One-on-one teacher coaching plays an ever larger role in our efforts at The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning. The reflective approach our expert coaches use has a two-fold benefit: it trains teachers to examine and improve their own classroom practices, and does so without putting them on the defensive.
Partner district instructors who gathered for our annual meeting got an in-depth look at how to make reflective coaching work well. QTL Instructional Specialists modeled effective teacher coaching that is encouraging, thought-provoking and productive. They began with a mock “pre-conference interview” where Pam Edwards, playing the coach, discussed an upcoming lesson with Rachel Porter, who was in the teacher role. They talked about a real session that Rachel had planned for the group. Pam asked what the learning goals were, what instructional strategies would be used, and how Rachel would determine if the participants met the goals.
Then came Rachel’s lesson itself, which involved small group discussions of articles on teacher coaching that participants had read in advance. While Rachel led the lesson and facilitated the discussions, Pam took notes on what she observed in the classroom. But those notes – and the post-lesson discussion – are what make this approach to coaching different than what many teachers are used to seeing.
With Reflective Coaching, the coach’s purpose is not to be the ‘expert’ and not to be judgmental, but to help the teacher think through instructional decisions and reflect on their impact. The goal is to show teachers how to examine the content and students’ needs, think through the best way to teach the content, then think back on what worked well and what should be done differently.
After the lesson, a de-briefing session covered what happened during the lesson. Rather than verbally reviewing every element and telling Rachel what she could have done better, Pam focused on asking questions. What went as expected? What unfolded differently than planned? Why? Might there be another way to present the information that would have increased learning?
The tone of a reflective coaching session is positive and upbeat, non-threatening and collegial. There are multiple reasons this works better. For one thing, teachers who are put on the defensive during coaching sessions are usually much less open to changing the way they teach. Since better teaching is the purpose for coaching, criticizing can be counter-productive. Reflective coaching is not evaluation!
Perhaps even more importantly, an ‘evaluative’ approach doesn’t necessarily foster thoughtful reflection and lasting change. Reflective coaching, on the other hand, shows teachers how to think through the process and encourages them to ask themselves questions about their lessons and their strategies as a matter of daily practice. And that brings about lasting impact.