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 […]
Tag: coaching strategies
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 […]
What is the missing piece in most professional development sessions? Why is it so hard to change teacher behavior in learning new
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?
- Steps and actions-check.
- Anticipated results-check.
- Potential pitfalls-check.
- Guided practice-check.
- Q & A-check.
- 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.
It seems like things are slowing down a bit during this time of year. It never fails. Teachers are finishing up last minute to-dos before finals, crafts are being created, and the school has turned into a sea of red and green. All the while, […]
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. […]
Harvard’s Project Implicit is an on-going research project collecting data on implicit bias through a series of online quizzes.
Anyone can anonymously attempt as many quizzes, on as many topics, as many times as desired. Demographic data is optional and results are provided with explanations and an overview of the project’s current finding.
This year, one of the activities I conducted with my teachers was based on Project Implicit.
I selected this activity for several reasons.
- Community building: successfully engaging in an activity like this builds a sense of collective responsibility and trust among staff.
- Assumptions surfacing: as a staff working with a unique and still largely undefined population of adult students, it is especially important that we are highly aware of our biases and work to proactively address them.
- Culture: activities requiring a high level of honesty and trust build a culture based on trust and rooted in continuous improvement.
- Awareness: reflecting on our assumptions and biases helps bring self-awareness.
Below is a description of how I conducted this activity.
- I began by informing the group that what we would be doing was designed to be uncomfortable.
- We read a quotation about assumptions and biases and discussed the impact of biases in the classroom.
- I explained that this was a no blame, no shame environment because implicit bias is inherently unknown.
- I modeled navigating the Project Implicit website, including taking part in a quiz publicly.
- Teachers were asked to select TWO quizzes on topics where they felt confident they had no bias and TWO on topics where they were concerned or curious about their potential bias.
- We spent about an hour taking as many quizzes as possible.
- Teachers recorded the results.
- At the end of the allotted time, I asked teachers to share.
The response to this exercise was remarkable. As a group, we had strong discussions about the potential impact of teacher biases on students. No one denied the existence or importance of such implicit biases. We talked about the negative impact assumptions, even positive assumptions can have on students when left unexamined.
Teachers were thoughtful in their selection of which quizzes to take. Despite some obvious discomfort, we all made a significant attempt to be as honest as possible when answering the questions.
Many shared specific results they found surprising in a positive way. Some talked about how the results they got mirrored things they had been told by family and friends, but never really believed. Several were shocked that the results in the areas about which they had the most concern revealed little or no bias. On the other hand, some were shocked by the results in areas they felt confident they had no bias.
I conducted this exercise with three groups. Only one person was genuinely upset and resistant to the results of any particular results.
As a group, we talked about what we can do with these results. Does this mean I am a bad person? How do I change my implicit biases? Who else found out something similar about themselves?
We discussed the idea that the results are not infallible proof and don’t disparage our character or positive intentions. This exercise is meant to provide food for thought. I told them I wanted them to be more conscious of potential bias and more intentional in reflecting on why they react to student behaviors or some types of students in specific ways. The goal is awareness. Awareness is what allows action and leads to growth.
At the end of the day, participants completed a brief anonymous survey. In it, they identified a small number of specific action steps they could take. I encouraged them to identify a colleague to work with as an accountability partner.
I don’t know how many will follow through. I don’t know how many really invested in this exercise. I can say that the conversations were real and raw. I can say the level of trust was high. At the end of the session with the last group, one teacher and I were talking on our way out. She said, “I know I can be a little close-minded and I want you to know I really appreciated how you challenged my thinking today. I need that.” She thanked me, but her comment was all the thanks I could possibly need.
Best of all, I have heard about this session from someone every day since. Several people have reported taking additional quizzes. Some have mentioned asking family and friends to take them too. It has been an on-going topic of discussion. When it comes to identifying and addressing implicit biases, making it an on-going topic of discussion is the best possible outcome.
As the year progresses, I am planning to revisit this exercise. My teachers and I will develop personal coaching plans. This exercise will be part of that discussion. In a few months, I will ask teachers to retake some Project Implicit quizzes and we will discuss any changes in the results.
Project Implicit is a window into a difficult subject. I am excited about the research aspect and I am excited about the potential it has to enrich my instructional coaching this year.