Coaching for teachers

As the time fast approaches for recommendations related to Australian school funding from the Goski review, a spate of articles have appeared that say, very clearly, that funding is not on the main agenda when looking at improving student performance. It is, and always has been, the quality of the teaching received, that is of more import.

There is little point in increasing funding to schools without also looking at how teacher quality can be improved.

It’s not even about the provision of more opportunities, and better access to, external professional development activities.

I firmly believe that it is about greater access to professional learning for individual teachers within their own workplaces. It’s about each teacher engaging in authentically reflective practice and being determinedly and resolutely focused on what it is that will make their classroom practice better.

This is harder to accomplish than one might think.

Schools are expected to be accountable for so many diverse aspects of living in today’s, and preparing for tomorrow’s, world. Every societal problem leads to the cry for ‘better education’ to do with drugs, alcohol, riding a bike safely, navigating the internet safely, indigenous education, sexual orientation, bullying…the list could go on for many paragraphs.

There are many demands on schools and teachers’ time. It takes a very strong school, with a very strong leadership team, to stand up and say that they will focus their attention, effort and time on what matters most – schooling. But who decides what schooling is for and what constitutes said schooling?

We don’t want ‘schooling’ to ‘just’ mean an education that prioritises the content of measured national tests. Whilst literacy, scientific understanding and numeracy are important, they are not the only facets of a good or rounded education. How well those tests actually measure those things is also debatable.

In The Weekend Australian this weekend, there were a number of articles looking at how teachers in Shanghai, South Korea and Singapore are educated themselves and how their performance is monitored and improved during their teaching careers. Whilst there were differences, the commonalities included giving teachers less teaching time and more ‘professional time’ to be reflective practitioners, to effectively use the data provided from their students to reconsider their instruction, to undergo research into recent pedagogical theories and to discuss their lessons in depth with others. Part of the latter aspect, especially in Shanghai, was that all teachers, no matter how experienced, had a coaching mentor, someone who observed their lessons and provided feedback on these.

“Education research has shown that constructive feedback based on watching teachers in their classroom has the greatest impact on student learning of any school intervention” (quoted from the article referenced above)

I have recently become convinced of the truth of this statement. I very much like the sound of “Instructional Rounds” as advocated in the book: City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving learning and teaching. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Instructional rounds are not about evaluating teachers. In the article Learning from Instructional Rounds

by Elizabeth A. City, it states:

Rounds are not about “fixing” individual teachers. Rounds are about understanding what’s happening in classrooms, how we as a system produce those effects, and how we can move closer to producing the learning we want to see.

This focus on “we” means that peers learn to hold one another accountable, individually and collectively. For rounds to accelerate improvement, educators need a protocol for taking next steps that they’ve committed to on their own. They don’t rely on someone with formal authority to enforce agreements or on others to comply with mandates. In the California Rural Network, for example, superintendents do follow-up visits with one another after rounds visits. They say this follow-up visit from a peer helps them take action amid multiple competing priorities.

Rounds are fundamentally descriptive and analytic, not evaluative. At no point in rounds do we declare what we see to be “good” or “bad” or something we “like” or “don’t like.” Observers don’t tell the observed what to do next to improve. However, observers do think about “the next level of work” or what the school or district could do to make progress in a problem area.

Finally, because rounds are about the instructional core, when my colleagues and I are in classrooms we focus on the interactions among teachers, students, and content. Effective supervision and evaluation, of course, pay attention to these things as well. However, educators consistently say that one of their early changes in practice as a result of participating in rounds is a shift of attention from the teacher to the students and the tasks they’re engaged in.

She includes the following table to illustrate the differences.

Figure 1. Instructional Rounds Versus Supervision and Evaluation  Instructional Rounds Supervision and Evaluation
Learning stance Inquiry: Genuinely want to learn something ourselvesMain learners: The observers Informative: Genuinely want someone else to learn somethingMain learner: The observed
Unit of improvement Meant to improve the collective (school, system) Meant to improve the individual
Accountability Lateral (peer-to-peer) Positional (top-down)
Output Next level of work, collective commitments Evaluative feedback, prescriptions for next steps
Primary focus in the classroom The instructional core, especially the students and the tasks they’re engaged in The teacher
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About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
This entry was posted in Systems, The profession, Vision. Bookmark the permalink.

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