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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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Coaching Teachers to Success

Which of the following scenarios do you prefer? During the first, the teacher is observed in his classroom for about 45 minutes. The evaluator takes notes then quietly leaves. Days later, the teacher and evaluator conference, and the evaluator provides feedback. She highlights how the teacher was “accomplished” in certain teaching categories and how he was “progressing” in two areas. The evaluator suggests a few resources and ideas to help the teacher improve in those areas. The teacher wonders how this meeting will impact his overall evaluation, incentive pay, and future prospects. That is the last time the two meet during the school year.

In the second scenario, the teacher and “coach” discuss some ideas that the teacher wants to try. The coach observes the teacher, jotting notes. The two sit down over some coffee, and the coach points out the strengths of the lesson then suggests some ideas for improvement. The next week, the coach drops in to observe how those ideas are working. Most are going well but the teacher asks the coach to model one of the ideas, which she does. The two continue to talk throughout the school year, building their ideas, and their relationship. Of course, this is an abridged version of both scenarios, but they portray the classic tension between coaching and evaluating teachers.

Bureaucratic pressures, such as accountability and testing movements, have prompted schools to embrace evaluation practices of teachers, sometimes with strong consequences. However, scholars and educators have voiced support for coaching teachers as the way to facilitate professional development. While I personally believe there’s a place for both practices, if they are kept within reason, as a teacher educator who works with pre-service teachers, I lean towards coaching. I believe coaching helps teachers build on strengths, and in the long run, proves more effective.

Showers (1985) described coaching as education professionals assisting each other in determining the gap between learning new skills and teaching methods and applying them skillfully, while evaluation of teachers generally suggests judgment about their competency. Proponents of coaching-based supervision contend that, when separated from evaluation practices, coaching provides a “safe place” for teachers to learn and practice new skills and reflect on outcomes—while still drawing upon observation, feedback, and other common supervisory practices (Joyce & Showers, 1982, p. 6).

Coaching teachers entails five key components: (1) companionship, (2) giving technical feedback, (3) analysis of application, (4) adaptation to students, and (5) facilitation or practice (Joyce & Showers, 1982, p. 6). What might this look like in schools? How can administrators, teachers, and teacher educators apply these steps? Let me give an example from my experience working with elementary pre-service teachers; initially, it begins with developing a relationship. I get to know the pre-service teachers. Why do they want to teach? What are their goals and career aspirations? What are their strengths as educators? What do they already bring to the classroom? What are their concerns and challenges? Next, I observe and provide feedback whenever possible. I conduct two formal observations, where we discuss what worked and where teachers can improve—but I also provide informal feedback and encouragement whenever I can. For example, yesterday, I watched a pre-service teacher work with struggling writers in the first grade. I wrote comments on what worked and some ideas for her to consider. Then, I will follow up and see how those ideas are working. It’s one continuous conversation. I emphasized to the teachers to reflect constantly on their practices—what methods are working well, what needs fine-tuning, and what works in their particular situation. They must learn to adapt teaching practices to their students’ age, developmental stage, background, culture, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Then, it’s just a matter of constant practice and more feedback.

One last idea. It makes sense to begin with helping teachers recognize what they already do well, their strengths. Strengths-based coaching "is different from deficit-based." When conversations are deficit-based, the weaknesses of teachers have the upper hand. The focus is on problem areas that need to be fixed. Focusing on deficits also shifts the responsibility for learning to the coach, who presumably knows how to do things better (Tschannen and Tschannen, 2011, p.15). With a strengths-based approach, you might find that a teacher has a natural command of the classroom, and thus, requires less work in classroom management. The focus can then be on instructional planning, assessment, and other areas that might need more development. This allows the coach and teacher to work smarter. It is also a much more positive approach to professional development, in my opinion.

 

Steve Haberlin is a graduate assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida and an educator with 10 years of experience.

 

References

Joyce, B., & Showers, B. (1982). The coaching of teaching. Educational leadership, 40(1), 4-10.

Showers, B. (1985). Teachers coaching teachers. Educational leadership, 42(7), 43-48.

Tschannen, B., & Tschannen, M. (2011). The coach and the evaluator. Educational leadership, 69(2), 10-16.