Most weeks I am lucky enough to be in a school working with their maths department to improve teaching and learning. Often this support involves me watching as many parts of as many lessons as possible in the morning to identify a high-leverage area for development, and then working with all the department together in the afternoon with bespoke CPD based on that area.
However, occasionally I am asked to work with teachers one at a time as part of instructional coaching. In fact, that is exactly what I will be doing this Thursday at a school in the Midlands. In preparation for the day, I have revisited my favourite coaching resources (I will link to these below) and refined my coaching process. Here, I thought it might be useful to share my process in case it helps you as a coach or a coachee now or in the future. Strap yourselves in, it's a long one!
Things I do before the lesson
The coachee decides on an area they would like to work on for this cycle of coaching
A good way to frame this area is as a teaching goal - what area of their classroom practice would they like to improve?
Empowering the coachee to decide upon the teaching goal improves buy-in to the process, and provides a focus to help me direct my support
The best teaching goals are still quite specific. “Improve student participation” might be too broad, whereas “improve student participation during the Do Now” is probably a more useful level of specificity to start at
This teaching goal remains for a full cycle of coaching so we can take small steps to improve each session - in the past, I have been guilty of jumping around, suggesting we look at checking for understanding this week, then behaviour next, then challenge, and so on.
Example: Jenny decides her teaching goal is to improve whole class checking for understanding using diagnostic questions
Things I do in the lesson
With the teaching goal in mind, I begin by making broad notes on things the teacher says or does, and things the students say or do.
These broad notes help me form a hypothesis about what is actually happening
I then focus my attention on collecting evidence to either support or refute my hypothesis
Ideally, I am looking for a single piece of critical evidence that I can build the coaching session around
Examples of this critical evidence include something quantifiable (eg the number of students not doing something), a direct quote of what the teacher said, how a student responded to a question I asked them, or photos of students’ work
On a practical level, I take observation notes using the Evernote app on my phone as it means I can easily insert photos (and even video and audio) around the notes I write
Example: In Jenny’s lesson I notice some students have voted for the wrong answer to a diagnostic question. Jenny provides a good explanation to why the correct answer is correct, but I hypothesise that some students do not understand why their choice of answer is incorrect. To test this hypothesis I go and ask three students who got the question wrong “Can you explain why your answer is not correct?”. No student is able to. I make a note of their names and responses.
Things I do before the coaching session
Ideally, I will have time to reflect on what I have seen and prepare for the coaching session - diving straight into a coaching session immediately after the lesson is rarely a good idea
Once I am happy with my hypothesis and critical evidence, my attention turns towards preparing the model and rehearsal that will (as we shall see) play a key role in the coaching session
Example: I choose a diagnostic question and plan how I am going to model challenging students to articulate their thinking.
Things I do in the coaching session
1. I begin with specific praise
Focussing on something the coachee has done well helps set the tone for a positive experience for both the coachee and coach
I try to focus on just one piece of specific praise related to the teaching goal.
Suppose this is a few coaching sessions into a cycle. In that case, I will focus on a change we discussed previously that the teacher has put into action and celebrate the positive impact it is having.
In the past my praise has been scattered around different aspects of teaching and too vague (“your pace was great”, “your relationships with the students are fantastic”). This kind of praise risks becoming meaningless and does not help focus the coachee’s attention on the progress they are making towards the teaching goal
Example: I tell Jenny I was really impressed at her routine for getting all students to share their votes at the same time. This was something we had worked on previously - eliminating the tactical delay that often happens whilst students have a look at what answer their mates have gone for. This change has led to a significant improvement in Jenny’s check for understanding and I want to celebrate that.2. I make “the offer”
This is where we move from “you are doing this bit great…” to “...and I think learning could be even better if you also did this”
I find this can be the trickiest part of the coaching process, but is helped significantly if it is focussed on the teaching goal, preceded by praise, and supported by the critical evidence
I share my hypothesis and the critical evidence I collected to support it. Having a quantity, quote, image or video provides the objective evidence that is often necessary to get the coachee to buy into the change you are suggesting
The coachee may already have a strong mental model of what change is needed - if so I will play a more facilitative role at this stage of the process
Example: I share my hypothesis with Jenny along with the critical evidence of the lack of understanding demonstrated by the three students I talked to. I suggest that tackling this can take Jenny’s check for understanding to the next level. Jenny is on board. 3. I provide a model
It is no good just describing what this change looks like, the coachee needs to see an example of it
The example could be me doing a demonstration, or it could be a video of best practice. I will share my favourite sources of these videos at the end of the post
There are four stages to engaging with the model:
1. Represent - we look at the whole model from start to finish
2. Deconstruction - I break the model down into its key active ingredients
3. Narrate - I run the model again, but pause each time to discuss each active ingredient
4. Analyse - we really dig into why each active ingredient is important in influencing learning
Example: I model how we might use students’ responses from start to finish. I then break the process down into three active ingredients:
Give students longer thinking time so they can plan their explanation as well as their answer, and prompt students to use this thinking time in this way
Always ask a child who has voted for A first to share their explanation for their choice, then B, then C, then D so as not to provide a cue as to which answer is correct
Praise those students who share a coherent explanation, regardless if it is correct or incorrect
4. We do some implementation planning
I ask the coachee to decide which lesson they can try these changes for the first time
We then go through that lesson plan and plan together the change
Scripting what the teacher will say or do here really helps
As does providing a prompt (such as an image on a PowerPoint slide or a timer on their phone) to remind them to try the new action at the appropriate time
Planning the change into an actual lesson provides authentic context, saves the teacher time, and gives the change the best chance of occurring
Example: Jenny is going to try this in her next lesson with this class, which is in two days time. We look at the set of diagnostic questions she is going to use and tweak a few to lower the content demands of the maths so students can dedicate more attention to the new routine. Jenny writes a brief script about what she is going to say to her students.5. We end with rehearsal
This is potentially the most awkward part of the coaching session, but I find it is only awkward for about 10 seconds!
It is really important that the teacher practices what they are going to say or do in a supportive environment, as opposed to the first time they try it being in front of a class when they potentially have a million other things vying for their attention
I ask the coachee to model exactly what they will say or do using the joint planning we have just done
I then provide feedback on the positives and the tweaks, and with each iteration we get closer to something the teacher feels both comfortable and familiar with
Example: Jenny models each of the action steps. The first time she forgets to prompt the students to think about their explanation. But each time Jenny rehearses she gets better and better. By the end, she is raring and ready to go!So, there you go - that is an overview of how I coach. As I say, I will be putting this into practice on Thursday, and I will share how I got on - both good and bad! - next week.
The countdown to this year’s GCSE Maths exams is well and truly on. So, I thought it would be worthwhile sharing two ideas for effective revision lessons that I have picked up during my recent visits to schools.