In my inaugural post as co-author of Two Writing Teachers, I wrote about the changes one teacher made to her record-keeping system, transforming her workshop into an even more student-centered place.
Is it possible that, as coaches, the practice of keeping track of—much less making visible—teacher learning is as daunting as keeping conferring notes is for our teachers?
If you answered “yes,” then how much more manageable and meaningful might the coaching cycle become if we paralleled the practice to make them more teacher-centered? After all, if the conference belongs to the writer, the cycle belongs to the teacher.
Having apprenticed myself to Jim Knight’s Impact Cycle, I have felt obligated to create a checklist or playbook at the outset of a coaching cycle the way teachers might fret over having a rubric pre-filled before a unit begins.
With this expectation, I entered into a few planning sessions that left me feeling out of balance. That’s when I began to feel the familiar the tug of parallel practice. If, what we want for students is to build the habits of mind that guide them to define success through a process of inquiry, why would we not want the same for our adult learners?
From here, I let Katie Wood Ray’s words guide me to enter coaching cycles differently:
Imagine what it would be like…to know that your teacher [or coach] is waiting there for you and your classmates [or colleagues], and that her lesson ‘plans’ have huge spaces in them that she’s waiting for you to fill with your thinking.”Katie Wood Ray, Study Driven, 2006, p. 33.
Whether to improve students’ mathematical problem-solving or executive functioning skills or to increase the frequency and effectiveness of conferences during workshop, each cycle started with a blank page. I mean, I literally set a blank page on the table: “Let’s create this ‘Looks Like/Sounds Like’ together.”
“This is like my own little workshop,” one teacher said. It was the highest compliment; it told me I had chosen right by my inquiry stance.
Adopting this stance does not mean that we are without direction. Once the teacher has determined the goal for our work, we can draw upon professional texts and design tasks to help define success and enter into the learning phase with an open mindset. What, or who, shall we read? How will we learn best?
For problem-solving, we took several weeks to read articles about productive struggle, collaboration, and questions that promote mathematical practices to build the “looks like/sounds like” for math workshop.
For executive functioning, we started with a list of behaviors from a training at our school and then paired them with strategies from yet another training to build a checklist together.
For reader’s workshop, we read a chapter from Jen Serravallo and used our experience with guided reading to create a framework that ensures she meets with every student multiple times a week.
For writing conferences, we anchored to the components of a conference as we watched a few video examples. From here, we chose the targets that were most important to reaching her goal of increasing student independence and self-assessment.
In every instance, success was defined by the learner. The checklist—complete with its why, what, and how—was not something I should have nor could have brought to the table in a way that would have resulted in the personalized learning that occurred in each of these instances.
Repositioning the checklist as the product of my coaching rather than something I had to prepare ahead of time made space for me to notice a new area for improvement: During my planning meetings with teachers, I was jotting down things to remember, ideas to help me curate the next round of resources and design our next learning experiences. These notes, however, were my own; they were not serving the purpose of keeping the learning at the forefront during independent practice like I was learning was possible with conferring notes.
Follow-up emails or shared Google Docs seemed obvious, but I realized that a more personal and familiar solution already lived in my Google Drive: Back and Forth Notebooks.
I immediately implemented the notebook in a coaching cycle just down the hall from the one I wrote about on TWT. I recorded observation notes and wonderings from which she could choose to start our planning conversations. I linked videos and readings for us to choose from when we met; she began anticipating them and captured her thinking in the pages ahead of time.
Finally, we had a way to make visible the learning that extended even beyond the moments that we were together! In our last session, we used her notebook to capture the checklist that will serve as her reminder for the practices she hopes to launch again in the fall.
I have since concluded all of my coaching cycles for this year, confident that the teachers have met their goals. Not only that, I know that they know what to do to keep it going, how to relaunch in the fall with a new group of kids, and where to find me if they need a thought partner.
Of course, just like any record-keeping system, there are still a few things I’d like to adjust to make mine more visible to and collaborative with teachers. And I am sure that I will find my way through the power of practices that parallel the workshop.
Here are a few questions to consider as you strive for more teacher-centered coaching cycles:
- What evidence supports that your stance at the outset of a coaching cycle is one of inquiry?
- How are you involving teachers in the co-creation of success criteria for the goal you are working toward together? What texts might you choose and what tasks might you design to make this possible?
- How are you making your coaching conversations visible and accessible to teachers between meetings?