This year I did what many teachers fear the most, I went over to the dark side of school administration in the form of being an Instructional Coach. As I transitioned into this role, I thought surely that this would give me more time to reflect and "cool my heels" -- things that I rarely were able to do as a teacher. Working with new and older teachers was not anything new, I had always unofficially "coached" teachers on effective classroom practices, but what would be new was the idea of not having a classroom to dictate my time on a daily basis.
As I readied for my first day in this role, I knew the type of Coach I wanted to be -- one who went above and beyond in supporting teachers in all aspects of teaching especially being able to give immediate feedback. As a classroom teacher I can remember people coming into my room with clipboards and walking around examining not only what I was doing in class, but inspecting my Word Wall, Quality Student work and the other things on the standards based classroom list. They would only stay for a while, but I was always confused because rarely did I receive feedback. When I happened to receive feedback it was so general that it was of no use to me and my teaching practices. According to Teaching in Focus, the appraisal and feedback that a teacher receives is just one of the many factors that can influence his or her feelings of self efficacy. However the content of the appraisal is equally important when provided feedback on certain aspects of their teaching, teachers can directly target portions of their teaching where they are less confident.
Consequently, giving teachers timely feedback is crucial for both veteran and newer teachers in further honing their educational practices.
So as a Coach, how can you give effective feedback when your time is pulled in literally 20 directions? Follow these simple tips to guide your practice of giving teachers quality feedback:
1. Visit classrooms for varying amounts of time each visit. Visiting a classroom is an integral part of being a good Instructional Coach, but what about the time that you visit in each classroom? At the minimum, when I visit classrooms I stay for at least thirty minutes in a ninety minute block. This gives me time time to see the direction of a teachers lesson and have time to interact with students and their learning. If I come in for anything less than thirty minutes then I'm looking for specific things such as a lesson opening and/or closing, grouping or use of guided practice. In addition, I always make sure to visit teachers frequently so that I have a clear picture of what my teachers are doing in the classroom. In addition to visiting classrooms often, I try and go at different times during the day to make sure I'm getting a clear picture of the class loads teachers have during the day. While it's important to visit multiple classrooms throughout the day, it is equally important to give timely feedback to teachers. As a rule of thumb, I give feedback within 24 hours of me visiting the class.
2. Give praise based on what you saw in the classroom. One of the quickest ways to make teachers feel comfortable when going over feedback is to quick authentic praise from your time in the classroom. Always make sure that the praise is specific and based on what you witnessed in the classroom. No teacher has time for artificial praise that is a not connected to real things that are happening in the classroom. I always like to start this section with starters such as, "I enjoyed being in your classroom while students were..." Then I go into the specifics of what students were doing and connect that back to the standards/objective for the lesson. You could start with discussing the decor of the classroom then go into what the students did well and then how it all ties into the standard in the objective. I usually start with the elements of a standards based classroom and how it was evident during my visit. I then go directly into the instruction that I witnessed and lastly into the students behaviors while in the classroom.
3. Identify areas of growth that tie directly back into the tool used for teacher evaluation. Every teacher wants praise for what they do in the classroom, but more importantly most teachers want to know what their areas of growth are.So as you identify areas of growth, be sure to direct but to also be clear. The areas of growth should be directly tied to the tool used for teacher evaluation, but not in a way that is not evaluational. For example, if you walk into a teacher's room and the classroom environment is not positive then I would look at the professional standards and when addressing it, reference it for clarity. An Instructional Coach's job is to provide support for teachers, not to be their primary evaluator so when referencing it, make sure to offer solutions for the teacher to improve in their area of growth. It may be that you provide teachers with some written resources while other times it may be to have an individual coaching session to offer real time solutions for improvement. There are other times where you want to suggest that teachers attend some outside training for some help.
4. Identify next steps for the teacher to address the areas of growth. When giving teachers feedback it's important to give teachers next steps for them. If you continually come into a room and students are engaged in low level work, then it may be important to show teachers how to engage their students into higher level work. The more specific you are in your feedback, the more the teacher knows on how to be better. Frame the next steps in a positive manner and as a suggestion instead of a do or die suggestion. Keep in mind that while most teachers want to do better, it's sometimes difficult for them to find time to actually reflect and correct areas of growth.
5. Look for "out of the box" solutions for issues that teachers are experiencing. Sometimes teachers are having difficulties that are not addressed "out in the open" but those things can severely affect their performance in the classroom. For example, at my last school I was working with a teacher who was going through a terrible divorce that had her so down that many days all she could do to stop from crying was to come and talk to me. While nothing like this was addressed in recent research and literature, it was important for me to allow her to talk and encourage her when she felt really down. When I realized that she started to think about the divorce during times when she had less to do, I suggested that she chair a committee that would take her from home (she didn't have any kids) and allow her to be busy on rebuilding her own life. Gradually her being a part of this committee took her on out of town field trips and professional development and she told me that this took her away from her "situation" and for that she was able to make better decisions.
Just like any job in education, being an Instructional Coach is a mixture of being a good teacher an a negotiator. As I embark on this journey of being an Instructional Coach, I will share the good, bad and ugly of being on the other side of the classroom. I feel like my 13 years of being in the classroom prepared me, but we will see!