One full week of summer vacation down, one professional development book read (see this blog for the whole list).
One benefit of committing to read a book with a colleague is that in the collaborative selection process, sometimes something gets picked that wouldn’t have been my first choice, but for that very reason, it ends up being a way of thinking I needed to be exposed to, a tool my kit was missing. I knew I needed to know more about instructional coaching in my part-time role as curriculum coordinator at my small, private international school because of 2 reasons: (1) Two years ago I set up a peer coaching program in secondary which was very well-received, but this year, some participants were less satisfied and looking for more input. And (2) sometimes teachers ask me for feedback where I know something can be better, but I can’t think of specific strategies. Either because it’s an area that isn’t my strength either, or else because it is my strength, and with my expert blind spot, I can’t even articulate exactly how I do it—I just do.
Coaching Classroom Instruction exactly hit that sweet spot. It has 330 strategies, matched with 41 different elements of effective teaching, associated with 9 design questions, divided among 3 categories of lesson segments. There is a self-audit rubric for the 41 elements using the ratings 4 (innovating), 3 (applying), 2 (developing), 1 (beginning), and 0 (not using). For each of the 330 strategies, chapters 3, 4, and 5 give suggestions for what that strategy at a given level might look like. The levels are "not using" (0) to "beginning" (1) in chapter 3, "beginning" (1) to "developing" (2) and "developing" (2) to "applying" (3) in chapter 4, and "applying" (3) to "innovating" (4) in chapter 5.
The 3 categories of lesson segments and their design questions are (1) routine events (What will I do to establish and communicate learning goals, track student progress, and celebrate success? What will I do to establish and maintain classroom rules and procedures?), (2) content (What will I do to help students effectively interact with new knowledge? What will I do to help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge? and What will I do to help students generate and test hypotheses about new knowledge?), and (3) enacted on the spot (What will I do to engage students? What will I do to recognize and acknowledge adherence or lack of adherence to rules and procedures? What will I do to establish and maintain effective relationships with students? and What will I do to communicate high expectations for all students?).
For example, if I were to coach myself, one thing I’m interested in improving is student discussion. I would choose the lesson segment “addressing content,” the design question “What will I do to help students effectively interact with new knowledge?”, element 7 “organizing students to interact with new knowledge,” and out of the 7 strategies listed there, I’d pick “fishbowl demonstration.” I’ve used this strategy before, and I know I can get more mileage out of it. I want to move from a 3 (applying) to a 4 (innovating). Marzano gives 2 ways to make this move with any strategy: integrating several strategies into a “macrostrategy,” or adapting a strategy for unique student needs or situations (i.e. advanced or struggling learners). I’m intrigued by the suggestion for extension: “Ask students to track how often students in the fishbowl demonstration shared their perspectives, asked or answered questions, and paraphrased what others said; ask students to make generalizations about the relative importance of each aspect based on their observations” (166).
If I were to coach a new teacher who asked me about classroom management, I could use this book to give more directed help than just sending a couple of links. (Yes, I had issues with classroom management 30 years ago when I started teaching, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seriously struggled in this area. This is neither a gift nor arrogance—just experience and growth. If we don’t gain some mastery in 30 years of experience, we should all just quit now.)
For a teacher to move from not using (0) to beginning (1), he/she needs to “understand the research and theory for the growth goal element, learn about classroom strategies related to the element, select a strategy to work on, and try the strategy in the classroom” (37). Is the issue about making the rules/procedures or enforcing them? I could work with the teacher to choose the lesson segment “routine events” and the design question “What will I do to establish and maintain classroom rules and procedures?” or the lesson segment “What will I do to recognize and acknowledge adherence or lack of adherence to rules and procedures?” Let’s say we chose the latter, and then element 33 “demonstrating withitness” (53). The book summarizes the research supporting the importance of a teacher “being aware of what is going on in the classroom at all times” (53), and lists 4 strategies: being proactive, occupying the whole room physically and visually, noticing potential problems, and implementing a series of graduated actions (53).
What do those strategies mean? Check out another Marzano book, The New Art and Science of Teaching, which explicates this whole paradigm of 3 lesson segments, 9 design questions, 41 elements, and 330 strategies, just without the coaching advice. (Good news for me: I’m already planning an optional book study of this book for faculty next year, and teachers displayed high interest in a survey!)
So all this to say that while my preferred mode of operation is painting the big vision, getting people excited, and turning them loose to pursue it on their own while providing any specific resources requested along the way, sometimes we all need specific, actionable guidance to get traction on that big vision—whether it’s advancing from “not using” to “beginning” or from “applying” to “innovating.” This book is an important tool to have in the teacher support kit—along with Creating Cultures of Thinking and Teaching Matters Most—and I’m glad I’ve read it. I think I may need to also get Becoming a Reflective Teacher (how to apply The New Art and Science on your own, I think) and Unstuck: How Curiosity, Peer Coaching, and Teaming Can Change Your School (to see if I can revitalize the peer coaching part of our program while offering more official instructional coaching as well). But even if I don't get around to those, I have one new tool in my kit! (And I really am going to try that fishbowl analysis next year!)