October 2020

October 2, 2020 - 7 minutes read

Coaching Tip of the Month

In the introduction to the Fisher, Frey, and Hattie book, The Distance Learning Playbook, Grades K-12, the authors state up front that these times are unpredictable and challenging. The overarching theme however is that we must, “… ensure that students are learning” (Page 1). They also say that the teaching in the 2020 pandemic was not distance learning, homeschooling, or even hybrid learning; it was crisis teaching. But that was then and this is now. What have we learned from our experiences and how can we improve what we do so that all students are in classrooms (remote or F2F) with highly qualified teachers engaging students, improving outcomes, and building teacher capacity all at the same time?

We know from John Hattie that visible learning and teaching “…occurs when there is deliberate practice aimed at attaining mastery of the goal, when there is feedback given and sought, and when there are active, passionate, and engaging people (teacher, students, peers) participating in the act of learning” (Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers – Maximizing Impact on Learning, pg. 18). He goes on to say, “It is teachers seeing learning through the eyes of students, and students seeing teaching as the key to their ongoing learning… the greatest effects of the learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers” (Hattie, pg. 18).

“When students become their own teachers, they exhibit the self-regulatory attributes that seem most desirable for learners, e.g., self-monitoring, self-evaluation, self-assessment, self-teaching.” While these attributes are personal and differentiated according to each individual, making this learning visible creates the difference in achievement. So, yes, teachers are critical to the learning process but not to just offer content; what’s really important is how teachers evaluate their impact and influences on students. The question is, “What am I doing as a teacher to help improve student engagement, learning, and outcomes?” Teachers must take stock regularly and assess how effectively they are impacting their students’ development and how their actions may need to be altered to ensure a positive learning experience.

This is far from being easy!

Both students and teachers must become architects of their own learning regardless of the venue. And this happens most successfully when both teachers and students can make mistakes without fear of negative backlash. Students can rely on their teachers to help them become more reflective learners. On whom do the teachers rely?

Instructional coaches help teachers become more reflective practitioners. They engage in confidential, non-evaluative conversations to help teachers become more metacognitive about their practices. They help teachers become more involved in the “…deliberate practice to attain understanding” (Hattie, pg 19). This is learning not just content; this is learning about how learners learn and the impact of teachers on their students.

Instructional coaches support teachers in breaking down the biases that create obstacles to learning. Confirmation bias is probably one of the most common ones… that is when teachers favor information that conforms to their own existing beliefs, e.g., my students are different and don’t learn the same way as yours. That is probably true… every student is an individual with an individual learning style. Does that mean the learning is not as strong or as meaningful? No. Does it mean that the teaching is different among various teachers? I hope so. Instructional practices must be differentiated so that all students’ needs are addressed. But, it doesn’t mean that the teaching is any less rigorous or that the expectations lower.

While it is true we all enter our classrooms with preconceived notions, we hope our biases do not impact our students or what we teach them negatively. To counter these implicit or explicit biases, we need to recognize those biases.

According to a blog from thoughtco.com (Kelly, Melissa. “Avoiding Teacher Bias and Erroneous Beliefs.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/avoiding-teacher-bias-and-erroneous-beliefs-8407), there are six biases that teachers need to avoid:

  1. Some students can’t learn… teachers need to get to the root of any learning issue and implement instructional practices that work for all students;
  2. Individualized instruction is impossible…assess student skill levels and generate instructional plans that address all learners;
  3. Gifted students do not need help… all students should be challenged and provided with opportunities that extend the learning regardless of skill set;
  4. Praise is not needed… specific, descriptive, timely, and appropriate feedback is needed as an assurance, motivator, and learning tool;
  5. Curriculum should be “presented” … teaching is not presenting; teaching is sharing information in ways that enable students to learn. If a strategy doesn’t work with a student, a teacher needs to find another way to help that student understand the content;
  6. Reputations are important… don’t prejudge a student on the basis of another teacher’s experience with the student

So, what does this mean for instructional coaches?

Instructional coaches work with teachers to make the instructional process easier for students. They help teachers think about their own teaching and learning, and to facilitate an authentic, meaningful learning experience for their students. They help teachers make their thinking visible and then work towards implementing effective instructional practices by recognizing their own biases and discussing ways to remove those obstacles from their teaching. They talk about the abovementioned biases and provide multiple opportunities for teachers to collaborate with each other and to collectively problem-solve around them. And they do this in a non-evaluative environment where risk and innovation are valued, and mistakes accepted. They help teachers model how “visible teaching and learning combines teacher centered teaching and student-centered learning and knowing” (Hattie, pg. 21).

In 2020, instructional coaching is needed now more than ever!