”You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” - Oprah Winfrey
Curious about classroom coaching? Wondering what the hullabaloo is really all about? Peer coaching is gaining ground—and it can happen in buildings with or without a coach. Pineapple charts and #observeme are two newer peer-coaching models showing up in schools across the nation. Whether you are considering coaching or have anxiety about the concept, here are basics and benefits that will put your mind at ease.
The Warm Fuzzy Factors
Some teachers worry that it’s going to feel like public re-auditioning for your job, but like the infamous ad line, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” coaching visits are confidential. It’s a time for a teacher to be him or herself as a practitioner, and reveal both hidden brilliance or areas ready to be further developed. Other boons to these in-class confabs:
They are non-evaluative
They are one-on-one private—unless you want other colleagues in the room too
They are teacher-centered (the hosting teacher decides the topic, focus of feedback, and type of feedback provided)
They help us see what we often can’t see—because we are busy working with students
They give confirmation of practices currently in place
They offer ideas for what else we can do to grow and flourish
They provide a “buddy” to support us as we take the risk of trying out a new practice.
The “Birds Eye View” of Formats
There are a few common models for coaching visits (which can be with a coach or a fellow teacher) Generally, you and your coach decide what suits you. The format and frequency can change over time. A coach can be seen as someone who checks in from time to time; checks up on you to see how you are doing with a current practice, or checks out something new and exciting you are trying. Here is a glimpse into the two most common coaching-visit models:
Model 1: Completely Customized
The Set-Up (10-15 minutes): During this face-to-face meeting, you and the coach discuss what you are interested in working on, sharing, showing, or trying during the coaching visit. Together, the session partners (likely either a teacher/coach or a teacher/teacher team) will decide on the model of the coaching visit (see next bullet).
The Classroom Visit (15-45 minutes): The three most common models used for “completely customized” classroom coaching are: co-teaching, gradual release, and observation.
In a co-teaching model the two educators will teach a lesson together.
In a gradual release model, (the I-Go-You-Go-We-Go model), the first part of the lesson is modeled by the visitor/coach, the second part is done together by the host teacher and the visitor/coach, and the last part of the lesson is done by the host teacher.
In an observation model, the visiting teacher or coach will observe and jot a few (informal, just-for-the-host teacher) notes.
The Debrief Discussion - Includes Next Step Planning (10-15 minutes): After the classroom visit, the partnership will talk together about observations, often naming what practices are solidly in place before giving feedback on possible next steps—only in the area(s) the host teacher requested. For example, if you have asked for your partner to provide feedback on how explicitly you model a process during conferring conversations, the discussion and feedback would be centered only around this. If you have asked your partner for feedback on the questioning happening in the classroom, the discussion and feedback would focus on only that. Suggestions for next steps (stemming from then strengths observed) will be tied to these chosen topics. This laser-like focus ensures the “teacher-ownership” of this entire process.
Model 2: Camaraderie-Building Groups
The Set Up (5 minutes, often asynchronous): With this model, a coach visits several teachers/classrooms in a day. Before the classroom visit, the teacher and coach touch base. This may be done in person. It might also be done via email, Zoom, Voxer, text, etc. The classroom teacher often leads this discussion by sharing his or her thoughts and preferences for the classroom visit.
The Classroom Visit (15-45 minutes): During the classroom visit, the host teacher runs the show! The visitor (often a coach) will watch and informally jot observations and helpful hints on the specific area(s) the classroom teacher requested. The visitor/coach will hand the teacher these notes on the way out, as they are confidential and only for the host teacher.
The Debrief Discussion (15-45 minutes): In this model, the coach is usually traveling from room to room doing back-to-back classroom visits with several different teachers. The coach may host a small group debrief session later in the day. During the group debrief conversation, general trends and ideas are discussed- nothing specific to any one classroom will be addressed. In this way, individual privacy is protected and collaboration among building colleagues is strengthened.
Next Step Planning (timing varies): Ideally, even if not in the moment, the partnership will have an opportunity to discuss the written feedback provided and share more specific ideas for next steps. Additionally, the teacher may provide feedback to the coach on their coaching. This also fosters a mutually supportive and ongoing cycle of coaching.
Anything new can be a little scary. Our imaginations may sneak into dark territory and we may feel anxious about a first coaching visit. I get it! I’ve been there! However, coaching experiences usually turn out to be much more positive and meaningful than expected. Most teachers who were reticent to try classroom coaching end up pleasantly surprised- and ask to do it again! Check out these “first time” teacher thoughts:
I was anxious before hand, but Pam's calm demeanor made me feel very at ease and comfortable. I get such a positive and helpful vibe from her. Pam did just as she said she would and that increased my level of trust. I hope to experience this model of PD again, and next time I won’t be at all nervous! -S.B.
I felt this experience was wonderful! Pam is not judgmental. She is open and her knowledge and ideas helped me feel more confident with conferring. I feel I am changing the way I approach children. I now look out for what they ARE doing and am more specific in the language I use with students while conferring. I would happily participate in PD like this again! -P.S.
I felt safe throughout the experience. I like that Pam gave me the notes and I will certainly refer to these notes and try out the provided suggestions. I already reorganized my teaching tools and plan to use them to make my teaching even more explicit. This has given me the energy to try new things - H. T.
Now… are you ready do give this a try?
Be on the lookout for Patty McGee’s upcoming blog where she shares how coaching is like a spa visit for our teaching souls!
Calling all coaches Coming soon! Coaching visits from a coach’s perspective. Starting classroom coaching can sometimes be intimidating for coaches, too! To help you get started, this upcoming blog will offer some soup-to-nuts, ready-to-try advice for classroom coaching visits.