rest; the things we see when stepping through the mirror to see how others see it and interact with it.

A warning about reflection– it can be a monster of our own creation: you will never be ‘good enough’.

As a result of speaking about these aspects, we reflected that often, teacher education is separated from vocational practice – this is how we alienate our trainee teachers. It becomes our duty to know the theory well enough that we are then able to distill that theory into something relevant and accessible. For instance, when we provide trainees with reading, how can we make this palatable? Use of video, diagrams, images, questions, a jigsaw activity to engage with content…

A question cropped up during the morning – how much of teacher training is (and should be) compliance? For any good curriculum design, it’s always the case that the ‘compliance’ aspects and essentials can be incorporated as a part of a much broader or deeper exploration of a subject and my own vision for and experience of teacher education is that it should be just that; resulting in teachers who are prepared as best they can be, not just for the necessary parts of the job, but to make the most of the joys and feel prepared for the varying demands it entails.

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Towards impact

The job of a teacher educator is to help the trainees along their journey towards understanding their impact, which Lidstone and Hollingworth (1992) says takes 2 years. At the beginning of their journey, they focus on their classroom skills; behaviour management, planning, questioning, assessment, feedback and so on. They then begin to move towards subject knowledge; still maintaining a focus on classroom skills but tying this to their subject and considering modelling, explanations, learning objectives and appropriate assessment methods. The end point is to get the trainee to ‘impact’- the final stage of their initial teacher journey and the point at which they begin to focus on how their students are affected by their actions. Teacher educators are to help these trainees towards this ‘impact’ stage where their focus is not on themselves but their students and their learning. This is not the end point of a teacher’s journey though; it is just the start (just as passing your driving test is seen to be the start of you really learning to drive!)

How do trainee teachers learn (Maxwell, B, 2010) – Through a mix between the various components of their experience: their placement / engagement levels in general / their ITE course. Whilst these three components can often be in competition with one another, there are many ways in which they can complement one another (and any future design of teacher education, should allow for this even more). The influences of each can affect another; what they are exposed to on their placement for instance having a huge impact on how they respond to and interact with their ITE course, thus affecting engagement too.

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Observing trainee teachers

This began with us discussing the purpose of these observations and there were certainly conflicting views; although compliance would be one element and assessment of this; there was also development, and yet there was judgement too. There is a tension that exists for the teacher educator; that between measuring and developing.

Our role, although not our purpose, as teacher educators observing trainees is to reveal their tacit knowledge in order to build confidence and increase efficacy; the aspects of the trainees practice that they’re unable to articulate themselves easily as they don’t notice they’re doing it.

So what is it that we’d be looking for during an observation? Well these things are wide-ranging but the trick is – How do we know when we’ve seen it? What evidence can we draw on to avoid our own perception taking over?

After exploring these aspects, we watched a video of a lesson and prepared to give and receive the ‘feedback’. Having moved to a coaching approach for all teaching observations at work, I was able to share that our opening question is not ‘How do you think it went?’ anymore. This is never a good place to start as a trainee teacher is either over-critical of their practice and uses it as an opportunity to beat themselves up OR they do not possess the critical faculties yet to appraise their performance effectively and over-estimate how successful the learning was. Better to begin with a question along the lines of, ‘How did the students develop during that lesson? How were they different by the end of the lesson?’ These kinds of questions place the emphasis on learning and the students; taking the focus away from the trainee and moving them more quickly along their journey towards understanding their impact.

We all concluded that there was no optimum form for taking notes on during an observation; most of us opting to jot down notes and take time to reflect and prioritise themes later.

As a result of the session, we were all asked to contribute our reflections on what makes observation feedback effective on a Padlet wall. I shared the following;

I’d agree that timing is important. This should be mutually agreed so that the trainee is happy with the time, rather than it just being squeezed into an available gap (not always to achieve). I feel it should be between 2-4 days after an observation to allow time for reflection for the observee and for the teacher educator to formulate the key themes to be talked about and the questions to trigger dialogue.

Location is absolutely vital. Ideally a small and private space away from the corridor the trainee would normally work in so that they don’t feel nervous about being interrupted by staff and/or students (or using this as an excuse to escape).

The feedback needs to engage the trainee. ‘How did your students develop in the lesson?’ ‘What was your thinking behind x activity?’ ‘Explain your phrasing of x question…’ This allows the trainee to frame their practice in context and their responses can guide the teacher educator’s approach in response- either more coaching or more mentoring depending on the trainee’s level of self-efficacy. Asking the teacher educator to rephrase what they’ve heard during each part of the feedback is a useful way to check they’ve understood accurately.

The feedback needs to result in some clear actions- share your practice in this way… Observe a peer and look for this… Record yourself teaching and explore the following questions… Try x and record the students’ responses… These actions should be connected to some kinds of measures the trainee could use to check effectiveness but should also lead into a future observation so that there is some continuity with their development.

It is important that the relationship is maintained during feedback; responding to the individual, their context and rate of development is vital so that they are not discouraged from developing and nor do they feel so buoyed that they interpret they have little else to develop in their practice.I was emailed this article the other day and it includes some pointers- I especially liked that as an observer, we have the ability to hold up a mirror to another person’s practice through describing what we’ve seen:

http://blog.irisconnect.com/uk/6-simple-ways-to-make-your-feedback-more-empowering-for-others

As always, I found the opportunity to discuss my practice and ideas as well as reflect on it of great value (a community has been created). I’m being introduced to a number of concepts I’d like to explore more along the way  (my curiosity has been sparked) and I’m looking forward to the remaining weeks (including online learning weeks via OneNote and other technologies).

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Recommended Reading

Bathmaker, A. & Avis, J. (2005) Becoming a lecturer in further education in England: the construction of professional identity and the role of communities of practice. Journal of Education for Teaching 31 (1) pp. 47-62

Dixon, L., Jennings, A., Orr, K. & Tummons, J. (2010) Dominant discourses of pre‐service teacher education and the exigencies of the workplace: an ethnographic study from English further education, Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 62 (4) pp.381-393

Hattie, J (2015) Know Thy Impact, Available from: https://goo.gl/qvBf3f

Maxwell, B.(2010) Teacher knowledge and initial teacher education in the English learning and skills sector, Teaching Education, 21:4, 335-348,

Orr, K. (2012) Coping, confidence and alienation: the early experience of trainee teachers in English further education. Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and pedagogy, 38 (1) pp. 51-65

#ShapingCPD- The Transformative Impact of Coaching

Allow your teachers out of school! The room was asked how many of us were educators still in the classroom (very few!) We should be encouraging teachers to attend conferences that are more strategic too- they can support transformative change. Let them figure out what works best for them and for schools.

There is a lack of pedagogic research about how we should be teaching and learning our subject. Subject expertise is just as important. Although there is a spoken emphasis on the vocational teacher in the FE sector being a dual-professional and that an updating of their subject expertise in industry is considered wise, this rarely translates into reality. There is little time carve out for it and staff are often not encouraged to do a stint back in industry, regular or otherwise. The staff who do are some of the most passionate and effective practitioners I know. It takes a leader to recognise the importance of industrial updating and carving time out in the year to encourage their staff to engage in it in order to develop new habits.

Collaboration should be aimed for: teachers as co-researchers. Collaboration is important so that things aren’t done TO us and we can contribute. This collaboration should extend beyond teachers and leaders though; it should also involve leaders, learners and parents as well as external parties such as tech developers. 

Coaching

Real-time in-ear coaching has impact according to this recent study: http://goo.gl/nuDHSa

Advice to give to a coach: develop trust, empathy and discernment- easy peasy, right?!

The in-ear coaching takes the teacher beyond just thinking about the content of their lesson but how and why they’re going to do it.

Filming lessons over time helps in a number of ways (especially where staff are better trained to spot not just what they’re doing but why):

  • Investigations of impact over time can take place- with teachers able to determine the approaches/strategies with most impact.
  • Where videos are shown to students, they can often recognise negative/positive learning behaviours more easily and therefore work to change/continue. Katia Cole, a practitioner from Reading College, did an investigation into the use of Google Glass for the purpose of transforming behaviour. Click here to find out more.
  • Recording lessons and a range of practitioners’ development over time means that the school/college is building up a picture of best practice to be used to support other teachers’ development. 

Filming lessons is not a magic bullet. Obviously- there isn’t one! BUT disruption of any kind can be good. It makes you think. Could film help a teacher to see their practice in new ways? More than likely. To maximise the impact, sharing the videos, or at least the learning experiences that result from them, with colleagues is a way of ensuring it goes beyond a 1-1 level. 

Supporting and developing NQTs- using coaching

A school shared the experience of using IRIS and coaching with their NQTs as they had a large cohort one year. They discovered that film and video showed them aspects of their practice and students’ responses that they wouldn’t have been able to spot for themselves. They involve experienced practitioners to show best practice to the new staff as well as to coach them. The NQTs make use of personal planners to track the development of their teaching standards; focusing on what they’re currently trying and updating next steps as their learning progresses. They engage with their coach every 4-6 weeks alongside this journey. These conversations with their coach enable the coach to understand a bit more about the NQT they’re working with so they can tailor their in-ear coaching to suit them- rather than asking them to do something they may not feel comfortable with in an unhelpful way. 

The NQT is supported by being released from teaching when necessary in order to fully engage with the ongoing reflective process. When being filmed, it is the NQT who decides what the focus of filming will be and what area of their practice they’d like to focus on the most. 

My questions around initiatives like this always remain the same- how do you persuade more experienced teachers that it will also be of value for their development? Does it work more effectively for NQTs as they’re already so much more acutely aware of their practice and its impact on students? 

Related posts:

#ShapingCPD- Shaping a Learning Culture

#ShapingCPD- The Keynotes

The Best CPD…EVER!

#ShapingCPD- Initial Reflections