Posts Tagged 'Jim Knight'

Using instructional coaches effectively

Few responsibilities of a school leader are more important than continuously improving teaching and learning for the benefit of all students.

Which means that a “fundamental” of leadership is an unrelenting, laser-like focus on the quality of instruction and learning.

But what exactly do effective principals do on a daily basis to improve teaching and learning?

While there is no formula for success, and leaders’ time and energy are limited, good principals effectively use as a “force multiplier” the tools that are available to them to support teachers in their demanding work.

Instructional coaches are one of the most valuable of those tools.

Many school leaders, however, have not been well supported in the effective use of coaches and are uncertain about the best ways they can enable them in their important work.

So in June 2013 I turned to Jim Knight, who knows more about this subject that anyone I know, to write a guest post.

(If you are not already a subscriber to Jim’s Radical Learners blog, I encourage you to be become one.)

Here is what Jim had to say about:

6 Ways Principals Can Support Instructional Coaching

Instructional coaching has the potential to dramatically improve teaching practice and consequently student learning.  But in most cases, a coach’s success is directly connected to how effectively she or he is supported (or not supported) by his or her principal. After working with hundreds of schools where coaches have succeeded and struggled, I’ve found that there are six actions principals can do that will make or break instructional coaching success.

1. Support the coach.  In any organization, people are keen to do what their boss wants them to do. If principals make it clear that they consider instructional coaching a vital part of their school’s plan for improvement, then teachers will be more inclined to work with the coach.  If the principal is less enthusiastic about instructional coaching, teachers will usually be less enthusiastic.

2. Let the coach coach.  I’ve never met a principal who had too much time on his or her hands. Leading a school always requires more time than is available and every principal must be tempted to hand off some of that work to a coach. But if a coach writes reports, develops plans, oversees assessment, deals with student behavior, does bus and cafeteria duty, substitute teaches, and so on… well there’s no time left for instructional coaching.  The easiest way to increase a coach’s effectiveness is to let the coach coach.

3. Clarify roles. Usually coaches are positioned as peers and not supervisors.  If teachers talk to peers, they will be more forthcoming, usually, than if they talk with a supervisor.  If this is the case, then coaches should not do administrative tasks such as walk-throughs, teacher evaluations, and so forth. If coaches are considered to have an administrative role, they should have the same qualifications and training as any other administrator, and everyone in the school, most especially the coach, needs to know that they have that role.

4. Clarify confidentiality. Again, usually instructional coaching is considered confidential.  Teachers, the thinking is, will be more forthcoming with their thoughts and concerns if they know that the conversation is just between the coach and teacher.  However, what is most important is that principal and coach clarify what will be shared and what won’t be shared.  If teachers say something they think is confidential, and find out it was shared, they may consider it a breach of trust—and nothing is more import for a coach’s success than trust.

5. Make instructional coaching a choice. If teachers are told they must work with a coach, they go into instructional coaching seeing it more as a punishment than an opportunity, and instructional coaching is difficult from the start. It is not a good use of a coach’s time for her to spend the entire conversation trying to talk a teacher into instructional coaching.  I suggest that principals be firm on standards with teachers, but flexible on how teachers hit a goal. Thus a principal might explain that a teacher needs to increase time on task, but just suggest the coach as one of many options, letting the teacher decide how he might want to change.  When instructional coaching is compulsory, teachers often perceive it as a punishment. When instructional coaching is a choice, people often perceive it as a lifeline.

6.  Make it easy for people to be coached.  Certainly most budget issues are beyond a principal’s control, but to the best of their abilities, principals should strive to find funds for released time to free teachers up for instructional coaching. The more difficult it is for people to find time to meet, the more likely instructional coaching will have limited success.  In every way possible, a principal should do everything that can be done to make it easy for coaches and teachers to collaborate.  

What would you add to Jim’s list?

Don’t feed shame…

Dennis

Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. —Bene Brown

In a comment on last week’s post on self-care Jim Knight made an important distinction between guilt and shame which caused me to think more deeply about the importance of that distinction and how it can have a profound effect on both our personal and professional lives.

Sometimes people confuse what they do with who they are. 

For instance, more than once I’ve heard someone say: “When I get angry I just say whatever comes to mind [other problematic behavior can be substituted here]. That’s just who I am.”

The distinction between guilt and shame is reflected in that confusion.

Guilt, as I understand it, occurs when we have done something to violate a moral code. We have done something we regard as wrong.

Shame is when we are what is wrong. We are the mistake, not our behavior.

Children are shamed, for example, when in response to a misdeed they are asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

Once shame has become well established within a child or adult’s neural networks it can be very challenging to help that person separate their behavior from who they think they are as a person.

As a result, even a request for a conversation about “improvement” or change can activate shame and make it very difficult for the person to attend to the conversation.

Once we become aware of this distinction we are more likely to notice the presence of shame within and around us.

But what can we do about it?

First, be very careful with the language you use when speaking to others and in your self talk. When we are concerned about someone’s actions, focus on observable behavior. Don’t contribute to anyone’s shame by digging deeper for their “issues,” a task far better suited for professionals.

Second, when shame has been triggered anticipate the possibility of a defensive response: “Why do you think there’s something wrong with me?”

Third, to minimize defensiveness ensure that the conversation remains focused on behavior. Because people who are accustomed to being shamed may find it very difficult to separate their behavior from who they are as a person, it may be necessary to repeatedly remind them of that distinction.

I encourage you to think deeply about how shame and guilt affect your life, both at home and at work, and how you might counter it.

6 Ways Principals Can Support Instructional Coaching

 

IMG_1365[I am honored to offer my readers this guest post by Jim Knight. If you are not already a subscriber to Jim’s Radical Learners blogI encourage you to become one. I guarantee that you will be informed and inspired by the ideas he offers there on teaching and instructional coaching, among other subjects. And so with no further ado, here is what Jim has to say on the subject of “6 Ways Principals Can Support Instructional Coaching.”]

Instructional coaching has the potential to dramatically improve teaching practice and consequently student learning.  But in most cases, a coach’s success is directly connected to how effectively she or he is supported (or not supported) by his or her principal. After working with hundreds of schools where coaches have succeeded and struggled, I’ve found that there are six actions principals can do that will make or break instructional coaching success.

1. Support the coach.  In any organization, people are keen to do what their boss wants them to do. If principals make it clear that they consider instructional coaching a vital part of their school’s plan for improvement, then teachers will be more inclined to work with the coach.  If the principal is less enthusiastic about instructional coaching, teachers will usually be less enthusiastic.

2. Let the coach coach.  I’ve never met a principal who had too much time on his or her hands. Leading a school always requires more time than is available and every principal must be tempted to hand off some of that work to a coach. But if a coach writes reports, develops plans, oversees assessment, deals with student behavior, does bus and cafeteria duty, substitute teaches, and so on… well there’s no time left for instructional coaching.  The easiest way to increase a coach’s effectiveness is to let the coach coach.

3. Clarify roles. Usually coaches are positioned as peers and not supervisors.  If teachers talk to peers, they will be more forthcoming, usually, than if they talk with a supervisor.  If this is the case, then coaches should not do administrative tasks such as walk-throughs, teacher evaluations, and so forth.  If coaches are considered to have an administrative role, they should have the same qualifications and training as any other administrator, and everyone in the school, most especially the coach, needs to know that they have that role.

4. Clarify confidentiality. Again, usually instructional coaching is considered confidential.  Teachers, the thinking is, will be more forthcoming with their thoughts and concerns if they know that the conversation is just between the coach and teacher.  However, what is most important is that principal and coach clarify what will be shared and what won’t be shared.  If teachers say something they think is confidential, and find out it was shared, they may consider it a breach of trust—and nothing is more import for a coach’s success than trust.

5. Make instructional coaching a choice. If teachers are told they must work with a coach, they go into instructional coaching seeing it more as a punishment than an opportunity, and instructional coaching is difficult from the start. It is not a good use of a coach’s time for her to spend the entire conversation trying to talk a teacher into instructional coaching.  I suggest that principals be firm on standards with teachers, but flexible on how teachers hit a goal. Thus a principal might explain that a teacher needs to increase time on task, but just suggest the coach as one of many options, letting the teacher decide how he might want to change.  When instructional coaching is compulsory, teachers often perceive it as a punishment. When instructional coaching is a choice, people often perceive it as a lifeline.

6.  Make it easy for people to be coached.  Certainly most budget issues are beyond a principal’s control, but to the best of their abilities, principals should strive to find funds for released time to free teachers up for instructional coaching. The more difficult it is for people to find time to meet, the more likely instructional coaching will have limited success.  In every way possible, a principal should do everything that can be done to make it easy for coaches and teachers to collaborate.

The “everyday leadership” of “tempered radicals”

IMG_1365

Jim Knight is well-known to many of my readers. For those who don’t know him, he is well-regarded for his expertise in teaching and instructional coaching and for his books and “Radical Learner” blog.

So I was particularly honored when Jim invited me to prepare a guest post for his blog, which he has just published. It is titled “The ‘everyday leadership’ of ‘tempered radicals,’” and it begins:

“Radical learners” may sometimes feel like outsiders even when they hold important positions within their schools. Debra Meyerson uses the term “tempered radicals” to describe such individuals, and it is also the name of a book she wrote based on studies she has done on TRs, as she calls them.

Drawing on Meyerson’s Tempered Radicals and a 2005 interview I did with her for the JSD, I offer a set of attributes about “everyday leadership” so that “radical learners” can be even more effective in using their unique talents and perspectives to serve students and their school communities.

I encourage you to continue reading this essay on Jim’s blog

Creating school communities in which everyone is known and valued

Dennis Sparks

In a blog post about Steve Jobs’ pursuit of excellence, which included a thorough understanding of his customers, Jim Knight writes, “. . . like Jobs, teachers can strive to have a deep understanding of their students’ hopes, fears, and expectations.

To that end, Knight suggests that teachers ask questions of students, and his post provides lists of possible questions based on grade level.

In my experience, people want to be known for who they are, no matter their age. That is true across the generations.

Hospice patients tell me that they want their grandchildren and even generations yet unborn to know who they were as people. Children also want to be known for who they are, for their interests and strengths, and for their overall uniqueness.

Teachers are more likely to make the effort to get to know all of their students and their families, I believe, when they feel known and valued within their school communities.

Creating school cultures in which everyone feels known and appreciated for who they are is therefore a primary responsibility of principals and teacher leaders.

Teachers as leaders of classroom teams

Bandemer Park, Ann Arbor, Michigan/Dennis Sparks

Sometimes it the simple acts that are the most radical. That’s because their successful execution requires the most radical kind of learning — the development of new paradigms that affect how individuals view the world and the acquisition of understandings and skills that guide their actions in implementing the new paradigm. In this case, I’m thinking of teachers adopting a conceptual frame in which they view themselves as leaders of teams of students and their families and developing the knowledge and skills required to be successful team leaders.

To read more of my essay on Jim Knight’s “Radical Learners” blog . . .

Enriching the space between students and teachers

Leland, Michigan/Dennis Sparks

People learn from people they love. Anything that enriches the space between a student and a teacher is good. Anything that makes it more frigid is bad. This doesn’t mean we have to get all huggy and mushy. It means rigorous instruction has to flow on threads of trust and affection. —David Brooks

If we are more loving toward our students, it can only help them and us.  Most likely, it will help us with all of our relationships.  And who wouldn’t want to live in a world that is filled with more love. —Jim Knight

Here’s a simple but important idea: good teachers respect and care about their students. That “truth” is particularly important for students whose life circumstances require that their teachers not only have content knowledge and pedagogical skills but who also clearly demonstrate that they like and enjoy their students.

There are exceptions to that generalization, of course. Many of us have had one or more teachers who we did not like us and whom we did not like, but for one reason or another we learned from them. But I wouldn’t want to staff a school, or even a hallway of a school, with such teachers, especially a school that serves our most vulnerable students.

Sometimes academic rigor and “trust and affection” are cast as an either/or proposition. Either teachers demand academic rigor or they are ”all huggy and mushy.” In fact, it is both/and.

The presence or absence of all these qualities, however, is not determined solely by a hiring decision. Academic rigor and positive attitudes toward students are cultivated by leaders who like and respect teachers, who design professional learning that deepens and expands teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogy, and who enable sustained conversations at faculty and team meetings about how teachers’ attitudes influence student engagement, learning, and desire to stay in school when it is no longer required.

“Anything that enriches the space between a student and a teacher is good,” David Brooks tells us. And I would add, “Anything that enriches the space between leaders and teachers—in particular, the professional learning and the critical conversations that affect the learning and well being of students—is good for the school community as a whole and for all of its members, no matter their age or role.”


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