Collaborating, learning, and supporting the coaching process in underserved districts.

Author: Mandela Oxford

Data Meetings that Matter

Data Meetings that Matter

The situation Last year, our leadership team struggled to have positive data meetings. We presented attendance data, passing rates, and student feedback. We asked for teacher input. We restructured and rethought and tried multiple formats. The principal, the counselor, the department heads, and I (the […]

The Value of Coaching Light

The Value of Coaching Light

Before I started coaching full-time, I used to wonder what the value of coaching light could be. For those who aren’t familiar with the terms coaching light or heavy, I suggest you check out Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives and other works by Jim Knight or […]

Contempt of Teacher

Contempt of Teacher

Contempt of the teacher isn’t exactly a real thing. But it should be. It is the teacher equivalent of ‘contempt of cop.’

Wikipedia provides the following definition: “Contempt of cop” is law enforcement jargon in the United States for behavior by people towards law enforcement officers that the officers perceive as disrespectful or insufficiently deferential to their authority.

Replace the words that refer to police with teachers and the concept is clear. How often are discipline referrals generated by teachers for behavior they perceive as disrespectful? How many times have minor infractions escalated because an adult didn’t approve of a student’s tone or attitude? Why are we so easily triggered? And why do we think this is a new phenomenon?

Socrates is quoted as saying “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

Again, replace a few words and this could have been uttered by any number of educational professionals yesterday, not 2,000 some odd year ago. How often do teachers lament the good old days with the students of yesteryear? How many times have teachers become bitter because they perceive that students today have changed so greatly? Why does this seem to happen generation after generation?

What does it look like in action?

Notice that this concept is not focused on whether or not contempt is being displayed. Instead, it is focused on the perception of a professional, in this case, an educator. To be fair, some students are genuinely, intentionally contemptuous. Most; however, are not. Even if they are, as educators, we hold the responsibility to respond professionally. Doing so is difficult and requires self-awareness and explicit training.

Picture a charter high school is an urban environment. Imagine a young English teacher managing classes of 28-35. This teacher has strong classroom management and builds meaningful relationships with students. One day, a student of hers, let’s call him Don, is given ISS. The ISS instructor, who we will call Mr. M, is an ex-military drill sergeant. Don is unlikely to respond well to Mr. M’s management style.

The teacher calls Mr. M before school and asks that he call her classroom if Don misbehaves. She feels confident she can prevent the two from engaging in escalating conflicts that lead to a suspension for the student.

In the middle of class, the phone rings. Students are working independently, so the teacher answers the phone. Immediately, Mr. M begins yelling about Don’s behavior. The teacher calmly asks Mr. M to put Don on the phone. He does not. She asks again with slightly more force. He continues to shout out all Don’s transgressions. She asks again…and again…and again. Finally, the teacher shouts back into Mr. M, “PUT HIM ON THE PHONE!”

33 students go from quietly working, to wide-eyed, stunned silence as they stare at the teacher. She barely registers the response of her class, she is so frustrated. Don comes to the phone. The teacher blurts “What is wrong with you today!?” There is a light pause and Don responds “Huh?”

At that moment in the vernacular of this particular city, ‘huh’ was considered the height of disrespect. The teacher reacts accordingly. As her class of students listens avidly, she proceeds to tear Don up one side and down the other. Though she never uses inappropriate language, the dressing down she delivers is epic. Within moments, Don is responding, “Yes, ma’am,” “No ma’am,” “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

The teacher begins to calm and reiterates her expectations for Don’s behavior yet again. As the conversation draws to a close, Don pauses and says “Ms. Teacher? Um, I’m, uh, sorry I said ‘huh’ before…for a little minute, I thought you was my mama.”

I was that teacher. I remember that moment vividly and I think I even smiled. Because at that moment, I realized what had happened. Don wasn’t a teenager with a lot of common sense. He had no impulse control. He also had no malice. His actions constantly landed him in trouble, which he accepted with good-natured ease. I had interacted with him and his mother often enough to realize I had used one of her favorite phrases “What is wrong with you today?”

Don didn’t say ‘huh’ to be rude or disrespectful. He literally could not compute what was happening. First, I told him I would check on him. Then, he heard Mr. M say he was calling me. Naturally, Don associated phone calls with calls home. So when I came over the phone and used his mother’s typically response to his nonsense. It just didn’t compute. The phone should mean mom, but Mr. M said my name, but I used mom’s words, but it was my voice. Without meaning to, I had utterly discombobulated him. He said ‘huh’ because the circumstances left him befuddled.

As soon as I realized what had happened, all my irk melted away. I accepted his apology and offered an apology for overreacting in return. We ended the conversation on a positive note. To the best of my recollection, Don made it through his time in ISS without further incident.

I was lucky. Don had enough forgiveness that I didn’t destroy our relationship. We had enough of a relationship that he was willing to apologize and tell me why he had responded that way. I had enough self-awareness to recognize immediately that I was triggered by something that wasn’t intended to be disrespectful. I caught a bad case of ‘contempt of teacher.’

When I reflect on this incident, which I have done many times, it always reminds me to check my reactions to student behavior. It is my role to deescalate conflicts and maintain my composure. I am the role model, the authority, and the adult. It has taken intentional effort and practice to cultivate my awareness in these situations. Now, I wonder how to help other teachers.

How can instructional coaches help teachers become self-aware? What explicit learning experiences can we provide for teachers? What else can Instructional Coaches do to identify and mitigate the consequences ‘Contempt of Teacher’ in our schools?

How can Instructional Coaches help teachers?

The first thing we can do is acknowledge the reality of this problem. Teachers who are easily offended by the behavior of young people tend to have more discipline and classroom management problems. Rigid ideas about what constitutes respect can escalate problems exponentially. Too often, teachers expect punishment instead of examining motive.

Next, we need to find ways to introduce this concept to teachers and confront them with the ways they contribute to and participate in quickly escalating power struggles. Teachers often don’t recognize the attitudes they hold or how those attitudes can impact the classroom experiences of their students. Moreover, if we can present teachers with examples of this phenomenon and have them analyze them, they might be more able to make the connection to their own practices (emphasis on might).

Another strategy we can employ is to provide teachers with training in conflict management and deescalation. It is important to acknowledge that classroom management and conflict management are NOT the same thing. Conflict management and deescalation require a specific set of practiced skills that include self-awareness, situational awareness, and conflict resolution. Classroom management tends to focus on establishing routines, getting and keeping attention, and making behavioral expectations clear.
Though teachers are expected to manage classes of diverse young personalities, they are rarely given specific training in how to handle conflict effectively. Teaching with Love and Logic is one powerful resource.

Instructional coaches can also provide training in cultural awareness for teachers. Teachers often perceive certain behaviors as disrespectful that are, in fact, learned cultural behaviors. Over-talking is one example. In many cultures, individuals engaged in conversation begin talking as or before another person finishes speaking. Doing so indicates attention and engagement. One easily recognizable example is Italian family dynamics. In the classroom; however, over-talking is almost always seen as disrespectful interrupting. Coaches can identify the cultural backgrounds of students and related cultural behaviors that are problematic. They can then provide targeted, relevant professional development for teachers. Exercises like Harvard’s Project Implicit can be useful here.

How can Instructional Coaches help administrators?

Many of the things that help teachers will also help administrators. Administrators who are aware of how ‘contempt of teacher’ contributes to the school culture have an opportunity to promote positive change.

First, instructional coaches need to introduce the concept to administrators. Administrators need support to analyze their own attitudes and recognize which staff members might be especially sensitive to perceived student disrespect. Many school leaders experience ‘contempt of teacher’ in the behaviors students, parents, and other teachers. If leaders can recognize when and how this concept causes unnecessary problems, they can respond accordingly.

Administrators also need training in conflict management and deescalation. Practices like Restorative Justice can positively impact school culture, but need effective leadership to be successful and sustainable. Several Instructional coaches can help leaders connect programs, practices, and school culture.

Finally, and most importantly, administrators can help educate students about how and why they unintentionally trigger negative responses. Students benefit when they are made aware of what behaviors are causing problems in the classroom. In addition, many students need both validation of cultural behaviors and specific, explicit instruction in alternative behaviors that are more situationally appropriate for school.

Administrators have the opportunity to support teachers in learning not to respond to perceived ‘contempt of teacher.’ They can also teach both students and teachers to code switch to meet behavioral norms. Administrators can also create a culture that focuses on culturally responsive classroom management. In addition, they can avoid negative assumptions about teacher and student motivations when managing conflicts and discipline issues.

Final Thoughts

Instructional coaches are uniquely placed to recognize ‘contempt of teacher’ and do something about it. We don’t have all the answers. We are; however, able to provide professional development and resources that can shift the conversation. We can encourage the school community to examine the intent of perceived disrespect to avoid escalation.

We can make ‘contempt of teacher’ a real thing.

Meaningful Feedback-A Strategy

Meaningful Feedback-A Strategy

Today, I had a teacher tell me she “always feels so supported” when she gets feedback from my visits. That is an incredible compliment. It made me wonder why instructional coaches don’t receive feedback like that more often. I don’t have all the answers, but […]

Stuck in the Middle

Stuck in the Middle

Sometimes I feel stuck in the middle of…well, everyone. Not only am I navigating and sometimes mediating relationships among teachers, I also wind up third party to student-teacher, counselor-teacher, or administrator-teacher interactions. Let me be clear: I do not take sides and I do not […]

The Missing Piece in Professional Development

The Missing Piece in Professional Development

What is the missing piece in most professional development sessions? Why is it so hard to change teacher behavior in learning new knowledge? What can we do to make teacher learning stick?

We’ve all asked these questions. No matter how thoroughly we prepare or how high quality the professional development provided is, teachers say “We need more training.” What?! How can that be? We just spent a gazillion dollars to give you tons of hours to learn with experts. I busted my backside to give you everything you need. What training could you possibly still need?

  1. Theory-check.
  2. Rationale-check.
  3. Explanations-check.
  4. Expectations-check.
  5. Steps and actions-check.
  6. Anticipated results-check.
  7. Potential pitfalls-check.
  8. Guided practice-check.
  9. Q & A-check.
  10. On-going support-you guessed it, check.

This scenario is frustrating and, I think, all too common. Whether it is culturally responsive teaching, differentiation, RTI, trauma-informed schools, SEL, restorative justice, the refrain is the same: “We need more training?” The accompanying lament remains: “What is the missing piece?”

After years of learning, struggling, and wondering, I think I finally found the missing piece. Teachers need direct, explicit instruction on how to change their own thinking. Truthfully, we spend a lot of time talking about and supporting student thought processes. Self-regulation, self-awareness, self-talk are all part of instruction for students. But it is incredibly rare for teachers to receive the same opportunity to learn such skills.

Instead of wondering why teachers fail to change their behavior, we need to question how we can help change teacher thinking. Not because teachers will all respond perfectly and all our implementation problems will be solved. It is never that simple. But because teachers deserve to understand not just what and why, but HOW. We need to equip them with the tools to control and actively select their actions and reactions in the classroom.

This missing piece is especially pernicious when we are addressing deeply ingrained beliefs and behaviors. Teachers are often stymied by their own struggles. Hence the request for more training. They know, on some level, that they are missing a piece of the puzzle. Articulating what is missing is the challenge. The answer lies in helping teachers surface their thinking, reveal existing inner monologues, and intentionally develop alternative self-talk and thoughts. Teachers need the same level of intentional, structured, and personal instruction that students need.

The biggest problem with the missing piece is that though the need is there, the expertise, the materials, the strategies are also largely missing. As instructional coaches, we are left to address this need as best we can. The first step is knowing there is a missing piece. I wish I could offer specific resources and strategies that would magically fill the void. I can’t. If you have ideas or suggestions, please leave them in the comments for all of us.

The Coach’s Role in Teacher Self-Care

The Coach’s Role in Teacher Self-Care

Coaches have a vital role to play in teacher self-care. That statement almost sounds counter-intuitive. Honestly, I kind of hate the term ‘teacher self-care.’ I worry it puts the onus of caring for teachers only in their own hands. As coaches, as schools, as districts, […]

How Soon Is Too Soon to Observe Teachers?

How Soon Is Too Soon to Observe Teachers?

How soon is too soon to visit classrooms? Maybe that is the wrong question. How soon is too soon to start observing teachers and providing feedback? This is my struggle. Of course, as a coach, I want to get into classrooms as soon as possible. […]

Evaluating Instructional Materials: An Integral Part of Being an Instructional Coach

Evaluating Instructional Materials: An Integral Part of Being an Instructional Coach

Evaluating materials is often a part of the coaching gig, even though it isn’t in the typical coaching job description. We are often called on as experts to evaluate a variety of instructional materials, books, and programs.

There are so many things to consider when evaluating materials. It can be overwhelming and frustrating and hard to know where to start.

Below is a process I have started using. So far, I am finding it useful. If you have suggestions, I am all ears.

The first thing I do is define what I am looking for and why.

What problem am I trying to solve? What features are essential to success? Why is something new being considered?

At this point, I usually create a spreadsheet with those essential features listed. I make sure to leave a space to list the product. I also leave room for features I might not know about yet. Just recently, I started including a place to link the relevant website.

Next, I gather possibilities. I research as many options as I can find. I eliminate those that are obviously not a good fit. The first couple of times I did this, I included every source I found. It was a colossal waste of time. I had to learn to trust my professional judgment. I also had to stop automatically dismissing anything expensive. Unless there is a specific budget, it is worthwhile to consider all the products. Sometimes the most expensive option really is the best fit.

I enter information for each strong option into my spreadsheet with as much accuracy as possible. Depending on what I am looking for, I might have Y/N columns in my spreadsheet. I always write as many descriptive notes as possible.

Many companies, especially for textbooks or software, provide limited pricing information. Once I have gathered as much as possible from available sources, I reach out to sales representatives.

Contrary to popular belief, Educational Sales reps are NOT the enemy. Despite the need for them to achieve sales, they are the most helpful people you are likely to encounter. Many are former teachers. Though some will attempt a bit of a hard sell, they appreciate directness and honesty. If I am not a lead that will lead to a sale and I say so clearly, that benefits both of us.

Most websites have a contact page that will allow you to submit a request for more information or contact a regional rep directly.

Any spaces left on my spreadsheet can almost always be filled in by a sales rep for the product. In some cases, they will even research competitors to ensure the information they provide is relevant.

Asking for quotes is easy. The first few times were really awkward for me. I felt like I was wasting someone’s time and who was I to demand information. I had to get over that too. Once I felt and acted more confident, I got better results anyway.

Sales reps can also provide demonstrations of products in several ways. I can request a single copy of texts. I can ask for a demo account for software programs. The reps can set up live webinars or provide videos of the product. I have found that it is worth the time to thoroughly explore all the options and use the demos. If possible, I try to get as many teachers as possible to voice an opinion as well.

Many questions about the product can really only be answered by using something.

  • How user-friendly is the setup or interface? How similar or different is this to something teachers have used before?
  • Will my teachers be open to it?
  • How much training will be needed?
  • Who will administer the program (set up electronic accounts or manage physical copies)? How quickly can this product be up and running?
  • What will my administrator(s) love, hate, or question?

Investing time in 5-10 products that you’re really interested in so you really know their value is much more useful than trying to overview everything.

When all the legwork is done, then, and only then, I present my findings to the decision-maker(s).

In my experience, people appreciate the depth of my knowledge. Teachers like being included in the process of reviewing different options. Administrators like knowing the pros and cons. I like feeling like I know my stuff.

There are times, of course, when time doesn’t permit such an elaborate process.

There are times when the materials I am seeking to evaluate are too narrow in scope or potential use to bother with this process.

When that happens, I have to rely on my professional judgment and make a choice.

In places where I have used this process, my choices have been viewed more favorably. I am rarely accused of making an arbitrary or ill-informed decision. This type of process for evaluating materials does more than help you determine a wise course of action. It also builds credibility and trust.

If for no other reason, that trust makes evaluating a variety of materials using a time-consuming process worth it. It helps that my teachers are also using quality products.

Though it isn’t usually in the job description, finding and implementing curriculum solutions is a part of the job. It can be rewarding. I believe that giving teachers the best tools possible for the goals they are trying to achieve makes everything else about coaching easier and more meaningful.


Gossip and Gripes: The Instructional Coach Chronicles

Gossip and Gripes: The Instructional Coach Chronicles

People talk. They gossip. They gripe about their colleagues. As a coach, I feel like I hear it all. To be successful, though, I can’t participate, no matter how tempting. It isn’t because I don’t enjoy gossip. And certainly, it isn’t because I have no […]