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Use Coaching to Make Teacher Training "Stick"


EducationWorld is pleased to present this administrator resource shared by Linda Dusenbury, Ph.D., a researcher and expert in evidence-based prevention strategies designed to promote student competencies and motivation, and to create safe and nurturing classrooms and schools.

Initial training is important when introducing a new teaching method or approach. Even better is more comprehensive training, consisting of initial training plus follow-up training and coaching. Research shows that when it comes to effective strategies to support high-quality teaching, a more comprehesive training approach produces better outcomes than initial training by itself.

Initial training typically includes some combination of the following elements: (1) important theoretical and research background (such as the program’s theory of change or logic model); (2) program rationale (why this program is important to students and educators); (3) modeling and demonstration of program methods, identifying those that participants can begin to use right away, and relying heavily on a well-organized plan participants will then be able to follow to continue the process of developing techniques and skills used in the program; (4) opportunities for investigation and exploration; (5) opportunities to practice; and (6) checks for understanding coupled with an ability on the part of the trainer to correct misinformation and improve depth of understanding. 

In contrast to training, coaching can be tailored to the needs of the individual. Coaching meets individual teachers where they are and moves them in a deliberate way to greater mastery.  Teacher mastery can be conceptualized as moving through stages, starting with support (when needed) to address the most basic teaching challenges, such as classroom management or other fundamental teaching skills.

For teachers who had mastered fundamental teaching competencies, coaching might focus on basic mechanics of delivery of a particular program or approach. As a teacher develops familiarity with the methods, coaching might focus more on developing an interactive teaching style. Beyond that, coaching might focus on how to respond effectively to things students say or ask in class. Finally, at the highest level, coaches might be expected to consult with teachers to tailor and adapt programming to best meet the needs of particular groups of students, including high-risk youth.

Based on research with evidence-based programs, here are some tips for high-quality professional development, including training and coaching:

  1. Research suggests that it is important there be mutual respect and trust, so that participants feel safe practicing and receiving feedback. Establish a positive relationship with participants you are training or coaching. Begin workshops with a brief discussion of “Cares and Concerns,” such as where restrooms are located, and how often there will be breaks. Listen attentively when participants are speaking, and encourage others to do so, as well. Show an interest in participants’ lives; mingle during breaks and ask questions about participants’ schools and students.
  2. Professional development needs to be engaging to participants, so that they are motivated to improve their teaching methods. Know your audience and what matters to them. Ask questions to learn about their professional experience and needs, and be ready to say how training will help them meet their own goals.
  3. Professional development should provide critically important information that increases depth of understanding about the approach. Content should be clear and well organized, as well as meaningful and relevant to participants.
  4. All professional development, and especially training for specific programs, should provide opportunities to identify and address misinformation or confusion, as well as resistance. Kindness and grace are essential tools in this process. Building a positive relationship can also make a huge difference. When there are pockets of resistance in a training session, move toward those individuals during training, and engage them in a friendly way during breaks. One of the best ways to deal with misinformation or resistance that is publicly stated is to use the audience. If someone says something you feel needs to be challenged, as much as possible try to involve the audience, rather than addressing the issue yourself. In a neutral way ask, “Does everyone agree with that?” or “Does anyone have a different view?” Encourage participants who respond positively to your question to elaborate their positions in a way that supports the point or position you want to make.
  5. Professional development should help to raise and explicitly answer important questions, such as “What does high quality teaching look like, and how do we ensure we are doing it?” Ideally these questions will then be followed up and developed over time. For this reason, it is important that there be a clear plan for training or coaching that articulates what the participant can expect to know and begin doing right away, as well as what the participant can expect to learn and master going forward.
  6. Most importantly, professional development at all levels should provide modeling and demonstrations of effective methods, and extensive, ongoing practice. Ideally the entire training should be organized to demonstrate the principles and methods being explored. For example, if the training is to develop interactive techniques, use interactive techniques to make desired points. Your training session should model the kind of teaching you want teachers to master. Praise and reinforce teachers in authentic ways when you see improvement during their practice.

About Dr. Dusenbury

A nationally recognized expert in evidence-based prevention strategies designed to promote student competencies and motivation, and to create safe and nurturing classrooms and schools, Dr. Linda Dusenbury founded Bridging the Gap Professional Development Services, LLC, where researchers and educators work together to help schools achieve their goals. 

Dr. Dusenbury has worked as a Senior Research Scientist with The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Tanglewood Research, Inc., Drug Strategies, and numerous other organizations focused on improving the lives of young people. She has produced award-winning videos and online courses, and published more than 75 professional articles and chapters focused on effective strategies to promote student competence and prevent problem behaviors.

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