Looking for the secret to effective and accelerated teacher growth? Practice!

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I believe teachers long to grow professionally.  The nature of teaching - having a new group of students each year - provides for a great cycle of reflection and continual improvement. However, many teachers find professional development ineffective or receive very little useful feedback to strategically help them improve their instruction. Instructional coaching, which provides individualized feedback to teachers on specific classroom strategies, can help teachers not only grow professionally, but can positively impact student outcomes.  

One of the most important aspects of coaching is the opportunity for teachers to practice. In a coaching conversation, after discussing objective feedback from a classroom observation and planning specific, actionable steps for improving, teachers need the opportunity to try out their new skills and receive feedback before using it with students.  

Professional musicians practice for hours before ever performing a new piece.  Professional athletes, and dancers, and doctors practice too.  So as the professionals that they are, teachers need the opportunity to practice their new learning before “performing” in front of students!

So what does practice look like?  Often teachers practicing with a coach includes co-planning for an upcoming lesson or role-playing a new strategy.

For example, if a teacher is working with a coach on making a strong model to deliver during direction instruction, practicing this skill could involve a teacher planning the model for each of her lessons for the upcoming week, using criteria and an example provided by the coach.  As the teacher writes out her models, the coach provides feedback as they go to make sure the outcome is excellent.  

Another example is if a teacher is working with his coach on an attention-getting signal to use with students, practicing could look saying this signal aloud multiple times and with different scenarios. Again, the coach provides specific feedback, helping the teacher to make the signal perfect as he practices.

Great coaching conversations utilize teacher practice for half or more of the time together with a teacher. If this is where teacher growth happens, then this is where we should prioritize spending our time.

The result of practicing in coaching is that instead of “trying out” a strategy on students, the teacher is already well-practiced and confident in implementing the new skill in front of students! The success rate of the teacher’s new strategy is much higher the first time and students don’t need to be the subject of a teacher’s experimenting. The rate at which a teacher is able to grow professionally is accelerated, and the corresponding impact on students behavioral and cognitive engagement is accelerated as well.  

Let’s do it!

For instructional coaches:

  • As you plan for your meetings with teachers, make sure to include a specific strategy that the teacher can use to improve, including the criteria to do it well and an example of what it looks like. Then plan time to allow the teacher to actually practice that skill with you, either role playing the strategy or co-planning together, depending on the type of strategy.

  • Read Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi. It has a number of practical steps for including practice in your work and great rationale for why it’s important.