This year, I am a full-time instructional technology coach at the same high school I was teaching at previously. My school has gone fully 1:1 this year, so it’s been so fun to take on the role of a coach and to see teachers taking risks, trying new things, and producing amazing things. I have a growing appreciation for the vast array of strengths and interests that teachers have, and I truly enjoy figuring out what motivates and excites each individual teacher.
That is why I recently ordered a copy of “Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Teachers Change” by Jane A.G. Kise. Inspired by Crystal Kirsch, a tech coach who is blogging her thoughts and notes as she reads a different book on coaching (The Art of Coaching), I’m going to blog some of my thoughts and notes as I read this book.
Chapter 1: What Do Teachers Believe?
“Asking teachers to change their practices often means asking them to do things that sound absolutely hostile to them…. It shouldn’t surprise us that he [the teacher in the anecdote] stuck with what he knew, given that his classroom was under control and his results were no worse than other teachers’. The real surprise is that so many teachers are actually willing to try innovations.” (p. 10)
- I am so impressed with the teachers at my school who are jumping in and trying new things with technology this year. Some of them were initially hesitant or even hostile to this change, even though I know they are good and caring teachers. I think it’s often for the reason mentioned in this passage. Good teachers know how to produce good results with the methods they use, and they feel confident doing them. Seeking out change when they don’t see a problem with what they’re currently doing is risky at best and foolish at worst.
- This makes me ask: How do we build a school culture that encourages, expects, and rewards innovation rather than teachers who are in control and show average performance?
“Change is a lot of work. Why would you do it if your classroom is under control, the majority of your students are succeeding, you’re aware of significant factors contributing to student failure that are outside your control, and the changes either don’t fit with your beliefs about education or require that you operate out of weaknesses?” (p. 14)
- I have to admit that as a teacher, I was sometimes guilty of giving up on a struggling student when I had tried everything I could do to help but when the student wasn’t responding to what I’d tried. I would attribute it to other factors outside my control: family problems, disorganization, student apathy, etc.
- Sometimes I’d vent about those frustrating students to colleagues in the office, and often they’d have a new idea I could try. That’s kind of how I see my role as a coach: encouraging teachers to try again, to entertain new ideas, and to not give up despite their failures.
I want teachers to “question their classroom practices without feeling threatened to the core of their being” (p. 21), because teachers often over-identify with our successes and failures in the classroom, thinking that we are ultimately in control there and if we fail, it’s because we are a failure.
Chapter 2: What Do Teachers Need During Change
This chapter is all about identifying teacher beliefs and preferences, and providing coaching that is tailored to those needs and wants.
Teachers have different informational needs that a coach needs to meet before the teacher is going to embrace change: (p. 26-29)
- Immediate applications: practical, concrete lesson plans. They need an easy way to try out the strategies before they decide if it’s worth investing more time.
- A vision of how each student will be affected: carefully thinking through how each individual type of student will react to the new teaching strategy.
- The details, not the big picture: How does this work in my class, with the time I have, with the materials I have?
- Deep understanding of theories & models being used: Why are we doing this? How does this fit with the big picture of district initiatives and our past efforts?
- Implementation mechanics: timelines, deadlines, paperwork. When will I have time to do this? Is it worth the investment?
- A say in the plan: having a say in when & how it happens gets them to buy in.
- Substantive background materials: Something to read & discuss to help them understand the rationale.
- Proof that change is better than the present: Is the risk going to be worth the reward?
(Note that scientific research studies don’t convince most of these types of people, because they’re not holistic enough or they’re too different from the particulars of a teacher’s own classroom setting.)
A coach looks past a teacher’s “presenting problems” (resistant, cynical, needy, unmotivated) to see their true needs, and modifies their coaching role to fit like a chameleon! This is a lot like what
teachers do to motivate their students, or what athletic coaches do to motivate their athletes.
Coaching Roles: (p. 34- 37)
- Useful Resource: Providing concrete lesson plans & examples, sharing from a “bag of tricks”, showing how to tailor the new stuff to fit the content that they teach. Giving hands-on learners a chance to test it out before investing a lot of time.
- Encouraging Sage: Providing feedback, helping directly in the classroom, spending time, dialoging about students’ reactions to new lessons. Pointing out what they’re doing right and giving concrete suggestions to make problems seem less severe.
- Collegial Mentor: Giving them resources and time to process on their own before forcing them to try something. Being patient and listening. Talking through scenarios and strategies in detail.
- Expert: Engaging in debate with them to help them understand the new teaching strategies deeply. Thinking through the when, how, and where that it’s appropriate to use the strategies. Evaluating progress toward the goal. Being knowledgeable and objective about the strategies you’re asking this deep thinker to try.
I definitely cycle through these roles as I work with teachers at my school. Some come more easily than others. I look forward to learning more about how to identify when to take on each role.
I peeked ahead at the coming chapters and saw a beautiful chart that includes Myers-Briggs personality types and how to coach based on those types. My inner personality-test-geek got quite excited about that. I’m looking forward to continuing to read & reflect on this book!