Coaching: Turning Practice into Action

Gelfuso (2016) likened the phases of reflective discourse to a theater performance. First, you set the stage, focusing the conversation. Then, the play begins where the conversation moves through the preservice teacher’s ZPD. Next, the curtain closes as the preservice teacher makes a ‘warranted assertability’ about the teaching process. Finally, you take a bow and bring the reflective process to the attention of the preservice teacher. This metaphor helped me understand the reflective process and coaching discourse, but it also serves as a framework for my experiences as I learn how to coach.

First, the stage was set as I began my time with the Cambridge Schools Experience. Readings and discussions helped focus my attention towards important aspects of coaching. My path was open for me to shape, but guidance was provided to assist me as I defined my needs and goals. What did I  need out of this experience? What did I bring to the experience? What was important to me? What were my misconceptions and previously held notions of what a coach is or does?

Then the play began as I practiced my skills in the schools, worked with a preservice teacher in her classroom, and began to explore my identity as a coach. The very first time I stepped into the classroom as a coach I struggled to maintain my focus on what the preservice teacher was doing. As a classroom teacher I have always been focused on what the students are doing. Over the course of my visits I began to shift my focus to not only the preservice teacher, but also to the connections between what she was doing and how the students were responding. This led to increased insight into her practice and how she could increase student engagement and outcomes. In turn, our coaching and planning conversations became more detailed and focused on her needs in that moment. My first conversation with the preservice teacher remained broad as we discussed our combined observations, questions, and goals. Over time I was able to hone my ability to observe her lessons, which in turn created more specific feedback and guidance. I began to notice growth within the preservice teacher as a reflection of my personal growth as a coach. In addition, I began to establish my identity and style as a coach. In the beginning, I felt I was mimicking more than creating. As time and experience went on, I became more comfortable in my discussions and actions. I felt my personality begin to emerge and take shape in this new role, which led to a decreased focus on myself and an increased focus on the preservice teacher. Overall, my growth was directly reflected in the preservice teacher’s growth. Much like we think about our first classroom of kids, “Please forgive me for all of my mishaps! It was my first year!” I feel the same towards the preservice teacher with which I worked. Did she grow because of me, or in spite of me? Thankfully, she was a strong individual who will be an amazing educator on her own abilities.

The curtain closes with these blog posts as I reflect back on what happened, find purpose within those events, and create meaning from my experiences in the field. Reflection cannot occur without dissonance (Gelfuso, 2016), and I am thankful I was provided many opportunities to move through this in my Cambridge Schools Experience. Through thoughtful questions and discussion I have been able to identify areas of growth and to develop personal beliefs about coaching. While I still feel I am at the surface of coaching, I am thankful to have experienced this practice of reflection at the level I have. My hope is that it will continue as I move forward in my journey.

I take a bow as I move forward into my professional role as a technology TOSA/coach. Through these experiences and stages of development I have begun the transition from practice into action. I am nowhere near proficient, but I am more aware of the intricacies of my practice that add up to be the bigger picture. I am more reflective of my practice, thanks mainly to the guidance and coaching given to me in this experience. I am more confident in my ability to say, “I don’t know, but we’ll find out together,” where in the beginning I thought I needed to have all of the answers. I am mindful of the smaller moments in coaching that can become so much more. Overall, I have a new definition of what it means to coach. I have transitioned my mindset from ‘coach’ as a noun, to ‘coach’ as a verb. It is in this space that I find my direction and growth.

 

Gelfuso, A. (2016). A framework for facilitating video-mediated reflection: Supporting preservice teachers as they create ‘warranted assertabilities’ about literacy teaching and learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 58, 68-79.

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Teacher to Coach: A Shift in Perspectives, Not Priorities

When I interviewed for my new position as Technology TOSA, I had one question on my mind: “How will we measure our success in this role?” At the end of the interview I was given the opportunity to ask questions, and I immediately jumped on the opportunity to inquire about this pressing topic. “Well, we’ll look at student data across the district, along with teacher feedback.” Ok, this is a sufficient answer on the surface, but I was looking for more. As a teacher, it has been ingrained in me to constantly monitor my student data, from formative to summative, from minutia to the big picture. I have lived on a diet of specific and personalized data analysis. Now, as I enter this new role, I wonder how this top priority will look through the lens of a coach.

When I am requested to visit a classroom, my focus will be on the bigger picture. In my role, this will include how I can help the teacher develop technology skills to support his or her lesson and achieve increased student engagement, resulting in increased student performance. To do this, student data must be a central point as we discuss and plan future lessons. Student data will show me the direction in which I need to take the lesson, and where the gap lies between what is known and what needs to be developed by both the teacher and students (Duncan, 2006). Student data was a priority for me as a teacher, and will remain so as a coach. The question now is, how do I achieve this on a larger scale?

The only way to know I’ve truly made an impact through my coaching is through student data analysis.  It is up to me to identify realistic expectations as a result of my coaching and collect the appropriate data to demonstrate evidence of growth (Duncan, 2006). This data will look different in each classroom, and will change as I progress in the understanding of my role (L’Allier, Elish-Piper, & Bean, 2010). The specifics of this have yet to be determined; one of the many obstacles of coming into a position that has yet to be clearly defined. Student data confidentiality is also an issue, so it will be up to each school administrator to determine what summative and formal assessment data is appropriate for my review and what is not. This leaves me with formative data, a data type I have used frequently in the classroom as a teacher. I will use observation, discussion, questioning, exit slips, etc to determine my effectiveness. This data will be collected into a system which includes the action plan, conference records, lesson plans, and progress notes for each teacher, department, and/or school I work with. While my professional role does not require me to gather this data, I need a way to monitor my own growth and effectiveness as a coach. I hope to encourage my peers to do the same.

Though my title has changed, and my perspective has shifted, my priorities remain the same. Student growth is the ultimate goal of each action that occurs in our district, regardless of where that action happens. My hope is that this vision and purpose has not been lost on those near me at the district level. My expectation is that we will remain focused on the students and use our skills to increase learning through technology when appropriate, not just push technology for the sake of using something on which the district has spent funds. Student learning is the ultimate goal; let us not lose sight of that purpose as we define our new roles.

 

Duncan, M. (2006). Literacy coaching: Developing effective teachers through instructional dialogue. New York: Richard C. Owens Publishers.

L’Allier, S., Elish-Piper, L., & Bean, R. M. (2010). What matters for elementary literacy coaching? Guiding principles for instructional improvement and student achievement. The Reading Teacher, 63(7), 544-554.

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Relationships: Creating Change Through Trust

The role of coach can be interpreted in many ways. As the coach, I interpret my role as a second set of eyes in the classroom to identify strengths and areas of need, a colleague with whom to discuss ideas, and a mentor to assist in the development of processes. However, a teacher might interpret my role as an evaluator there to find what’s wrong, another administrator send to undermine their authority, or maybe an inexperienced academic with little ‘real world’ application trying to tell them how it’s done. Add to that the interpretation of the role through an administrator’s eyes. This may include test coordinator, additional evaluator, classroom “spy”, or data input clerk. Of course, these are extreme examples, but not far from what I’ve experienced or heard during my time in the education field.

To become a successful coach I must develop relationships with teachers “based on mutual respect and trust” (Duncan, 2006, p. 18). This relationship cannot be established if misconceptions about my role exist. As I enter my new coaching position, this issue has already been discussed, though no answers have been found. However, I will try to overcome this misconception by establishing trust, using effective communication skills, and practicing confidentiality (L’Allier, Elish-Piper, & Bean, 2010).

Trust will be developed through respect of the teacher’s or administrator’s expertise and clear communication (L’Allier et al., 2010). An action plan will be used to collect the teacher’s or administrator’s perspectives, concerns, and beliefs (Duncan, 2006). This action plan will serve as a guide through the coaching process to ensure their voice is heard throughout. I will also clarify my purpose and reiterate that I am not there to evaluate the teacher. I expect this clarification of my role to be one of the biggest hurdles in my coaching future. This can be overcome by focusing on the students’ needs, not the teacher’s shortcomings (L’Allier et al., 2010).

Clear communication through written and verbal methods will also be a primary goal. Effective, clear, and honest communication will be key in establishing trustworthy relationships with teachers and administrators. As mentioned in a previous blog post, I will record conversations to monitor my communication skills, and will seek feedback from both administrators and teachers throughout my coaching development. Casey (2006) recommends collecting words and phrases that inspire, and noticing when negative reactions occur as a result of language. I must be wary of miscommunication and misinterpretation. This can lead to a breakdown in both communication and trust. By recording conversations, being an active listener, and focusing on the language I use I can reduce the occurrences of poor communication.

Finally, I must maintain confidentiality to establish trust. I am not in a classroom to evaluate or report back to administration every little thing I see. I am there to work with the teacher, be a sounding board, and help them develop skills and strategies that will result in student learning gains (L’Allier et al., 2010). I expect to encounter teachers who do not trust me based on this aspect alone, and this is most likely due to previous experiences with other coaches or administrators. I will strive to establish the relationships needed, and clarify my role with both administrators and teachers, to prevent this breakdown of trust from occurring. There will be times when I need to share coaching goals and strategies being used in the classroom with the administrator (Casey, 2006), but these discussions will be held with the teacher’s knowledge and with the focus on the students’ learning, not the teacher’s abilities.

I look forward to navigating the waters of coaching. I know I will make errors, but the importance lies in learning from those experiences and establishing methods to prevent them from occurring in the future. Relationships are not built instantly; I will have to work to establish trust, but I am prepared to take the steps necessary to get to the goal: improving student education.

 

Casey, K. (2006). Literacy coaching: The essentials. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Duncan, M. (2006). Literacy coaching: Developing effective teachers through instructional dialogue. New York: Richard C. Owens Publishers.

L’Allier, S., Elish-Piper, L., & Bean, R. M. (2010). What matters for elementary literacy coaching? Guiding principles for instructional improvement and student achievement. The Reading Teacher, 63(7), 544-554.

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Coaching: Steps Toward Improvement

As I begin my coaching career,  I will grow and develop much as I did as a classroom teacher. The combination of the Cambridge Schools Experience, knowledge gained through my master’s program, and my personal experience provides me with a foundation of strategies as I begin my role as coach.

My limited experience as a coach has provided brief insight into my personal areas of improvement. I have gathered strategies to overcome these areas through reading research and observation of more experienced coaches and mentors. These strategies include:

Record conversations with teachers for review and reflection.

An audio record of a conversation with the classroom teacher will allow me to review the discussion and gather key points, concerns, and areas to address as we move forward. Personally, I am not the most skilled at remembering discussions or recording thorough notes, but my experiences with audio recordings in the Cambridge Schools Experience allowed me to develop an alternate method of collecting details and preparing for future conversations.

In addition, the audio record will allow me to review my own behaviors during conversations and identify areas where I could have said less and allowed the teacher to guide the discussion. Specifically, I need to allow the teacher to share what he or she feels is important, then proceed to clarify items I may have noted based on what the teacher noticed in order to facilitate reflection (Gelfuso, 2016).  This is a major area of improvement for me, and only audio records will provide me the opportunity to reflect on this skill as I develop. Unfortunately, there is little emphasis in my coaching situation on best practices of coaching. I will not have a more knowledgeable other there to assist me in reflection. Therefore, I will need to rely on audio records and honest personal analysis to develop what I know to be best practice.

Record lessons on video for coach and teacher review.

Video recorded lessons provide a clear and accurate account of what happens during a lesson. I experienced the value of this strategy during the Cambridge Schools Experience and, while I was nervous about its use at first, I recognized its value in both my development as well as the teacher’s. In my specific role, video recorded lessons will allow me and the classroom teacher to identify areas of success and areas for improvement. I will be focusing on technology integration, and one of the biggest caveats with technology is material and time management. By using video, the classroom teacher and I will be able to identify what improves this area, and where we need to develop a better system. In addition, video recordings will allow me an accurate record to develop coaching goals and next steps with the classroom teacher.

Develop questions and guiding statements prior to coaching conversations.

One of the best strategies I observed during the Cambridge Schools Experience was the preparation of specific questions or statements intended to guide coaching sessions towards a goal. These were prepared in advance by the coach, but not always used. Often, the coach would not need to use these questions or statements because the preservice teacher addressed the areas through their own reflection. I will transfer this strategy to my own practice as I prepare for meetings with classroom teachers. I know it will take time and practice to develop the level of skill I observed, but this strategy will allow me to step in the direction of teacher reflection leading to growth, rather than me dominating the discussion.

Set goals for me as coach through the classroom teacher’s goals.

Throughout my development into a coach, I need to set goals and monitor my growth. To do this, I plan to reflect on two aspects of coaching: the language I use to coach and classroom teacher success and student data as a result of my coaching. To do this I will keep this blog as a professional journal of reflection and research. In addition, as part of my record keeping system for each teacher I work with, I will develop if/then hypothesis (Gelfuso, 2016) and reflect on the outcomes as I work in the classroom. I will consolidate these experiences into a single document, organized by technology platform or instructional goal, and reflect regularly on my successes and their causes, as well as areas for development. I will base my success on the success of the classroom teacher in meeting his or her goals with technology integration.

I look forward to experiencing growth as a coach, and I know I have a long journey ahead in that goal. I expect my professional path to be riddled with obstacles which try to stand in the way of best practices, but I will continue to do my best to overcome these, and move towards my goal of effective coaching.

 

 

Gelfuso, A. (2016). A framework for facilitating video-mediated reflection: Supporting preservice teachers as they create ‘warranted assertabilities’ about literacy teaching and learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 58, 68-79.

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Language: Teaching without Telling

There is a time to talk and a time to listen. This is common classroom best practice. Students learn through direct instruction, but also through conversation, questioning, and verbally exploring ideas and concepts. This classroom culture and community is the foundation for development of new knowledge, reinforcement of concepts, and application of new skills. This safe space allows students to try on new identities and push the boundaries of their abilities. As we create these safe spaces for students, we must also develop this space for teachers to try on new ideas and pedagogies (Johnston, 2004, & Wells, 1999, as cited in Heineke, 2013).

However, sometimes this space is dominated by a well-meaning more knowledgeable other. This is the role in which I find myself. As a teacher, I am aware of the need for what Wegerif (as cited in Maine, 2014) calls dialogic space, but I am not currently adept at creating this space within my role as coach. This reflects my personal experiences with feedback and collaboration. I’ve been told to make changes and have received affirmation without the opportunity to come to my own realizations. As I now look in from the other side, I see the the need for silence and the growth that can be achieved by teachers when little is said by me.

Heineke’s (2013) research found a majority of coaches dominate discussions and provide most of the suggestions for future teaching implications. This type of discourse leads to less teacher learning. Through the Cambridge Schools Experience, I observe multiple experienced coaches as they work with preservice teachers in the field. These coaches do not reflect Heineke’s findings. The coaches provide specific prompts for dialogue, then let the preservice teacher guide the discussion. Each coach has questions prepared to help extend the discussion if needed, but these questions are often not needed as the preservice teacher bring up the points on their own. One coach shared his goals with me prior to a coaching session. He had specific pieces of feedback in mind and questions prepared to guide the discussion towards this feedback as needed. I observed the coaching session and counted no more than five interjections, prompts, or questions from the coach other than the initial prompt, yet the coach reached all of his goals for the session. A similar experience occurred later during a small group seminar. The discussions held during these meetings were rich, reflective, and covered all points planned by the coach, but without the need for direct telling or dominance of the conversation.

This practice of creating space for preservice and inservice teachers to work through experiences encourages ownership and buy-in for the next steps in educator development (Heineke, 2013). Ownership and buy-in will also develop trust between the coach and teacher, a topic I will explore in greater detail next.

Overall, these observations and experiences allow me to see a different approach to coaching. The sit-and-get method commonly experienced in the field is not supported by research, nor is it conducive to creating reflective experiences and supportive teacher-coach relationships. I will continue to develop my ability to listen and respond in ways that allow the teacher to reflect, discover, and develop, rather than place my knowledge in their hands without any sense of ownership.

Heineke, S. F. (2013). Coaching discourse: Supporting teachers’ professional learning. The Elementary School Journal, 113(3), 409-433.

Maine, F (2014). ‘I wonder if they are going up or down’: Children’s co-constructive talk across the primary years. Education 3-13, 42(3), 298-312.

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Teacher as Coach: Transitioning from Teacher to Coach

As a classroom teacher, my focus is on the students. Their interests, abilities, and goals are constantly at the forefront of my mind. Each moment is planned around where they’re at and where they’re going next. My teaching is student centered and revolves around what is best practice in helping them reach their potential.

As a coach, my focus shifts, yet never loses sight of the students. I must be teacher centered, but also student centered. Just as it is with my students in the classroom, my choices need to reflect the goals and desired outcomes for the teacher I am coaching. My coaching should lead to discussions that result in student gains (Duncan, 2006). It is not solely about what I am doing, it is about the goals of the teacher, and as a result, the outcomes for the students.

I have recognized this growth in myself through my work in the Cambridge Schools Experience. Through video reflection, I noted that I am more concerned with my actions as a coach than the outcomes for the pre-service teacher I work with. In a planning discussion, I led the conversation rather than create dialogue and guide the pre-service teacher towards her goals. As I reflect on this, I realize I need to release control of the conversation and scaffold the experience rather than take over it. In that moment, I lacked the ability to take advantage of opportunities within the conversation to build her personal knowledge (L’allier, Elish-Piper, & Bean, 2010).

This reflection led me to realize that many of the skills I have as a teacher transfer to the role of coach. Creating dialogue, guiding students to discover their own knowledge, and student centered instruction are all applicable in this new role. I need to step out of the authoritative and evaluative role and into the coach role. Not “sage on the stage”, but “guide on the side” as I used to say in the classroom. This is the only way to develop a teacher’s abilities to take a new skill and apply it on their own.

When I enter a coaching situation, I need to have a plan. I don’t go into a lesson in the classroom without a plan. However, just as in the classroom, I need to remain flexible and responsive to the teacher within this plan (L’Allier et al., 2010). This plan must reflect the goals of the teacher and in turn, the desired outcomes for the students. In my previously mentioned planning session with the pre-service teacher, I returned to her goals and the student objectives several times as a reminder of what the lesson should look like. I modeled this with her, explicitly referring back to her goals and the student objectives several times during the planning session. This practice not only helps her remain focused on her objectives, but allows me to do a ‘temperature check’ on our progress towards her goals. As a result, she completed a successful lesson that brought her closer to her goals.

Each time I coach I’m reminded of my first days of teaching. There is a constant reflection that occurs in my mind. The list of things to improve upon increases dramatically, but I am also seeing growth within myself. The gap between teacher and coach gets smaller with each experience.

 

 

 

Duncan, M. (2006). Literacy coaching: Developing effective teachers through instructional dialogue. New York: Richard C. Owens Publishers.

L’allier, S., Elish-Piper, L., & Bean, R. M. (2010). What matters for elementary literacy coaching? Guiding principles for instructional improvement and student achievement. The Reading Teacher, 63(7), 544-554.

 

 

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