Written by Gen
It’s so easy to do the things we love. My husband loves to cook. He can work all day and come home and make a meal of gourmet standards. He reads and researches cooking techniques in his free time. He applies new ideas frequently in the kitchen. If I’m responsible for dinner, it’s going to be hot dogs. I hate to cook. So I don’t work on it. Preparing meals gets the least of my attention because it’s not important to me. People do the things that are any combination of relaxing, entertaining, or rewarding.
So don’t force a teacher to work on something that’s not rewarding! Instead, help the teacher to advance toward her own goals. You can safely assume that all teachers want their students to succeed, and, trust me, they know what’s not working. All you have to do is ask.
When I’m coaching, I can best honor the teacher’s goals with the following 3-step cycle:
My first contact with a teacher begins with the following questions in this order:
“what’s going well with ______?”
“What challenges are you facing with _____?”
“If you had to prioritize your concerns, which one would you want to problem-solve today?”
That’s right. I have no idea what the teacher is going to want to work on until that moment. It’s important to have these meetings in your office or room so that you can have quick access to all of your resources. For coaches who are under administrative pressure to help teachers with particular initiatives, you will see that these questions can help with that. Each question is simultaneously open-ended and targeted. I never ask, “How are things going?” At least I don’t ask it like that anymore! A question like that has the potential to open the floodgates of unproductive conversation. Fill in the blanks of the above questions with an area of literacy teaching, a content area, a district initiative, or with the topic that was discussed during your last coaching cycle. Remember to use sufficient wait time after asking each question. Resist the urge to fill the silence with your own thoughts. It is crucial to gain the teacher’s reflection on the topic.
Once the teacher has selected the most important item to discuss further, quickly pull some related resources. I used to hold most meetings in the teacher’s classroom, but once I began using this conversation format, I realized the importance of having at least this initial meeting in my own office. Since you won’t know precisely where the conversation will lead, it will be important to have all of your resources nearby. Read together and brainstorm around the problem together. Record all ideas from the two of you, frequently asking yourselves, “do our resources support this idea?” Once you have exhausted the topic, have the teacher decide which ideas are most feasible. End the conversation with these questions:
“How long do you think we need before we evaluate how this went?”
“What data should we collect to help us know if it was successful?”
“What can I do to help with this plan?”
After that initial conversation, it will be important to schedule a time to visit the portion of instruction that you discussed and made a plan for. During this visit, you should record all teacher and student language. You can use this data to decide if the students responded well to the teaching, or if changes need to be made.
If you have not received professional training as a literacy coach, I highly recommend that you appeal to your district to provide funding for The Effective Literacy Coach training through the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
More information here:
It is the techniques that I learned through this training that I employ after that initial conversation, using a pre-conversation, observation, and post-conversation model.
When you return to the Reflect-Discuss-Plan conversation, you will want to have the teacher reflect on the area of instruction that you just visited. There may still be concerns or work to do around this area, in which case, you will continue to work on it together. If the teacher is feeling comfortable with this area, ask the first targeted question again, but with a different focus area.
Resist the urge to share what you think needs work. My husband can give me all the cooking advice he wants, and I smile and nod, but I still make hot dogs for dinner. Until I’m convinced that my life will be better by improving my cooking, I’m just not going to advance in that area. It is for this reason that coaches must build strong, trusting relationships with teachers. Imposing your own agenda may result in little or no carry-through into the classroom but even worse, it may cause a negative experience with the teacher, making future work together less valuable.
Find more information about 100 Positive Experiences here: