Coaching Novice Teachers
As a coach, it can be frustrating sometimes when you are coaching novice teachers who want instant answers to solve problems that seem to be the bane of their existence. Coaches, you have to understand and reflect back when you were a teacher, how much you longed for the same thing. As I go into schools supporting teachers and even administrators, I realized that you must leave them with some right now answers. Please know that everything does not lend itself to “right now” answers, but most do. So here are three quick tips to coaching novice educators.
Highlight the Positive: Often when a person is new to teaching, they have many questions around their pedagogy. It’s imperative that you affirm and highlight the positive things in their practice by explaining what makes what they are doing effective. Face it, everyone at some point wants to know if they are doing a good job, or not. This process also will support teacher retention because there is a cyclical process of support that highlights the positive rather than the negative. Just like we do with students, a coach should use that teacher’s strengths to build on areas of concern.
Tangible Quick Tips: It’s almost inevitable to give a novice teacher some quick tips to solve some problems they might be facing. Although every teacher has to find their way, we will often lose good teachers if they are not supported with tangible resources that will impact immediate change. For example, a novice teacher may have difficulty managing student behavior. One quick, tangible tip you can provide that teacher is to create a behavior chart that helps the student to track their own behavior throughout the day. This is a way to build in gradual release and responsibility. Or create a classroom incentive program by having students put marbles in a jar, and as they reach a certain number, that allows them access to a small token---then you have them to continue to build up to a larger incentive such as a class party. By the way, behavior contracts and zero tolerance policies are ineffective and does not promote positive behavior. Another quick tip can be providing classroom jobs. I used to teach my fifth graders how to apply for a classroom job. I gave them an application and walked them through the process and they had to interview for the job. They loved it! Believe or not, students want to be responsible, and sometimes teachers struggle with this if they see undesirable behavior(s) displayed by that student.
Effective Feedback within 24-48 hours: When providing feedback, it should be done within 24-48 hours; anytime past that starts to become gray and irrelevant. Keep in mind when providing feedback, try to get the recipient to talk first and share what they thought about the lesson or interaction that you (the coach) observed when visiting him/her. Feedback does not only involve you providing next steps, but also you listening to the teacher you are coaching. Also think about how you are providing feedback---are you just giving verbal support, or do you have a log that shows when and how you supported the teacher? Since I was a traveling coach I had to be creative in reaching over 25 schools within a specific timeframe, so I would meet with teachers virtually at a designated, agreed upon time and have them share their lesson plans as I gave feedback. Please note I never met more than 30 minutes virtually. My support was not punitive and was always from a growth stance so I would write up my support and send it to the teacher before I finalized my documents so that s/he was aware of what I documented. Often at times, novice teachers will need to talk about their teaching experience and will use your ear for support. This is okay as long as you are connecting it back to students and how they can continue to grow using the information to become an effective practitioner. Remember that coaching is a gradual release process, so when you are providing next steps, always connect it to research or why this next step is important for the teacher to implement. If they don’t have an understanding of what they are implementing, then how can they do it effectively?