Our colleague and sometimes collaborator Elena Aguilar wrote a great blog on coaching for Ed Week a few weeks ago that outlined her insights on coaching. One point particular resonates with us:
“…a coach needs to be an expert at listening: It is this skill which we must excel at more than any other. We must hear what is said and not said, what is implied and unasked. From our listening, we form questions that have the potential to dramatically shift teacher beliefs, thinking, and practice.”
We begin our seminars with discussion and tools to improve listening skills and listening culture in a school or other organization. After we teach these tools to participants and have them try them out at the seminar, people often remark that it was the first time they felt truly listened to in a work setting in a long time. Work doesn’t have to be that way. And if that’s the culture of a particular school or district office, then there’s a good chance that teaching and learning aren’t going so well there.
Elena also referenced a recent study of literacy coaching directed by Dr. Anthony Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, that finds a significant “increase in the average rate of student learning over three years and substantial growth in teacher expertise.” The strongest factor that predicted growth in teacher expertise was the amount of coaching a teacher received.
RAND did a study last year on the impact of coaching that supports teachers in analyzing student data and found that it “has a significant association with both perceived improvements in teaching and higher student achievement.” There is a new study every few years that makes this kind of case. Coaching has an impact, and it is critical in the U.S. where teachers have so little time to develop their own professional practice. The common comparison recently is Finland, a high-performing country where teaching is highly professionalized (and by the way, unionized). Linda Darling-Hammond examines Finland in her recent book The Flat World and Education (excerpt here). She notes that
“as the professional level of the teaching cadre has increased … so has the quality of teacher professional development support. Most compulsory, traditional in-service training has disappeared. In its place are school- or municipality- based longer-term programs….”
Coaching is professional development that is embedded and sustained and responsive to individual and local needs.