In our article in the Summer 2022 issue of Educational Leadership, my colleague Ann C. Holm and I…
In my last blog, I discussed how my experiences with coaching myself as a cyclist parallel my most effective strategies for coaching teachers.
Setting individualized goals is a key component. When I first tried out my biking shoes, I aimed for my husband’s goal: clip in as much as possible. After the second fall, I changed my goal: clip in wherever it is safe. I unclip on any stretch of road or trail that might bring surprises.
Often, new teachers—or their mentors—assume that a strategy needs to be implemented just as other teachers use it. They end up either biting off more than they can chew at first, or struggling inordinately with something that looked so easy when modeled by a teacher with very different strengths. Think for example about ways to develop student responsibility for materials. A new middle school teacher wanted to use a colleague’s chart for tracking which class had the highest percentage of students who came each day with pencil, notebook, and homework. ;Her mentor said, “That teacher is an expert at repeating routines and keeping track of details. You seem to like changing up routines. If you implemented his structure, could you be consistent every day?” The new teacher thought for a moment, laughed, and said, “No! By the third day students would be pointing out where I’d forgotten to award points!” She and her mentor then worked together to develop a simpler system, tied to her strength of building relationships and involving students.
As new teachers begin literature circles or small groups for math, tailoring the goals can be essential. When I train instructional coaches, I often have a more reflective and reserved participant role-play a young teacher who must implement literature circles. The role-players tell me, “Thinking back to my first attempts at small groups makes my heart pound even now—I was so worried about the noise and possible chaos!” Teachers with similar worries might start with circles for short stories or poems rather than novels, allowing for shorter cycles of trial, reflection, and revision of strategies. Or, they might seek out a more experienced teacher who is also introverted to get first-hand advice on managing all of the activity.
Or, think about teachers who prefer assignments that they can grade objectively, yet try to use another teacher’s choice-based assignment. They often become frustrated as they struggle to consistently grade radically different final products, even with the other teacher’s rubric. I encourage them to try an assignment with just two or three project choices, rather than a lengthy menu. And, we often grade together until the teacher is confident that he or she is applying the rubric consistently. In short, new teachers might embrace an assignment or strategy, but adjust the scope or the goal to something that is within the reach of their own strengths and experience.
Different teacher strengths, different teacher goals, Differentiated Coaching seems as sensible as different goals for cyclists, runners, musicians, chefs, surgeons…sensible any time we truly want to help each individual succeed.