Observation or Coaching? — #EdChat Summary: 3/27/12

Topic: What are the possibilities that open to us if we change the observation model for teachers to a coaching model?

Wow. This week’s conversation was a doozy. Great topic, fast and frantic discussion, and plenty to learn. It’s weeks like this one that make me remember what drew me into #edchat so quickly. Truly, this is an amazing community.

As tends to happen when topics focus specifically on teacher-related issues (as opposed to education or edtech issues), I started off at a bit of a loss. Remember: I am not a teacher, so I don’t know what it’s like to have an administrator come in and observe me for twenty minutes and then hand me a sheet of paper with a bunch of comments on it.

But I can imagine that it doesn’t feel good. I don’t even like having one person look at what I’m typing when I’m on the computer at home. I just feel “judged.” And even if the onlooker has something useful to say (like: “You spelled your name wrong.”) I have a very hard time receiving it.

What’s interesting about this is that I actually have no problem taking constructive criticism. I took a couple writing classes in school, and a big part of any writing classes is peer review. For those unfamiliar with the process, it basically means you sit in a circle and a bunch of people tear your work apart. Some teachers allow you to defend yourself, but most don’t. It’s a hard few minutes, but most of us accept it as a necessary step towards getting better at something that we care deeply about.

Clearly, then, it is possible for someone who hates being observed to want to receive outside help on something as important and personal and teaching. The question is: what is the best way to do it? Does it depend on the situation? Or is coaching a step up from observation no matter how you slice it?

The consensus this week seemed to be that yes, indeed coaching is a step up. But, we will need to make a very concerted effort to actually separate coaching from the old observation process. It can’t just be a new buzzword attached to an old and ineffective practice. There needs to be a real shift from observation and criticism to collaboration and coaching.

Main themes from the discussion:

  • Coaching is a conversation. Observation is merely critical. What most teachers disliked about the observation model (besides the fact that, most times, they were only observed for 20 minutes at a time), is that it’s not a conversation. It’s a one-way street. Administration rolls in, takes a few notes, and then tells you how to do your job. It’s way too hierarchical, way too judgmental, and not conducive to making change because teachers put their guard up almost immediately. Coaching, on the other hand, can be a conversation. Teachers can tell their coach what they think they need to focus on. They can initiate the process, and in doing so they will drop their guard. Then change becomes a possibility.
  • Everybody can (and should) be coached, although not everyone will want to. One important thing, when making the switch from observation to coaching, is to stress the fact that everyone could use a coach (at least from time to time). Coaching does not imply deficiency. Rather, it simply signals that one is trying to improve. A good way to encourage this idea to take root is to stress that administrators are going to work with coaches as well. And if teachers are still hesitant to work with a coach? Allow them to talk with the coach beforehand about why they are hesitant. Remind them that they have some choice about the focus of the coaching – and that its purpose is not just to tell them how to do their job. It’s about helping them figure out how they can do their job even better.
  • The goal should be more cooperation, collaboration, and continued improvement (lifelong learners). A very important aspect of the coaching model is the lifelong learner mindset. Teachers need to know that continuous improvement is something to strive for. They need to see that being modeled for them by those around them, and they need to see it being rewarded by administration. Many teachers might rail against being “coached” (at least, at first), but very few (if any) would say that they already know everything about teaching. The coaching process can be used to help cultivate and maintain the lifelong learner mindset among teachers – and to get them working together towards their goals.
  • We should have multiple “specialty” coaches. We can sources these from the existing pool of experts at each school. Why spend the money shipping in “experts” with no first-hand knowledge of the school when there are experts in almost every conceivable subject and teaching style at almost every school? Sourcing a school’s coaches from the teacher/administration/staff population has two advantages: it’s cheap, and it promotes more camaraderie and collaboration. Of course, these teacher coaches may need some extra training and practice coaching other teachers. But everyone can learn together. The coaching model represents a shift from the judgmental observation model. It’s supposed to help teachers feel more connected with the people around them. What better way to start that feeling rolling than by working with teachers to develop the program?

My favorite tweets from the discussion:

tomwhitby The idea of coaching makes the observation more collegial and not as adversarial. That is good!

AHSTechTeacher Coaching is a nice word, but what good is it if people are not trained on how to effectively coach? Will it be different?

BarbLarochelle To me, the whole thought that I’m being ‘coached’ implies that I’m doing something wrong that needs to be fixed.

bjnichols Administration needs the same type of assistance. Coaching administrators is a big part of what I do. Can make a major impact.

Berryed1 When I coached, the objective was clearly to “beat” somebody at something and was very clearly measureable. Not for teaching.

johntspencer I like the blended approach: model lesson, observe lessons, co-observe another teacher, conference with reflective questions.

ShellTerrell In a learner model, teachers feel encouraged & supported not fear to experiment, make mistakes, etc.

KleinErin Coaching isn’t for those who ‘need’ it but rather for everyone. Once mindset is changed, the model will be more accepted.

jleous Coaching is the right term. As a HS hockey coach, I deal with players much better than I. I can still point out areas for growth.

Resources shared during the discussion:

cybraryman1 There is an outstanding #educoach chat Wednesdays at 10 pm EST http://t.co/tRLNU5tk

cybraryman1 I have seen more instructional coaches in school. My Instructional Coaching page: http://t.co/M1sJTNVd

davidwees Here’s something that I think would improve teaching: The apprenticeship model http://t.co/how4kz8U

jleous The Board just approved an “Instructional Coach” job description last night. The duties are well done. http://t.co/tbwKKqjl


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