Every day, week, and month brings new challenges to the coaching role. Just when we think we “got” it, something else happens to make us doubt just what we are doing and how we are doing it. We read a ton of professional articles, journals, blogs, and tweets; we engage in all kinds of conversations with our colleagues; we design ongoing professional development for our schools; we prepare meeting agendas and materials for our teachers; and we model effective instructional practices so that our teachers will “see” what we are talking about when it comes to building new skills and changing practice. As much as possible, we anticipate the questions and concerns our teaching colleagues might have. What we don’t anticipate is the amount of time it takes for our colleagues to learn something new and feel comfortable implementing those new learnings in ways that make a difference in their instructional practice.
On average, it takes twenty (yes, 20) separate instances of practice for a teacher to master a new skill (Joyce & Showers, 2002). We think by building a teacher’s knowledge base through a “drop-in” or one-time only professional development session, we are giving teachers what they need. That’s the issue… coaches don’t “give” teachers what they need; coaches and teachers work together to build the skills needed and provide continuous support so that they talk about practice through implementation and then talk about the implementation of the practice. It’s not just learning about a new skill; it’s learning a new skill and how that new skill will transform practice. It’s learning the skill, talking about when and how to use the skill, and then reflecting on whether the skill and the implementation were effective in achieving the defined goals. This not only takes time but also support from coaches so that working “side-by-side/shoulder-to-shoulder” helps teachers recognize what new skills are useful, how to deliver those new skills in effective ways, and then change their beliefs so that new practices are not discarded when the practice is not as successful as hoped. (As a teacher, I had a desk drawer full of “bells and whistles” that I had no idea how to use!)
What are some of the ways you share new skills and help teachers change their beliefs in a no-risk environment?