It is with a sense of disappointment and disbelief I learned that the literacy and numeracy coaching program was to be scrapped in schools.
I have been fortunate enough to work with both literacy and numeracy coaches in my classroom over the last few years and can attest to the value of this program.
When I first started working with a coach, they would sit in my classroom and take notes about what I was doing. I felt each week when they came in to observe my lesson that I was ‘on show’; that I needed to pull out the smoke and mirrors and put on a performance to impress. What followed the lesson would be a very one way conversation with the coach asking me numerous questions about what I thought and what I believed I should do next. This was frustrating. I wanted them to tell me what I was doing well, what I was doing wrong and what I needed to do to fix it. If I knew what I was doing wrong, wouldn’t I be doing something about it already ? The nature and idea of coaching wasn’t clearly explained to me and I wasn’t getting what I wanted.
When it was finally explained to me what the program was actually about and as I developed a level of trust with the coaches I was working with, did I begin to benifit from the program.
Working with a coach encourages you to critically reflect on your teaching practice through effective questioning. I have written previously about the value and power of these conversations and how they have encouraged me to modify my teaching practice for the better. Whilst coaches arn’t about providing the answers, they do bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience. They often visit many other schools and bring to the table other examples of good teaching practice. The coaches I worked with sat in on my lessons and saw first hand what was occuring within my classroom. They knew my students, and in turn, were able to direct the questioning based on what they had observed.
Through coaching, I have learnt how to support my students in articulating the thinking behind their learning and be more criticial when reflecting on their own work. Basic statements like “I worked well” and “I didn’t get it” were no longer being used. Instead student reflections started off with statements like “I found it difficult when…”, “I need learn more about….” or “something new I learnt today was…”
I learnt that it’s not about “covering the curriculum”. The use of quality assessment data needs to be what drives the teaching and learning program; not a scope and sequence chart that sees you “cover” topics on a two week rotational basis over two years. I have learnt about how my students learn and maintain concentration throughout a session and modified the structure of my lessons to capatilise on this.
Through coaching, I learnt more about web 2.0 tools. I was introduced to to web conferencing as a tool to connect to other educators. From here, I learnt about blogging, twitter, wikis and a range of other resources that I could not imaging having access to now.
Last year my teaching team was privillaged to work with Cathy Toll, the guru of coaching. To see her in action is truly amazing. Her ability to remember names and facilitate a conversation through questioning is something I think all teachers wish they could do effectivly within their classrooms. Cathy worked with our team looking at strengths and what barriers stopped us from working effectively. Through questioning, Cathy drew from us what we already knew and got us to develop a plan on how we were going to work together in the future.
It has often been said that the best professional learning happens closest to the classroom. The coaching program acknowledges this and creates a personal learning program based on the needs of the teacher. Creating a personal learning program is something we as teachers are encouraged to do for our students, yet it amazes me how this does not translate across to most professional learning programs for teachers.
So, to Pip, Kerry, Helen, Emma, Jono, Tayna, Heather, Maney and Kerryn (and any other coach I’ve had an interaction with and failed to mention) thank you for what you have done to improve my teaching. The government may not yet be able to measure the outcomes of your work in a way they would like to, but I, and the students I have taught know the difference you have made to my teaching and to their learning.