Aug 12, 2012

ARTICLE: Coaching Teachers

Personal Best

Aimee found this article, and put forth a request: I'm particularly interested in what my educator friends think of the idea of having a coach. Give this a look & let me know. Thanks!

Although this may be some sort of homework assignment, and she's secretly getting us to do the work, I'll bite. 

Atul Gawande, a surgeon, feels as if he's hit a plateau with his skills, and wonders about the usefulness of a coach. Athletes have them. Some musicians have them. Some writers have them. Should teachers have them? This was an absolutely fascinating article. From the paragraph about the infected appendix to the suggestions from his coach to the case that went poorly, I loved hearing about his experiences as a surgeon. And, it was flattering to know that he actually spent time in a classroom.

"For decades, research has confirmed that the big factor in determining how much students learn is not class size or the extent of standardized testing but the quality of their teachers. Policymakers have pushed mostly carrot-and-stick remedies: firing underperforming teachers, giving merit pay to high performers, penalizing schools with poor student test scores. People like Jim Knight [director of the Kansas Coaching Project] think we should push coaching."

"California researchers in the early nineteen-eighties conducted a five-year study of teacher-skill development in eighty schools, and noticed something interesting. Workshops led teachers to use new skills in the classroom only ten per cent of the time. Even when a practice session with demonstrations and personal feedback was added, fewer than twenty per cent made the change. But when coaching was introduced—when a colleague watched them try the new skills in their own classroom and provided suggestions—adoption rates passed ninety per cent. A spate of small randomized trials confirmed the effect. Coached teachers were more effective, and their students did better on tests."

A school district in Virginia decided to create an instructional-coaching program, based on Knight's ideas. Teachers in their first two years of teaching must have a coach and teachers with more experience can request a coach.

"Knight teaches coaches to observe a few specifics: whether the teacher has an effective plan for instruction; how many students are engaged in the material; whether they interact respectfully; whether they engage in high-level conversations; whether they understand how they are progressing, or failing to progress."

After observing an Algebra teacher, along with her coaches, Dr. Gawande writes, "She told me that she had begun to burn out. 'I felt really isolated, too,' she said. Coaching had changed that. 'My stress level is a lot less now.' That might have been the best news for the students. They kept a great teacher, and saw her get better. 'The coaching has definitely changed how satisfying teaching is,' she said."

That's important to note. Many teachers would reject a coach because they are uncomfortable with observations. I think that's short-sighted. If we were observed frequently and had constructive conversations, we would grow used to it. In fact, like Ms. Critzer, it would relieve stress and doubt. We would feel better about our lessons and interactions.

In response to Aimee's prompt, I'll say that I would welcome a coach into my classroom. At first, I thought a coach needed to be a Master Teacher, someone with years of varied experience. I don't know if that's absolutely necessary. Matt doesn't have years and years of experience, but many of us would welcome his observations. He's observant, careful with his words, and good at making you think it was your idea. 

Without a coach, I wouldn't have run those quarters (16x70sec) as fast as I did. I would have slowed up when it hurt, and I might have cut the workout short. As teachers, the race gets long and it's hard to push with the same intensity--a coach would really help.

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