Coaching should be free
"Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan. "
In my work as a consultant, I find myself facing the occasional question from observers and administrators who want to know if they should "count against" the teacher for not having all the pieces and parts to a good lesson plan. As someone who believes in the process, not just the product, I want to know more. One principal said, "Well, if I have to give them a grade for how well they plan, and the teacher comes in to a pre-observation conference with a lesson plan that doesn't "work", should I count off?"
First of all, OUCH! I still blanch at the words "count off", although I understand that some districts have had to send reports to the state that require some sort of numerical score. But if we are in the business of helping teachers grow, then might we want to consider using some other concept than taking off points?
Second of all, the question itself assumes that the lesson plan is the end-all, be-all, which I believe is a bit of baloney. The lesson plan may be the written piece that is required of teachers (as an artifact, something to put in their "bucket" (really?), or simply a box-checking exercise), but what I really want to know is what the teacher is thinking about planning. That metacognitive piece we encounter when someone talks about their thinking is the really juicy piece, isn't it? For example, I talked on the phone with one of my doctoral students this morning about her dissertation. She kept saying she was stuck on how to respond to some comments made by one of the committee members. I asked her to pause, forget about the writing and simply tell me what she was thinking about her study. For the next two minutes, I heard the most passionate, energized explanation of a doctoral study that I have heard in a really long time. When we ask people to tell us their thinking, it takes the mechanical. rote part out of it and puts the personal, passionate part back in it. When I am planning to teach a workshop on how a district can build trust (this is my reminder that I need to do just that this afternoon for a school district in North Carolina), I start out asking myself, "What does the district say are the big deals on which I need to focus?" Those become my outcomes. From there, I ask myself, "After six hours of training that day, what would let me know they have achieved those big deals?" Then, and only then, do I go back to the beginning of the day and begin thinking about what activities, tools, and strategies will I use to accomplish all that.
Finally, I wonder about the aspect of taking points off for a teacher who, through their own thinking about the lesson, decides the lesson might be enhanced by adding a different summative assessment or by grouping students differently. Call me crazy, but isn't this exactly what we want teachers to do versus checking a box that says "lesson plan turned in"? Also, if my first try at a lesson plan isn't all I want it to be, don't you want to encourage me to re-vamp it for clarity and maximized student learning? After all, I may have passed my driver's test on the first try (Dave questions whether this is true, but I promise it is---I am a rock star at parallel parking!), but many did not. However, at the end of the day, the people who took two tries to master all the skills necessary to get a license still were awarded a driver's license. There is no mark on there indicating "Susie Q didn't pass on the first try. Stay away from her at red lights." Why, then, would we do something so demeaning and unproductive to teachers?
I had the distinct privilege to work with some teacher leaders who were learning to teach about what good teaching looks like to teachers (say that three times, fast) this week. We worked with a 6 hour training. The teacher leaders got to experience a "You do it, we do it, I do it" model. The first day, they watched an "expert" train the group and simply took notes. The second day, they co-taught with us, and then we gave them some feedback. The third day, they taught the entire day and we gave some more coaching feedback. I couldn't help but think that this is such an amazing way to learn a new skill, as the focus ended up being on talking about the process rather that simply focusing on the product. It was an honor to be asked to teach alongside then to watch teacher leaders learn how to "own" the content themselves. I believe we could all do a much better job of that in the work we do in schools. For instance, when working with new teachers on a grade level, why not try this process:
First week: lead teachers talk through the lesson planning process as the lesson plan is written out, modeling that think-aloud, metacognitive piece.
Second week; have the new teacher take a piece of the planning but do it alongside the lead teacher, talking through all the bumps in the road ("but what if I run out of time?" "How do I remind myself to pace the lesson?" "What are some strategies I can add to my engagement repertoire?")
Third week: have the new teacher plan a lesson aloud, getting coaching and feedback from the lead teacher throughout the entire process, debriefing after the planning and also after the execution of the lesson, itself.
Will this process take more time than whatever way we do it now? (i.e. lead teacher does plans for the first few weeks and just hands them to the new teacher; worse yet, the new teacher is simply supposed to sink or swim on their own). Yes, but as Harry Wong argued, if we put the footwork into the first few days or weeks, we don't lose that time, we gain the rest of the year. TRUTH!!!
So, as we move into summer days, perhaps we should be thinking about how to coach and help teachers in the best way possible. I would love to hear your ideas! Please add them to the comments below!
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