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Coaching Program Pitfall and Recommendation #5

Instructional coaching is an excellent way to support teachers in their continuous improvement practices, especially given the speed of change in school policies and environment. Indeed, research shows that job-embedded coaching is the most effective type of professional learning for teachers.

Why, then, do some coaching programs fail to produce desired student learning outcomes?

In this post we will elaborate on the fifth pitfall and recommendation shared in the overview post “Common Pitfalls of Coaching.”

Pitfall #5: Leaving evaluators out of the professional learning program.

One of the biggest obstacles to meaningful pedagogical change is fear. Despite the amazement teachers express at the engagement of students in their own sense making when we model research-based methods of teaching and learning math, teachers are hesitant to use or try new methods themselves. All too often teachers say, “That’s great, but I can’t teach like that for an observation,” or “I didn’t implement the lesson the way we planned together because my principal/primary evaluator walked in.” When probed, these teachers unequivocally say their principals expect to see the “I do, we do, you do” approach, direct instruction, or immediate corrections made by teachers when students make missteps. In other words, teachers believe their principals are unaware that the standards-based teaching and learning of mathematics looks and sounds very different from how many educators themselves learned math. When primary evaluators are unaware of the pedagogical shifts in mathematics that standards-based teaching requires, classroom teachers are afraid to make any shifts at all.

In addition to the problem of evaluators using outdated information or expectations, another problem with leaving administrators out of the professional development program is that then the job of learning is put squarely on the shoulders of teachers. It feels like targeted remediation rather than an opportunity for all educators to advance their understanding and skills. Instead, administrators need to foster a learning culture within their schools, to emphasize that everyone can improve and everyone deserves the support they need to become the best educators for their students.

In a learning culture, people are encouraged to take risks, try new things, and even to fail on their path to improvement. There is no judgment associated with missteps, because everyone recognizes that mistakes are what help people learn. Indeed, sharing mistakes is critical in helping team members learn from each other. Administrators and leaders can foster a learning culture by modeling their own learning. This may mean taking part in professional development or sharing their own experiences of failures in the course of learning.

Recommendation #5: Create a culture of learning by modeling learning at every level and by including evaluators in professional development efforts.

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