Imagine you hired a tennis coach to help you improve your game. Then you showed up for the first lesson and he suggested that you observe as he played for the next hour. You’d probably ask for your money back. What if he suggested that he spend the hour observing you? He’ll take some notes and then the two of you will go through it later. Again, you’d be wondering why you are paying this guy. What if he suggested that you focus on your game and, since you are so busy, he will help you out by picking up your balls? You would be wondering when this guy actually planned to provide you with some coaching. By now you may have recognized some of the most common practices used by literacy coaches; modeling, observing, and serving as a resource provider. While each of these methods offers some value to teachers, there are other ways we can take coaching to the next level.
Most of us would define a good coach as someone who helps you get better at your game. Someone who is on the court, by your side, making sure you reach your goals. When we model an entire lesson, it assumes that transfer is as easy as watching and doing. This can lead to an uneven relationship that puts the teacher in a passive role. On the other hand, observing teachers may feel more like evaluation than coaching. If my tennis coach took this approach, I’d be anxiously wondering what he really thought, if I looked silly, or if I was on the right track in my game. Then again, when we serve as resource providers, we are being helpful at the expense of coaching. There is no question that teachers are overwhelmed and busy. But this is all the more reason to get in there and coach the teachers towards their goals for teaching and learning.
Four Strategies for Co-Teaching
Co-teaching is an untapped strategy that provides coachable moments throughout a lesson. It is a dynamic process in which the teacher and coach work together to move student learning forward. In a classroom where co-teaching is occurring, it’s hard to tell who the teacher is and who the coach is, because both are engaged and involved partners in the delivery of the lesson. To get there, the teacher and coach develop a shared vision through co-planning and then work side-by-side to ensure that they get the results they are looking for. The following strategies for co-teaching create partnerships that are the hallmark of student-centered coaching.
#1: Noticing and Naming
Noticing happens when a teacher and coach are actively tuned in and looking for evidence of student learning. Naming happens in the explicit use of this information, either on the spot or planning after the lesson, to make decisions about what the students need next. For example, the coach and teacher may engage in discussions with a group of students to uncover their thinking, listen in as students discuss their learning with peers, note what the students are independently reading and writing, or all of the above. The key is for the coach and teacher to collect evidence that will inform future instructional decision-making. Evidence may include observational data, conference notes, short assignments, exit slips, notes from student-led discussions, student reflections on their own learning, or a myriad of other ways wherein we monitor student learning as it happens.
#2: Micro Modeling
While we haven’t banished modeling from our coaching practice, we like to use it in targeted and strategic ways. A good tennis coach models certain aspects of the game, such as how to serve the ball or play backhand. The key is to model what’s needed in the moment, rather than the whole game. When planning the lesson, the coach may ask, “What would you like to do? And what would you like me to do?” For example, a coach may model the send off at the end of a mini lesson, demonstrate a few reading conferences, or teach a think aloud. The objective is for the modeling to directly connect to the goal the teacher has set. This ensures that the coach is supporting the teacher in a way that will have an impact on future lessons.
#3: Thinking Aloud
We can’t underestimate how much decision-making occurs throughout a lesson. When a coach or teacher thinks aloud, they make their thinking visible by sharing their thoughts and instructional decisions as they happen. Many teachers are comfortable using think aloud to share their thinking with the students. We suggest for coaches and teachers to use the same practice when they are co-teaching. Thinking aloud also provides opportunities to address coachable moments rather than waiting until a future planning conversation. Examples of thinking aloud include; real-time problem-solving, clarifying vocabulary, supporting student engagement, or adjusting the pacing of the lesson to better align with the needs of the students.
#4: Teaching in Tandem
With this move, the coach and teacher deliver a lesson as partners rather than as individuals. Like the others, this strategy requires co-planning so that the teacher and coach are clear about the instructional practices that will be used to move student learning forward. When co-planning, the teacher and coach think about how they will maintain high levels of engagement, how they will differentiate and formatively assess, and strategies for managing behavior. When you think about all the factors that go into a successful lesson, teaching in tandem starts sounding like a great idea.
I’ve modeled a lot of lessons over the years. In fact, when I started as a coach, I did little else. I’d teach what I thought was a fabulous lesson and then wonder why I didn’t see it transfer to what teachers did in their classrooms. Needless to say, this is a bit embarrassing to admit now. Using a variety of strategies for co-teaching has helped me create more coachable moments with teachers. We are on the court together, working through all of the details that add up to high-quality teaching and learning.
A short video on co-teaching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a8em_wVPo8
Diane Sweeney is the author of Student-Centered Coaching, Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level, and Learning Along the Way (Stenhouse, 2003) has been an educator for over twenty years. Diane holds a longstanding interest in how adult learning translates to learning in the classroom. Currently she is a consultant serving schools and districts throughout the US and abroad. For more information, please visit www.dianesweeney.com.
Diane is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference in Providence, RI:
Monday, November 16, 2015:
- Student-Centered Learning Labs
Tuesday, November 17, 2015:
- Building a Culture for Student-Centered Coaching and Collaboration
- What is Student-Centered Coaching?