Breaking the Barrier

One of the many instructional hats I wear is that of “coaching the coach”.  I recently reflected on a session with a coachee, *Karen, a veteran math and science teacher who is now primarily coaching teachers new to the profession. One of the teachers she works with is a novice teacher (Rick) in his 60’s. He’s a late-career changer, having earned his teaching credential many years ago and then embarked on a different career path for the bulk of his professional life.

Karen noted as *Rick indicated to her, he “teaches as he was taught”. Thus, his classroom consists of a traditional lecture-based structure. Additionally, when he does call upon students to answer a question, he usually calls on the same four or five students. Karen described the traditional science teaching approach as one following a series of specific steps, but without students really knowing  what the purpose of those steps were or how they fit together into a larger learning whole.

Karen asked me how she might move forward in her coaching of Rick, as she’s already tried a number of strategies. These include modeling for Rick by teaching his class, co-teaching, observing expert teachers, and writing specific action steps into his lesson plan. Nothing seems to have any impact. Rick, however, wants to learn and enthusiastically engages in activities and teacher-coach collaborations.

Whether we are coaching or teaching, we all experience times where we collide with a barrier that impedes our progress or unintentionally diminishes student learning. Yet, how do we break through barriers? Below  I’ve outlined the conservation structure Karen and I engaged in that helped us delve deeper into the issue and devise tangible next steps for action.

Quick Framing: Rick’s current teaching/learning goal is implementing active learning strategies (turn and talks, equity sticks, specifically). 

Consider the possible subtext of the situation. Possible questions to ask in this phase:

  • Why is this happening/what is really going on here? (possible reasons/scenarios)
  • What might be preventing the teacher from…(in our case, implementing the turn and talk and equity sticks)?

Use tangible data to explore in more depth. Possible questions to ask in this phase:

  • What have I observed (coach) or experienced (teacher)? For example, perhaps the coach has observational data that informs what might be going on. In our teacher scenario, the coach noted that (1) the teacher lectured about 75% of the class time, (2) that the teacher asked questions that elicited a 1-2 word response, and (3) that he called primarily on the same four students.

Devise possible next steps. These might include:

  • (in a coaching conversation) Ask the teacher to articulate what the deeper issue/reason might be for what is happening.
  • Video record the class to look for particular patterns.
  • Observe expert teachers to learn from what they do
  • Determine one small action step at a time.

Note: *Indicates a pseudonym; additionally, school name, location, and grade have not been included for maintaining confidentiality.