Think of this metaphor: Before you get behind the wheel of a car, you’re handed a book with all the rules of the road. This is a vision for how an optimal roads system operates. Then, you’re asked to pass a written test to assure your understanding of this vision before you motor out into the real world to start making all those grey area decisions required of a driver. Eventually you might define your own vision—within the letter of the law—of what optimally safe and efficient driving looks like, but while you’re learning, your driving instructor asks you to adhere to the DMV’s.
The same goes, we believe, for teaching. In order to learn and grow as an instructor, you need to have some vision for what optimal instruction looks like. This vision ideally has specific language for how to talk about that optimal instruction.
And, crucially, in a coaching relationship, there needs to be alignment around this vision. If you can develop agreement between coach and teacher, then feedback will make sense because you’re both operating within explicitly clear parameters. You both know you need 30 feet between you and the car in front of you on the highway—it said so in the manual. Now here comes the coaching. “Hey, teacher. You’re at 25 feet, let’s just tap the brake lightly.”
By clarity of instructional vision, we mean that both the coach and the teacher that they’re coaching should have a shared idea of what a high functioning classroom looks like at any given moment of instruction. Importantly, we believe that that vision should be student-facing. That is, the picture should be of what the students should be saying, doing, and thinking at any given moment of the class.
“Students are on task, paying attention, and working hard throughout the lesson. They think the teacher notices their behavior, so if they do slip off task for a moment. They’re able to be redirected without much fuss or complaining.”
“The students also feel like the objective of the lesson is really clear to them and it’s rigorous too. It’s something that’s difficult, yet still attainable for the given class period. They also know that the activities of the class are aligned with that objective. They’re helping them achieve the ultimate goal of the lesson. And they feel like they’re getting tons of opportunities for practice and receive feedback from their teachers, so they know where they are at any given moment. And they know how far they have to go to master the goal of the class.”
The moral of this story is not that you need a particular philosophy, it’s that you need a shared approach with the teacher that you’re coaching. An aligned instructional vision is a necessary prerequisite to an effective teacher-coaching relationship.
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