In a previous post, I explained the importance of a school’s vision for coaching matching the already established culture. There are a couple of reasons why I think that talking about coaching in those early weeks of the new school, with that carefully planned language, is necessary:
- It gives leaders time to match up staff with coaches while giving them time to settle into a new school / room / role / year group etc.
- It generates a little momentum for when coaching is launched. Think of the busker who scatters his guitar case with a few notes and coins, rather than start with an empty case. This isn’t such a big change – we’ve already started…
- It creates time to work with coaches on their repertoire of strategies before meeting with their colleagues.
At this point, any potential barriers need calling out and possible solutions shared. In Dan and Chip Heath’s book ‘Switch’, they talk about the elephant and rider analogy in managing change. The elephant represents emotion and the rider rationality. The elephant will only go where the rider wants it to if it so chooses. The rider cannot force the elephant to do anything. Unless the rider knows where he wants the elephant to go, they will not end up at the desired destination. To manage change, we need to motivate the elephant and direct the rider. We need to understand what it is about coaching that will motivate our colleagues’ elephants. Selling the expectation that it will lead to being a better teacher is a good starting point. We are motivated by the drive to acquire, to bond, to comprehend and to defend. Coaching can lead us to acquiring skills and knowledge about teaching which can make us better teachers. It can lead us to have quality conversations with our colleagues, helping each other to improve and bond along the way. It can lead us to deeper comprehension about effective teaching. It can reinforce the principle that we do the best that we can for the children that we teach, defending their present and their future.
Motivation without direction is useless so we need the attention to detail that the rider provides. What aspect of teaching are we practising? When will it happen? How will we practise the strategies? Which particular coaching strategies are most approproate for this teacher at this time? These details need planning for carefully because our time is valuable and clarity is what the rider needs. Each coach will need a coaching plan and part of the work with the coaches in September will be putting those together.
Along with motivating the elephant and directing the rider, if we want to arrive at a certain destination, the path needs to be clear. We need to remove any barriers so that we can get there. Time and the various other commitments that teachers have are the metaphorical logs blocking the path and must be removed for coaching to work. To start with, the time issue can be addressed by only asking a small time commitment per week – say half an hour. This half an hour cannot be at lunchtime or at 4.30pm on a Friday as that would diminish the status that we want to create for coaching. We have to provide release time from teaching responsibilities, where appropriate, for this to happen. The half an hour could involve twenty minutes of deliberately practising a strategy in class, followed by a ten minute conversation while someone else covers the class. Short and managaeable.
Practising being a coach
A coach will have a repertoire of support strategies to draw upon to support colleagues. Like any other domain of expertise though, coaches will need to practise their wares in order to be as effective as they can be. There will be a few strategies that a school could identify early on that would yield the best results. Pareto’s principle, or the law of the vital few, is that 80% of the output comes from 20% of the input, that is, a few key strategies could provide the greatest return on improving teacher quality. These key coaching strategies could be:
- Demonstration lessons
- Team teaching
- Quality and timing of feedback
- Coaching conversations
- Shared planning and marking
These strategies will need to be practised, with other coaches playing the role of the teaching colleague. So in the first few weeks of term, coaches could meet regularly to practise getting demonstration lessons as clear as possible. When coaches can do this with automaticity, they can focus more upon the reactions of their colleagues, tailoring what they’re doing to meet their needs better. They can practise the subtleties of team teaching – when to step back, when to model a particular strategy. They can practise giving quality feedback in those brief lulls in lessons that would enable their colleague to listen and act immediately by repeating the focus teaching strategy. They can practise the skillful listening and questioning needed to help a colleague solve a problem. If after 3 or 4 weeks back in the new term, coaches have met and practised these strategies, then they are prepared for doing so for real. These strategies need a context to be practised within though. In my school it will include some teaching practice that we deem to be of highest value in terms of outcomes for children:
- Modelled and shared writing
- Oral and written feedback on children’s work
- Co-constructing a writers’ toolkit
- Modelling mathematical strategies
- Explicitly addressing misconceptions
Working with coaches in this way enables them to act their way into thinking, and gives them a sound experience in which to frame the language they use to share the vision for coaching and CPD with their colleagues. Also, spacing out the sessions over a few weeks will contribute to maximised retention of the strategies by the coaches. Interspersed with these practices, I’d expect the coaches to be reading in order to build their knowledge. Books like Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov and The Perfect Teacher Coach by Jackie Beere are essential reading, along with great blog posts like these from Alex Quigley @huntingenglish (here, here and here and Shaun Allison @shaunallison (here and here).
In the final post in this series, I’ll be thinking about how coaching can fit into a wider CPD program.