Is my teaching excellent? (part 3)


Is my teaching excellent? (part 3)

24 Nov ’18 Teaching 0

Here is the final part of a three part series (part 1 and part 2). I didn’t intend to write a series – but here it stops.

Do we need to think differently?

If we never challenge dominant modes of thinking, we end up trapped in modes of acting that may no longer be serving us all that well.  (Stacey, 2011a: xviii)

The dominant discourse on leadership and organisation views management as a science, organisation as a system, and leadership as a set of identified skills and competencies that can be developed. However, with the opportunity to think deeply about developing leadership in classrooms, be that of a school leader with responsibility for teaching and learning or teachers themselves, I find myself veering towards a paradoxical nature of the role as someone “in charge but not in control.” (Streatfield, 2001). Veering from formulaic and procedural, towards organic and responsive.

When I think hard about those qualitative difference between novice and experts teachers – two stand out for me and these tend to support the view above, that leading may well indeed be organic and responsive, based on practical experience.

…expert teachers may begin to solve problems slower, they bring richer and more personal sources of information to bear on the problem they are trying to solve.
novice teachers reticence or “inability to modify plans.”
Interestingly, one showing an acceptance or willingness to relinquish control the other not. Do we need to think differently, how to develop these expert characteristics?

Developing expertise in teachers

Before I move onto effective models for developing teachers, this reflection is suggesting to me that rather than offering instruction and crique, we may be better served to help teachers and education leaders become better at thinking for themselves (organic?). To encourage teachers and instructional coaches (as both are developmental opportunities) to engage in a process that reflexively explores a range of perspectives, strategies, approaches and responses. In much the same way as I explored leadership theory through Complexity Theory, should we explore teaching proficiency in much the same way? As a more fluid concept? After all teaching is messy and learning extremely difficult to pinpoint.
Having established what experts do – at least we have a destination.
We know that expert teacher knowledge is not explicit and that telling teachers what to do, doesn’t work. Much professional development has been ineffective because the diagnosis is faulty. Teachers don’t tend to lack knowledge so much as the ability to translate their intentions into action.
Improving classroom practice involves changing habits, not adding knowledge. That is primarily, what makes teacher development so difficult. Re-learning is arguably more difficult a process than learning. Therefore – enhancing the classroom practice of inexperienced classroom teachers, will arguably be more effective, if fruitful.
Importantly, as I learnt from Prof Rob Briner, you can only hold teachers accountable for outcomes they can influence. Practice focus and improvement and the support of fellow colleagues, are two aims that can be evidenced.
Leaders are responsible for engineering effective professional learning opportunities. Share the expectations, frame and focus, composition, partnerships and dialogue.
If we are going to help teachers change their classroom habits, we need to recognise that this is going to be hugely challenging and will require both accountability and support. Where support may be represented as
  • Teaching and Learning Communities – time (to meet and to peer observe), space (pause and think, probing, put forward ideas) and self-directed.
  • Professional enquiry – teacher investigating a line of professional enquiry
    • In both cases, teacher should expect, and be able to, render an account of why they have chosen to develop one aspect of their practice rather than another.
  • Bright spots – recognise, share and celebrate the success, no matter how small.
  • Make “talking about teaching” part of the DNA of the school – culture.
  • Manage disappointments – opportunities to develop trust.

Where accountability, in it’s current form, is corrosive and deconstructive.

Most recently, there has been emerging evidence on the effectiveness of instructional coaching. Teacher coaching has emerged as a promising alternative to traditional models of professional development. Instructional coaching is more like sports coaching, where a expert* teacher helps the classroom teacher to focus on one aspect of their teaching that can be isolated and practiced. A partnership based on equality, choice, voice, dialogue, reflections praxis and reciprocity (Jim Knight 2009). These, I am sure would be similar to most coach-coachee relationships. 

  • Equality: instructional coaches and teachers are equal partners
  • Choice: teachers should have choice regarding what and how they learn
  • Voice: professional learning should empower and respect the voices of teachers
  • Dialogue: professional learning should enable authentic dialogue
  • Reflection: reflection is an integral part of professional learning
  • Praxis: teachers should apply their learning to their real-life practice as they are learning
  • Reciprocity: instructional coaches should expect to get as much as they give

I present the notion of expert* cautiously, as experts may not be the best coach.

With recent meta-analysis of research suggesting that this approach has promising outcomes for the improvement of practice, and subsequent academic gains for students. Kraft in a recent webinar characterised instruction coaching as having five main tenets. It is:
  1. individualised (mutual engagement)
  2. intensive
  3. sustained
  4. context-specific (expertise being domain specific)
  5. focused

Where a teacher, working with an instructional coach, assesses their current teaching practice, identifies a professional goal(s) and then chooses the teaching strategies to achieve it, over a period of time, will grow as a practitioner. The test then, as it often is, turning adaptations in teaching practice (teacher coaching, training and workshops, curriculum materials and resources), to improved student outcomes. One would not be out of a limb to add that this approach encourages self-reflection. Such a developmental model may also challenge the common accountability model of class or cohort targets. Arguably a more process orientated approach rather than outcome focused. 

Successful instructional coaching?

Set a receptive culture. Get leader endorsement. Get the right coaches and make the right partnerships. Seems reasonable enough so far.

Instructional coaching has the potential to improve collaboration through instructional coach partnerships. An important addition comes from Lucy Steiner and Julie Kowal from the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement,

For an instructional coaching program to be effective, school leaders need to play an active role in selecting trained coaches, developing a targeted coaching strategy, and evaluating whether coaches are having the desired impact on teaching and learning.

Knight offers a three part model to delivery.

  1. Focus on Building Instructional Practice (approx. 60%)
    • Coach: Observe, Model, Co-plan, Co-teach and Reflect
    • Collect and analyse data
    • Support professional learning
  2. Focus on Planning and Personal Professional Learning (approx. 15%)
  3. Focus on Student Support (approx. 25%)

Again, it seems reasonable enough.

Is instructional coaching scalable?

Smaller programmes are more successful than larger programmes, implementation is a critical factor. Coach quality – coaching is, at it core, about interpersonal relationships (peers may well be more appropriate coaches than teaching-experts). Lesson capture can be equally as effective as in person coaching. I raised similar reservations about experts previously and not forgetting that when one coaches, two learn.
Now it may be that we stumbled on a form of instructional coaching when Paul Blake and I were designing our learning observation programme. An instructional coaching process that worked through the three phases of preactive, interactive and post active phases of co-planning, teaching and co-reflecting (before we had these terms). Where the coach and teacher work side by side planning a lesson and the expected lesson experience of one or two learners. Where the coach focuses upon and records the learner behaviours and experience of just these learners in the lesson. Then shares the recorded of the lesson with the teacher. It has tenets of AARs style professional reflection.
Perhaps I advocate for less instructional and more coaching. Empowering the teacher to adapt, adjust, refine, improve. A soft criticism of instructional coaching – would it answer the driving question – Is my teaching excellent? With all that we know about expert teaching, I affirm that I am, or have, “veered from a formulaic and procedural,” view of teaching towards expertise demonstrating more “organic and responsive,” practice, requiring hard earn hours and a conscious attempt to refining practice. Would having someone there to support, or a way to capture practice make a difference. I would like to think so – is it the best deployment of resource? I think that is an interesting question but I am not writing a part 4. 
Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development
1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.
And all this is underpinned by, and requires that:
5. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.
Kraft MA, Blazar D, Hogan D. The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Causal Evidence. Review of Educational Research [Internet]. 2018;88 (4) :547-588.


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