Instructional Coaching Conference Day 1

Lawrence, Kansas

Day one of an education conference usually goes by quickly.  There is significant time spent on norming, getting to know new people, and establishing the work for the remaining days.  Today was no different: there was a protocol for partnering, setting the purpose for instructional coaching, we baselined potential barriers to adults helping adults, and then launched into Jim Knight’s foundational framework for coaching.  A predictably structured, yet well executed, first day.

Jim Knight sees coaching as a moral imperative to help teachers reach more students.  I appreciate this view of coaching as it aligns powerfully with my vision of quality education: namely that all students improve as a result of a teacher’s intervention.  In terms of delivery, Knight struck an effective balance between compelling anecdotes, such as an audio example of a high school freshman who could not read a simple passage, and deep, evidence-based statistics around implementation rates of new learning with and without follow-up by coaches.  He very succinctly made the case for instructional coaching.

After presenting the need for coaching (a fairly easy sell to a room full of coaches) Knight worked through his “5 Simple Truths of Helping,” outlining the potential hurdles of adults providing help to other adults.  This was primarily reaffirming to me as they were topics I had considered, though Knight’s language gives me a much stronger vocabulary for explaining these concepts to others.  The 5 truths can be summarized as such:

  • In order to change we need an awareness of what to change and an authentic need for the change.
  • Teaching is intensely personal and as coaches we need to speak bold truths in a way that respects teachers’ identity.
  • Teachers, as knowledge workers, have a high need for autonomy and need to construct knowledge for themselves.
  • Coaches must respect teachers’ status as highly trained and experienced professionals and avoid a paternalist role.
  • All parties must commit to the goal, ergo it must be a personal and authentic goal.

These truths provide a strong philosophical foundation for adult education as contrasted with educating youth, and while they are not particularly groundbreaking, they are important to stay mindful of.  It is easy, and highly problematic, to slip into habits from teaching youth, and being able to name these basics will allow me to integrate the truths into my practice.

With the groundwork established we moved into Knight’s approach to coaching which he terms “the Partnership Approach.”  This is framed with seven attributes that all serve the goal of philosophically grounding the coach in the role of a collaborator and partner in the teacher’s work of educating youth.  Where the 5 Truths are intended to cover all work with adults helping other adults, the  Partnership Approach is specific to the role of the instructional coach.  The attributes are as follows:

  1. Equality: Simply put, everyone has equal worth by the simple fact of being a human being.  (Think categorical imperative.)
  2. Choice: More specifically this is limited choice.  Choice provides valuable autonomy, however too much choice can be paralyzing and should be avoided.
  3. Voice: Teachers often report feeling like their opinions have no bearing on their work.  Coaching is a time to increase teachers’ impact in their work.
  4. Dialogue: Specifically the double movement of meaning between coach and teacher in a way that is based on humility, hope, faith, and humanity.  (From Paulo Freire!)
  5. Praxis: This is literally the practical application of theory.  Teachers have to be able to implement the issues discussed.
  6. Reflection: This is reflection with the goal of improvement and the consideration of ideas prior to implementation.
  7. Reciprocity: The basic assumption that both parties in a dialogue are capable of making meaningful contribution.

I’m most impressed by Knight’s heavy inclusion of Paulo Freire’s work from Pedagogy of the Oppressed and his commitment to instructional coaching as a moral obligation.  Freire establishes teaching as an inherently revolutionary act whose purpose is to establish a new, more humanizing, status quo.  For Freire education, an literacy most importantly, is the path out of poverty, oppression, and it is a universal right founded in Kant’s concepts of universal respect for all humans as beings capable of reason.  From reading Knight’s work I did not expect this level of passion for equity and my attitude toward Knight noticeably shifted when he leveraged Freire.

The room full is of coaches and administrators from middle class and affluent districts as those are the districts that can afford to hire coaches.  There is one woman of color, and zero men of color in the group of participants, and Knight is pushing a strong social justice agenda based on equality of opportunity and education’s ability to humanize the most oppressed.  It is encouraging to know that these ideas are not reserved for abstract academia or urban schools highly impacted by poverty (read: High percentage Black and Latino students) and the ideas are leveraged in service of powerful education across all schools.

I left the first day very hopeful for the remainder of the conference.  Through Knight’s presentation, what was previously based on instinct can now be executed in a more deliberate and repeatable fashion.  My most valuable takeaway, however, is intensely practical: I need to film my teachers and myself.  This is, without question, the easiest and most powerful way to establish an honest picture of what someone’s teaching (or my coaching) looks like from an outside perspective and the barrier to entry is extraordinarily low given available technology.  I am giving myself a personal goal to use video in a teacher observation and debrief next week, after I return from the conference.

PS: A big shout out to Taryn at the Love Garden record shop for hooking me up with some fantastic local indie music. Enjoy some beautiful, contemplative, indie rock.

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