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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D student at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree in...
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Coach Me, Don’t Evaluate Me

I never saw great value in being formally observed by an administrator or peer-evaluator, receiving some feedback and never hearing from them again. As an elementary teacher, that just didn’t feel like the best approach.

Sure, I received direct feedback and benefited from having an outside person “objectively” observe my teaching practices—but it felt flat, like something was missing. What was missing, in my opinion, was the coaching aspect. Someone to work alongside me, to guide me, to coach me to greater success.

Let’s use a sports analogy.

Imagine a baseball coach, observing a player taking batting practice. The coach watches and gives feedback to the player—raise your elbow, keep your eye on the ball, bend your knees. Then, the coach leaves, never engaging with the player again. The player might benefit from a few pointers (though, they might feel a bit resentful at being told what to do), but they lack the consistent coaching that would help they gradually develop in the best player possible. Of course, this isn’t how it works; the baseball coach works daily with the player to improve performance.

But this is often the case with teacher evaluations—they are just that, evaluations missing the critical coaching piece. I realize that principals and other school staff are extremely busy, and it takes time to observe and conference with teachers, but I believe it is worth the effort to find ways to move towards a coaching model. For instance, the cognitive coaching model proposed by Costa & Garmston (1989) involves the teacher educator working with the teacher to help develop their process of thinking, which changes their behavior, and thus increases performance.

This is accomplished through careful, nonjudgmental questioning and discussions, which assists the teacher in becoming a self-directed reflective practitioner. They begin to realize how to effectively plan instruction, to measure their own success, and make adjustments. You are essentially teaching them to fish rather than giving them a fish and returning next year for another observation. In using a cognitive approach, teachers:

  • Learn to identify and gather their own evidence for student learning
  • Share in the process of evidence/data gathering.
  • Recognize the casual relationship between their instructional practices and outcomes.
  • Participate in non-judging, humanistic relationships.

Contrast this with the evaluation model:

  • Teachers have little or no say in the data-gathering process.
  • The observer “tells” the teacher what to correct, thus robbing them of the chance to develop reflectivity and learn to gather their own evidence.
  • The entire process can feel cold; the relationship and learner not at the center.

To me, coaching is a much more positive, nurturing process that focuses on the long-term—the ultimate goal being to develop the thinking process of the teacher.

As a former k-12 teacher and current teacher educator, I strive each lesson to improve and grow in my craft. And I ask, please don’t evaluate me. Instead, coach me!

 

References

Costa, A., & Garmston, R. (1989). The art of cognitive coaching: Supervision for intelligent teaching. Training Syllabus, Institute for Intelligent Behavior, 950.