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Chocolate Chip Cookies and Instructional Coaching

How is baking chocolate chip cookies similar to implementing teaching strategies? It has a lot to do with “implementation with fidelity”–instructional coaches are often taught to look for key elements necessary for a given strategy to work. YES you need to identify those elements BUT when you’re observing a classroom, beware. They may be harder to recognize than you think. Just like a good chocolate chip cookie.

The Chef Effect

My mother taught my four big brothers and me to bake chocolate chip cookies. In education terms, we all had the same “instructional coach.” !We all use the same ingredients (unless we’re out of old-fashioned oats and substitute quick oatmeal). We all make fantastic chocolate cookies, as evidenced by the fact that all of our spouses—and our children’s spouses—jettisoned their family recipes in favor of  The Original Griffin Cowboy Cookies Recipe.

Yet line up our final products and they look and taste different, with none of them being quite like Mom’s (my son claims, “That’s because Grandma puts more love in them…”). What they definitely have in common is perfection; I dare you to eat just one!

The Teacher Effect

My point: teachers can attend the same professional development, use the same “ingredients” for a lesson, have the same coach, yet implement it in a way that looks totally differently from any other teacher.  Measuring “implementation with fidelity” is really, really tricky, unless the focus is on the goal—like our focus is on the quality of the cookie—instead of on cookie-cutter implementation.

Once, I joined a group of teachers in piloting a lesson plan involving stations for poetry. With their block scheduling, we each taught half the lesson and then met while the students had lunch in the middle of the block. Everyone had great tales to tell about student engagement and learning that morning.

As we discussed how we had given directions, we realized that our approaches had had nothing in common.

  • Teacher A had assembled each station carefully in advance and thoroughly explained the directions before letting students get to work.
  • Teacher B set up the stations as she explained each one to the class
  • Teacher C sent students to the stations after a few general directions and asked them to call him over when they had discussed the written directions and surfaced any mutual questions.
  • I had let the students start working, but planned in advance which stations I’d visit first to clarify directions.

Different approaches, same results: four classrooms full of busy, engaged , learning students. If we focus on the goals, we can let teachers get their in the ways that best use their own strengths!

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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