March 2019 Coaching Tip of the Month
“Today is Tuesday… professional development day… in our large group faculty meeting, we will share three strategies and techniques to engage your students.” Where have we heard that before? Ah yes, the dreaded PD day where teachers “sit and get” instead of “think and share.” To make matters worse, how many participants think they already know what the PD is supposed to teach them to do or use? How many believe “that’s just how I use those strategies”? I’m sure you’ve experienced some of your teaching colleagues responding to you with, “I already do that all the time in my classroom. Why are you showing me this now?”
So, here’s the issue… although traditional professional development is frequently too general and not tailored to suit individual needs, many of your colleagues believe, presume, and are convinced they are already doing everything that can be done in their classrooms to help students grow, regardless of the professional development offered. While we know that when professional development is “all-purpose” and not planned as ongoing professional learning opportunities, the benefits of those sessions are limited, and our teaching colleagues are disillusioned and disengaged while attending those kinds of sessions. We know that traditional PD is not effective. The issue still remains, though, that many of our colleagues are convinced they already have a full toolbox and are using those tools appropriately. Are they really?
I’m not so sure those toolboxes are full, even knowing that sometimes the professional development is not relevant or tied to research and teacher practice.
Peter DeWitt says this is called confirmation bias and shares what Shahram Heshmat wrote in Psychology Today (EdWeek Blog 9/13/16): “Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.”
The role of the instructional coach is to build teacher capacity. Teachers must believe that they are members in a community of learning and practice. They have to believe that they can learn and their students can learn as well. Unfortunately, they sometimes get caught in the weeds… student behavior issues, school conditions, challenged working conditions… you know what I mean. Here is where the instructional coach is critical for continuous school wide improvement – they are the trusted colleagues who provide an ear and at the same time, provide that nag and nurture/pat and push to help teachers recognize themselves as learners. They help their teaching colleagues realize that learning is social and providing multiple opportunities for collaboration can make the difference between a growth model and a fixed mindset.
We all need continuing education. Coaches present and facilitate school wide workshops with topics that are relevant to their teaching colleagues; they engage teachers in article and book studies; they help teachers learn from each other and take pride in collegial sharing. Coaches provide opportunities for teachers to rehearse their instructional practice with them and to practice with each other in a no-risk, non-evaluative environment. Coaches help teachers become more reflective practitioners by modeling the practice of reflection and engaging teachers in reflecting in, on, and about practice. They help teachers understand the feedback loop and give them timely, specific, descriptive, and non-evaluative feedback. They model being recipients of feedback and encourage reflective practice for teachers and their students.
So, how do coaches encourage their teaching colleagues to welcome professional learning with an open mind so that they keep growing?
After collecting data about needs, coaches can align those needs with the kinds of professional learning opportunities that are offered; they demonstrate that they, too, are learners and welcome the teachers’ voices – coaches are not the experts. Coaches continue to provide opportunities for meaningful collaboration and co-plan with their teaching colleagues. They remind teachers that they are trusted colleagues and uphold their coaching interactions as confidential and sacred. They model by example, sustaining the importance of ongoing learning. They engage their teaching colleagues in data discussions and professional conversations; they honor their expertise by listening to the varied voices in the room. Coaches encourage collective problem-solving and team building; they understand what open and transparent communication means. They presume positive intentions and meet their teaching colleagues where they are… they leave their ego at the door while walking through the threshold of learning. They ask questions and help others develop their talents. Coaches help teachers strengthen their practice. That’s how we help teachers continue to grow their practice.