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Marissa King's picture
Marissa is the Chief of Staff at the non-profit Teaching & Leading Initiative of Oklahoma where she overuses sticky notes and obsesses over new teacher development. She is a former Tulsa Public...
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Improving Classroom Coachability

With every new piece of writing feedback, the pony-tailed girl at table two tapped her scuffed shoes under the table as she rushed to implement my suggestions. Soccer-obsessed Camila started the year penning jumbled sentences and nervously avoiding eyes in class. But her commitment to hard work and using feedback quickly rocketed her to the top of the writing class.

Like so many students, Camila offers an important lesson on what it takes to improve: be coachable. For teachers, coachability can improve classroom practice, lead to better results for kids, and unlock important resources from school leaders and colleagues. Most teachers can picture exactly what coachability looks like in students, but it’s a little harder to examine ourselves. I like to think of students like Camila when I summon the courage to work on my own coachability.

Start With Yourself

Coachability starts with an attitude of humility and a recognition that you don’t know everything or do it all perfectly. If you aren’t ready to get a colleague or leader to join you, that’s okay! Start with a personal examination of your practice. Dig into your latest exit ticket data or homework return rates to figure out places you can adjust your approach. It can be a little intimidating but filming your classroom is another helpful practice. If your school has Swivl, the rotating camera that self-tracks the teacher’s move during the lesson, you don’t even need another person in the room.

Listen To Your Responses

Listen to how you respond to challenges and feedback. It will tell you a lot about you a lot about how coachable you are. Do you immediately respond with excuses or do you own up to your responsibility as the classroom leader? Do you respond with a request for help or do you retreat to the closed doors of your classroom? 

An important step towards coachability is to ask for help. Push yourself to say what you need out loud. Admit when you don’t know what to do or don’t understand what’s going on. In addition to getting valuable insight in return, your actions will push your colleagues, too. The goal here is to use every opportunity as a chance for improvement.

Of course, sometimes feedback brings forth anxiety, too. Even if feedback isn’t delivered in the gentlest way, former teacher Keely Swartzer reminds educators that assuming the best in colleagues and school leaders will help everyone. Even the rudest delivery can carry a hint of truth.

Respond to Feedback

When you get direct feedback via principal observation or a colleague’s classroom visit, finish the conversation by clarifying your action item. Discussing the intended change and how to get there will show you’re serious about taking feedback and will clarify misunderstandings. Too many times, teachers race back to classrooms to implement change only to realize that they aren’t quite sure how to do it.

If you don’t get enough feedback or feel like your school leader doesn’t follow up to see changes, manage up. Invite your evaluator or instructional coach back into your classroom to see the changes you’ve made after initial feedback. Even your colleagues might enjoy a specific invitation to observe and give feedback in your classroom.

I wish coachability were a one-time skill to develop like riding a bike or learning the backstroke. It sure would make things easier! Instead, I’ve found that it takes ongoing attention to orient my attitude towards coachability especially in challenging new situations.