Know thy teachers
Having been spoiled this last week with a plethora of PD (a day with James Nottingham, and a weekend with Jane Pollock, Tim Stuart, Sascha Heckmann, Jennifer Sparrow, Matt Glover and Chantelle Love on Personalised Learning) I have been trying hard to synthesise all the voices into one large takeaway. And here it is: getting to know the kids we teach really well, underpins any choices we should make with regards to how learning and teaching might be structured.
Funny how despite being an educator for a few years now, I defer to my instinct as a parent in this respect: I rarely ask questions about achievement, and rather want to know just how well teachers know my child. Because if you know my child, you stand a much better chance of understanding what their goals are and how best to support them in their pursuit of those goals. My child will feel like they have a partner in learning, not a supervisor of learning.
And same goes for coaching.
I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to coach. The craft of coaching is nuanced and layered and I’m conscious of how to best use my kit-bag of techniques when I work with teachers. But the truth is, the techniques only have an impact if I’m able to pull the right technique, at the right time. And the only way I can be sure I’m doing this, is if I really know the teachers I work with.
When I think about my coaching partnerships, there’s a few things I know really help in getting to know teachers well, but one if a sure-fire winner:
Dig to values.
There are lots of access points to values, and a few ‘ins’ that I can rely on include:
Why do you love teaching [a particular grade, subject, skill-set, text, concept]?
Why is it vital kids learn [a particular subject, skill-set, text, concept, topic]?
Why are you so passionate about kids [using this app/writing everyday/having choice/playing soccer]
And maybe one that you might ask when getting to know the feel of a collective value of a school or team….
What is your mission/vision in education? (or any version of the ‘why’ you are in this field)?
There is nothing more validating than being truly heard, and nothing more cultivating of a relationship than listening to what really matters to a human being. And knowing what really matters to the teachers I work with is highly valuable data: it is a jumping-off point to understanding where teachers are. When I know and understand this, I have a much better chance of coaching in ways that will have the greatest impact on student learning. It also grounds the work we do firmly in a value, providing a great quality-check for any decisions we make together.
We should know this stuff about each other as a matter of course – it is what binds us together as educators. But we're often driven to 'get on with business'. Matt Glover says pre-reading a child's writing is a really good move to ensure efficient conferences, but we miss the most vital information if we don't ask the child about their writing before we launch into a teaching point. We can learn something from this. Teachers deserve coaches who go beyond the first impression; who work to know them as educators before launching in to the 'doing' of coaching. If we don't, we might just be supervising learning, rather than being partners in learning, too.