Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Focusing on Supporting Growth, Not Deficiencies #EdChat

One of the favorite parts of my life as an educator was when I was a coach. I coached soccer on and off for a few years and it was something I still think of fondly. There is something about students calling me coach that just made me smile. As an instructional coach, I find myself going back to those coaching days and thinking about how I was able to motivate people to change or try a new approach to better serve the teachers I am supporting.

When it comes to coaching, there are coaches that will spend their time focusing on the things the players do not do well and show them why those actions are bad, and by doing them, they make you bad. I never responded to this coaching method. By the end of this, I would usually feel bad at everything and the thought of trying something new was not possible. Sadly, I have seen this approach in schools and I have heard it from presenters/keynotes at conferences.  The "I know everything and you are doing everything wrong approach" is a terrible way to support teachers. Trying to shame them in to changing their practices is not helpful to anyone. Morale sinks and nothing changes as those teachers dig in as an act of self preservation. If we want to support teachers, we need to spend more time on the things they do well and less on why we think they are bad at something.

As a coach, it is important to remember that everyone is on their own journey and not everyone is going to be at the same stage of their trip as others. Some will require more support, while others will pick things up quickly and move ahead. For those teachers that are struggling, focusing on what they are doing wrong all the time is not going to motivate them to change their practice. That is why it is so key to focus on the successes along the way and help them create more successful teaching moments. Here are three simple things that an instructional can do to support another teacher.


Stop by for a visit and just check in with the teacher. See what they are doing in their classes and how their lessons are going. Spend a little time getting to kn ow the teacher and how they approach teaching. It is so important for any teacher to feel comfortable with someone if they are going to open up about their fears or frustrations with their instruction. Nobody wants to talk to a stranger and tell them they don't know how to do something. Spending the time getting to know a teacher will make it easier to help them down the line.


Depending on your relationship with the teacher, pop in to observe them in action or email ahead of time and let them know that you'd love to watch their lesson on (blank). DO NOT TAKE NOTES OR BE ON YOUR PHONE DURING THIS OBSERVATION. This is not a formal observation. This is just a peer watching another teacher in action. It is ok to take mental notes, because you are going to need them for the follow up email thanking them for letting you in the room. Identify some of the awesome things you saw and encourage them to keep up the great work. Later on, mention to them you had an idea or you found a cool article or tool that relates to what they did in class and you wanted to share it with them. Then suggest that it could be fun to plan something together to do with the students in class.


Co-teaching is an excellent way to work with teachers and help them build upon the great things they already do in the classroom. Working with another teacher can be so much fun. Sharing a shared passion for something and creating a lesson or project to present to students is a blast. It is during the co-teaching planning time that you want to introduce new elements to the teacher, but you don't force them do go it alone. By being their as a co-teacher, you can help rollout the new tool or instructional approach. Fear of failure is something that drives teachers to avoid trying new things, but if they have a partner to fail with, they are more likely to give it a try. With a successfully implemented and co-taught lesson, reflect on what worked, what needs work, and encourage them to keep doing awesome things. It usually only takes one positive experience with a tool or instructional approach to get a teacher hooked. Co-teaching is an excellent way to get that process started.

While it is easy to sit back and criticize all the teachers that are not teaching the "right way", getting off the stage or from behind the desk to help those teachers who need it is much harder, but far more valuable and effective. All teachers need to be willing to support one another if we want to see change in our educational system. We all need to feel comfortable telling our peers that we do not know how to do something or we don't know the answer to the problem we are facing. Instructional coaches are a perfect way to support teachers who need the help. However, they need to be focused on growth, and not just a teacher's deficiencies. 

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