18 March 2008

Coaching in the Classroom

Instructional coaching is a bit of a murky business. The overall goal, of course, is to improve student achievement by supporting the implementation of best practices. But there is no magic formula or step-by-step guide out there. As a newcomer to building, grade levels, and district, I am trying to be very humble and respectful in my approach. All of the wonderful things which happen there (as well as the not-so-wonderful stuff) is a product of the culture they've created over the years. I may be there to add my own flavour to the mix, but I have to work from the inside. So, I'm spending a lot of time just observing. How do kids work together? What are the building norms? Who plays which role in the "family" of staff? I'm in "seek to understand" mode---not judgment mode.

I've recently been combining two ideas I've picked up elsewhere and using them to test the waters in classrooms. I have some index cards with me when I visit classrooms. I wish I could find the post on Leader Talk which mentioned this, but I've been unsuccessful. Whoever wrote the post designed and printed cards which had specific targets s/he was looking for. It was their way of collecting data for evaluations. I'm not in an evaluative role and for now, the cards I'm using are blank. Anyway, toward the end of my visit, I write a note to the teacher on one of the cards. This is where Part II of things comes in, as I structure my feedback in the same way I do with students. I try to give very specific and positive comments about the instruction first. Then, I pose a question. (I never point out the big but in the classroom.) What would you think about trying...? Have you ever thought about...? I wonder what would happen if...? or something else along those lines. My goal is simply to cause some thinking and reflection---something we teachers rarely have time or energy for. But perhaps a single question isn't too overwhelming.

Is this the right thing? I honestly don't know. I just think it's a simple way to start. Have I seen anyone actually make use of my suggestions via questions on those cards? Yes, I have. I feel like that's a good thing. It means that the questions I pose aren't too big or threatening and that they fit within the culture of the school. Meaningful change doesn't have to be overwhelming. Will it make a difference? That remains to be seen. For now, it's just one way to make coaching happen in the classroom.

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