Category Archives: Essay

Pre-Conferencing: A Critical Element of Effective Coaching

I approach the training of coaches and my own work as a coach using the process of having a pre-conference, an observation and post-conference. This structure exists in most of the training that administrators have received in clinical supervision. For me, a large part of what differentiates coaching from a supervisory model is that most frequently the coaching post-conference turns into a pre-conference.

Having a pre-conference with a teacher creates an agreement on what to observe. Having done the observation, a post-conference provides the teacher with feedback. Exploration of feedback most often leads to a next step. It might be that a question emerged during the post-conference leading to another observation to collect more information or it could be that an idea emerged for a change and so we’re doing a follow-up observation to identify the impact of the teacher implementing that change in his or her classroom.

For me, the pre-conference is a critical component of effective coaching. Strangely enough, I find that people who are pressed for time commonly end up skipping it. When training coaches, I put the greatest amount of time into pre-conferencing because if my pre-conference is effective the rest of the process flows easily.

With an effective pre-conference, I know what to watch and record during my observation. I know exactly the feedback the teacher is looking for in the post-conference. I build my trust as a coach by delivering in the observation and the post-conference what we had agreed to in the pre-conference. A quality pre-conference sets the stage for building trust.

What follows is a model pre-conference, that I recorded with Kelly Stevens from the Northern Valley School District in New Jersey. Kelly and I modeled this for a coaches’ training that the district was conducting.

Steve:  Kelly, Since I’m meeting you for the first time, give me a quick introduction to Kelly the teacher.  Who’s Kelly the teacher?

Kelly: I am a third-grade teacher who’s interested in trying new things to help my students. I also am little bit nervous about that because I’m new and I want to do well in my observations.

Steve: When you say, “help your students,” can you describe an outcome or two that you aren’t now getting with your students that you want to get?

Kelly: I would like to see increased engagement to make sure that I’m meeting all of their needs. I have some students who are classified, and I have some students who are on a much more independent level. I feel like at this point I need some guidance in making sure that I’m meeting all of those needs.

Steve: Take the lesson that you’re going to invite me to see and talk to me about what student engagement would look like and sound like in that particular lesson.Pre-Conferencing: A Critical Element of Effective Coaching

Kelly: It’s going to be a math lesson on writing numbers in different forms: standard form, expanded form, and word form. One of the ideas that I want to try, that I’ve been playing with, is the math workshop model. There would be a mini-lesson and then three stations that the students would cycle through three different activities. One would be with me, and then two others would be independent activities.

What I would ideally like to see, is that in the stations when they’re not with me, that they’re engaged in what they’re doing, writing numbers in the different forms.

Steve: Is there any student interaction with other students during the independent stations?

Kelly: In one of the stations, there is the partner activity, a go-fish matching game. Students would have to match the expanded form of the number to the standard form of the number or the word form of the number depending on the cards.

Steve: Talk about what student engagement is there?

Kelly: There would obviously be some talking about math. I would ideally like to hear the words expanded form, word form, and standard form. I would like to hear them using the appropriate ways to say the numbers as well as helping each other if needed. If someone wasn’t sure which form it was, having the partner there to discuss possibilities.

Steve: How do you see that center fitting with your description of some of your students being more independent in their skill level than others?

Kelly: One of the things I had thought about doing was possibly having several sets of cards so that there might be some more challenging numbers for some students. My concern is if other students see those numbers and they might feel badly that they didn’t get that particular deck.

Steve: What are you going to do about that feeling you’re having?Pre-Conferencing: A Critical Element of Effective Coaching

Kelly: That’s a good question. My idea was that I would just hand them the cards. I mean they’re going to be in a similar area but they’re not going to be right next to each other. I have talked with them about how being fair doesn’t mean everybody gets the same activity. It’s everybody getting what they need. I’m hoping that my giving them the cards without them just picking them will alleviate some of that.

Steve: It sounds like you want to run an experiment.

Kelly: Yes, basically.

Steve: Does it make sense if my coaching work is to assist you in assessing the experiment?

Kelly: Yes. I think that is a format I would like to try.

Steve: Since I don’t know your students, I’m wondering if you could get your students to wear a name tag.

Kelly: Okay.

Steve: I would focus on that center and record the students’ names. If two students pair up, I’ll jot down both of their names. Underneath that I’d record the actual language that I heard the students using. If one asks a question, I’d write down the question. If one gave up; I’d record that. If one told the other one the answer, I would record the exact words that I heard.

Kelly: Okay. Yes, I think that would be helpful since I won’t be at that center.

Steve: I’m wondering if the fact that I could do it by name, will allow you to look at the data I’ve collected and be able to read a lot more into understanding the data than I could, not knowing the students.

Kelly:  Yes. I think that would be very helpful.

Steve: Sound doable?

Kelly: It does sound very doable. Thank you.

I enter a pre-conference with a goal of understanding the teacher’s agenda and establishing a focus for the observation. Agenda means I’m looking to understand what Kelly is thinking. She gave that to me rather clearly. What she wants to make happen. What her fears are. What her concerns are. As much as possible, I want to look at the classroom through her eyes.

The second element I want is to establish a focus for the observation. Focus is what differentiates coaching from evaluation. When evaluators come into the classroom, they actually have to avoid getting a focus because it would throw off the accuracy of their evaluation. Evaluators need to pay attention to everything. When the coach comes into the classroom, they’re going to disregard the majority of what’s going on, and zero in on the focus. If you think about this observation, there’s a lot going on in Kelly’s classroom. There is the other center and the students whom Kelly’s teaching, but all my focus is on recording student behaviors (by name) in the one group.

This pre-conference with Kelly took 6 minutes. That’s a very short amount of time to invest in order to maximize the learning results coming from coaching.

You can listen and share this pre-conference in a podcast found here.

The Impact of Knowing and Being Known

I frequently mention the importance of “knowing” in my training and consulting.  Communication increases when people are known to each other.  When a middle school science teacher can’t tell me the name of someone teaching freshman science at the high school, I know that communication about curriculum alignment or student needs is not going to occur.

Trust can be built when staff are known to each other. When teachers have not seen their colleagues work with students and not discussed the desires and commitment they have to their students’ success, it’s extremely rare for high levels of respect and trust to develop.

Teachers cannot create personalized instruction or motivational environments without knowing their students. Highly effective teachers create purposeful opportunities to learn about their students and find ways to let students know they are known.The Impact of Knowing and Being Known

“Kids learn based on what and how we teach, and how much we show we care for them.”

– Carla Santorno, Superintendent of Schools, Tacoma Public Schools 

David Brooks shared in the New York Times article, Students Learn From People They Love, “…what teachers really teach is themselves — their contagious passion for their subjects and students…that children learn from people they love, and that love in this context means willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person.”

Powerful words! They ring of “KNOWING” to me. A teacher can’t communicate “willing the good of” or “offer active care” unless she knows her students.  All teachers know some students and often unconsciously communicate the connections that enhance those students’ learning. Our consciousness needs to be focused on identifying students we don’t know, who may spend an entire day at school not being known and finding no connection. Then creating “knowing.”

I am a very strong proponent for advisories at middle and high schools to have a plan for assuring that students are known. As an advisor of maybe 20 students, hopefully for a few years, I have a responsibility to know those students and to illustrate purposefully to each student that the school responds with caring. In an earlier blog and podcast on Belonging and Relationships, I highlighted how Lake Canyon Elementary School uses a house structure to build student knowing and belonging. A video from Lake Canyon is available here.

The bottom line is this, a defining question for any school or company is:

 What is the quality of the emotional relationships here?

– David Brooks

The need for leaders to know staff and be known is reinforced in an interview, Walt Bettinger of Charles Schwab: You’ve Got to Open Up to Move Up (New York Times).

Bettinger recalls a business professor who gave him a one question final test, “What’s the name of the woman who cleans this building?” He states, And that had a powerful impact. It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the “B” I deserved. Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since. It was just a great reminder of what really matters in life, and that you should never lose sight of people who do the real work.”

Leadership, as identified by Bettinger is different from management, “With leadership, you make a decision every day about whether you choose to follow someone. And you make it in your heart, not your head.”  A great description for me of the difference between planning for teaching vs. planning for learning.

While asking and listening are critical elements of knowing, so is telling (sharing). Bettinger describes that a leader needs to be vulnerable. Sharing of failures being more important than sharing success. David Brooks raised the same point with a story that as a professor at Yale he shared with students a need to cancel his office hours due to a personal problem. That evening he received 15 email notes from students communicating that they were “thinking of him.” He felt that the relationship with that class changed for the rest of the semester from sharing that piece of vulnerability.

Where in your school or classroom leadership are you creating purposeful opportunities to know and to be known? Purposeful planning will increase the likelihood that unplanned opportunities are not overlooked.

Providing the Experiences Students Need a Live Event Example

I was recently working with a leadership team of teachers and administrators from a 6-8 middle school. After a discussion defining the desired student achievement they sought, we explored “what students needed to do” to move closer to the desired achievement. Here is a partial list of what they brainstormed:

-Invest themselves in learning

-Seek and use tutoring services

-Find it “cool” to be successful in school

-Set higher goals

-Be goal focused

-Desire to be successful and believe they can

-Be future/career focused

-Become active in the community

-Join clubs and teams at school

-Get family involved in learning/school

-Have increased self esteem and self respect

During the holiday break, I pulled a book from my “when I get time to read stack” and discovered a middle school teacher who used an awesome live event to give her students almost all the experiences listed above. The book, Ms. Cahill for Congress, tells the story of Tierney Cahill, who as a sixth grade teacher in Reno, Nevada shared with her class during a lesson on the Greeks, “all citizens have the right to run for office.” Her students who believed that you needed to have a million dollars to run quickly offered the dare, “ Well then, why don’t you prove it, Ms. Cahill…”Why don’t you run for office? You’re a fair person, you’re funny, you’d be great.” (page 4)

When Ms. Cahill accepted the dare under the condition that her class would manage the entire campaign, she set in motion a live event that caused two sixth grade classes to learn their required state and district standards plus much more. Her class that year managed her run in the primary which led to a victory and set in motion the task for her next year’s class to manage the race for congress.

Working in committees, students researched the “hows” and “whats” of the campaign. They practiced the skills necessary for answering the campaign phone, which was in their classroom. They had to explain that a math lesson could not be interrupted and the caller should call back at recess or leave a number for Ms. Cahill to call back. They learned the nonverbal skills of “ how to stand and make eye contact” when campaigning door to door”.

Here are two quotes from Tierney Cahill that illustrate the beliefs of teachers that make live events generate learning:

“ …. if they ( the students) actually participate in something that is real and they’re stakeholders because their decisions impact the direction we go, I think the learning is going to be phenomenal.” (pg 41)

“…. I knew that I wouldn’t be the one figuring out what we needed to do. They (the students) would. I would simply be the one asking all the questions. That’s how I teach.”(pg 44)

Ms. Cahill’s greatest teaching may have occurred after she conceded the election to her challenger. If you read the book, let me know what you think.

Writing in the December 15th edition of the Washington Post (Most Textbooks Should Stay on the Shelf), Jay Mathews states:

“It is often a good sign that the textbooks are stacked on a corner bookshelf or window sill, gathering dust.”…” Big books have failed to hold the attention of teenagers leafing through the pages with music blasting in their earbuds and text messages filling their cellphone screens. Facts and ideas, in my experience, are more likely to sink in if introduced in group exercises, exploiting the adolescent urge to belong. Teachers have their classes organize book clubs, recreate the Constitutional Convention, raise animals, write and perform plays, publish online magazines.”

Can you imagine how many real, authentic documents Ms. Cahill’s students read and studied as they planned and executed their campaign? I do believe that her students had many of the experiences necessary for creating great student achievement .It is my hope that 2009 will be a year where many students at all grade levels learn in Live Events.

Stretching to Learn

Stretching ourselves and others as a key component of learning and understanding is addressed by Chip and Dan Heath in their book, The Power of Moments. In the chapter titled, “Stretch for Insights”, they highlight that stretching sparks self-insights. “To stretch is to place ourselves in situations that expose us to the risk of failure. Action leads to insight more than insight leads to action.”Stretching to Learn

As I read this chapter, I made connections with my earlier blog and podcast concerning teachers who were Warm Demanders. Judith Kleinfeld identified these teachers as holding high expectations and building strong relationships. They express warmth, build rapport, and show personal regard earning them the right to demand engagement and effort. Along with high standards they offer emotional support and scaffolding while encouraging productive struggle.

The Heaths explore the terms high standards and assurance taken from the research of David Scott Yeager regarding feedback.  Seventh grade students’ essays received one of two statements randomly assigned by the researchers:

  • I am giving you these comments so that you will have feedback on your paper; or
  • I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them.

Students were given an option to revise and resubmit their work with the possibility of getting a higher grade. Forty percent of the students getting the generic statement redid the paper while 80% of the students getting the encouraging statement resubmitted. In addition, the encouraged group made nearly twice as many corrections on their resubmission than the generic group.

The Heaths label the encouraging statement as a “push to stretch.”

High Standards + Assurance + Direction + Support = Enhanced Self- Insight

– Chip Heath & Dan Heath

As with Kleinfeld’s warm demanders, the Heaths point to the need for more than providing a high standard and teachers’ beliefs. Warm demanders are technically skilled as teachers knowing how to attack a learning goal.

I’m defining the elements of the Heaths’ formula with these thoughts:

High Standards – For me, this is goal setting that increasingly involves the students in shaping the goals. Most teachers have goals that are much broader and deeper than those in the curriculum. Many teachers want students to develop skills in creativity, communication, empathy, empowered learning, etc. Students should know these additional goals.

Assurance – This is the teachers’ belief in the student’s ability and potential. Great teachers exhibit these beliefs when the students are doubting themselves. My important learning as a teacher was that I actually never knew what a student was truly capable of achieving. In that case I best work from a belief that anything can be achieved.

Stretching to Learn

Direction – In my language this is knowing the “student production behaviors.” A skilled teacher knows what the student needs to do that will generate the desired outcome. I can’t teach you how to play a flute or speak another language. I can show you what to do that will cause you to learn.

Support – When teachers add scaffolding, quick action-oriented feedback, approval, and a “hand back up” when a student falls, they are giving support. Building a whole classroom culture where students encourage each other and where “failure” is expected because we are stretching is a great start.

Where does creating stretching fit in our practice as teacher coaches? Chip and Dan Heath see “pushing” as a key role for mentors to play. This role often seems counter-intuitive as we tend to see ourselves as protecting the people we care about from risk as a way of insulating them from failure.

What behaviors do coaches practice that support teachers’ stretching? As an administrator do you know where your staff members are currently stretching? Are your teachers asked to share where they are currently working to achieve a goal that they haven’t previously met?

Here is a two-step process you might consider. After a presentation defining the importance of stretching and Heath’s formula….

  1. Ask the staff to provide feedback to the leadership team regarding its efforts to provide high standards, assurance, direction, and support. This could be done in groups where they create a feedback chart. They can identify actions by the leadership team that are indicators of each item. What behaviors could be added to increase any area. Have your leadership team review the input and select some actions and behaviors for implementation.
  2. Have staff members share their efforts to encourage student stretching. What actions of the formula are present and which ones might need additional attention? Have each teacher select a partner and conduct a peer coaching observation and feedback conference around the specific teacher practice, perhaps noting both teacher behaviors and student reactions.

Good news!

As teachers, mentors, coaches, and administrators implement a plan for stretching others, we stretch ourselves.

Coaching Performance, Development, and Transformation

A posting on the Animas Center for Coaching, What Is Transformational Coaching, caused me to reflect on various coaching strategies that I practice with different clients to reach identified outcomes. In particular, I pondered if my choices of strategy are conscious vs. unconscious.

The Animas Center provides these definitions:

A performance coach’s main intention is to help the client towards agreed outcomes and to achieve this more efficiently and effectively than if the client didn’t work with the coach.

A developmental coach broadens the coaching to explore what learning the client takes from the coaching and the change that takes place. The fundamental intention is to create learning from action.

A transformational coach could be said to work “deeper”. Their focus is on helping the client explore the underlying assumptions, beliefs, values, expectations, personal attitudes that shape their experience of themselves, their world and other people. Of course, this is not an unfocused exploration. It starts with the client’s presenting challenge, issue or aspiration but rather than focusing purely on resolving or achieving this, it seeks to explore what is at the heart of this whilst also enabling, where relevant, the achievement of the objectives.

In an earlier video, I explore looking at coaching approaches along this continuum:

My read is that performance coaching has an alignment with technical coaching. The teacher and coach have identified the teaching skill or strategy chosen to increase student success. The coach’s guidance, modeling and/or feedback assists the teacher in mastering the execution of the practice. Performance coaching is valuable in creating enough teacher’s conscious practice to process through the learning dip.

The initial implementation of a new skill tends to create a decrease in teacher effectiveness. This clumsy, somewhat jerky execution feels uncomfortable to the teacher and often confusing to students as it requires a change in their learning behaviors. Coaches’ encouragement and observations of progress promote the necessary practice repetitions.

I think I’ve experienced developmental coaching when I find the teacher making decisions about actions or reaching insights about teaching and learning from the observational data I collected and the questions I’ve posed. In theses conferences an idea of “what to do” emerges from the conversation. I am always shocked when the teacher wants to give credit for the idea to the coach. Often when this occurs in a modeling activity during training, participants comment about my skill in getting the teacher to reach the “solution” I had in mind. They are surprised to learn that I had no idea or plan in mind.

Coaching Performance, Development, and Transformation

As I read more on transformational coaching, I am connecting with my practice of seeking an understanding of the beliefs and values underlying a teacher’s actions and decisions. I keep in mind and repeat in trainings that I want to know what the teacher thinks, before I share my thinking. As a starter I frequently probe the teacher’s thoughts on district curriculum, program or practices.

I note that ‘morning meeting’ has been implemented school-wide. Is that a process you would have in place even if it were not a school-wide program? Why?

How has the district’s implementation of PBL impacted your teaching?

Writing in Why Teachers Might Benefit from Transformational Coaching, Elena Aguilar identifies three essential domains of transformational coaching:

  • Explore the individual’s beliefs, behaviors, and being. Non-judgmental questioning and listening are critical.
  • Address the institutions and systems in which the client works. Teachers are encouraged to think through desired changes in relationship to other school personnel. Are others part of the solution thus impacting a greater student population?
  • Consider the broader educational and social system in which we live. What socioeconomic and political issues impact students and schools?

Aguilar reinforces that to be an effective coach I need to be engaged in my own transformation. That is challenging and exciting!

Roles that Coaches Play

Joellen Killion and Cindy Harrison have produced a book for the National Staff Development Council titled, Taking the Lead: New Roles for Teachers and School-based Coaches. After exploring why coaching is important to student achievement, they dedicate a chapter to each of the following roles that school-based coaches can play:

Resource Provider

Data Coach

Instructional Specialist

Curriculum Specialist

Classroom Supporter

Learning Facilitator


School Leader

Catalyst for Change


I have had the opportunity this year, along with my colleagues, Steve Sassaman and Mark Thompson, to work with the instructional coaches in the Salem Keizer School District in Salem, Oregon.

At Houck Middle School, I met and worked with Instructional Coach, Shanda Brown. I was told that Shanda had a middle school team that found great value in working with a coach. The team agreed to meet with me over lunch and shared how they work. I was impressed with their “teamness”. One neat example was that the Social Studies teacher had agreed to assume responsibility for one of the writing standards in the English curriculum.

I asked the team if they would be willing to create a list of the benefits they gained from working closely with an instructional coach. Also, what did they feel it cost them.

They provided me the following:

Instructional Coach Payoffs/Costs

Synergy Team 2007-08

As evidenced by anecdotal notes re: Shanda Brown, Instructional Coach

Shanda’s List:


Was an additional team teacher, working alongside all members of the team.

She knew all the kids. This not only assisted us in the classroom, but also in hall supervision/lunch supervision/after-school supervision; i.e. she could catch kids who “forgot” after-school study hall at the crosswalk!

Tracked students of concern.

Facilitated student calls home. Made calls home on behalf of the team when we were in class and unable to get to the phone.

Liaison to administrative staff in office regarding discipline or other issues.

Support for rookie teacher on the team; i.e. classroom management, teaching strategies, etc.

Modeled lessons for veteran teachers, which provided a chance for self-reflection on our current practices as compared to the strategies she used with our classes.

Observed lessons for all teachers, focusing on whatever aspect(s) we asked her to observe, and wrote anecdotal accounts, which provided a chance for low-key self-evaluation. Made suggestions for improvements. Answered teacher questions such as, “What’s going on behind my back when kids are working in groups?!” so that we could gain awareness of potential problem situations and adjust our practices accordingly.

Did research on unit materials, literacy materials, and supplementary math materials. Obtained materials when requested.

Did action research as requested, following the most difficult class from class to class and providing anecdotal notes for teachers which were valuable in self-reflection on classroom strategies and procedures. Pointed out “holes” / resources the team had that we could make better use of. (effort poster)

Visited a LA arts class in Albany and shared her observations at a team meeting, which prompted reflection on the way we were doing team vocabulary, followed by a brainstorming session on making it more useful and relative to test-taking skills. Also gave us tips for new strategies/materials that would relate to building reading fluency.

Helped track kids for after-school mandatory study hall.

Helped facilitate curriculum projects on in-service days.

Was a resource for subs in our classrooms. Knew all our procedures and practices, so she could give them specific assistance.


We had to be willing to be transparent and have another instructor in the room at any given time. She saw the good, the bad, and the ugly!

We had to develop a trust relationship, in that she was a part of the team and not there to evaluate us in any way.

We had to release control in our classrooms when she was modeling lessons.

We had to be willing to accept constructive criticism/suggestions without allowing ego to get in the way. Having developed the trust relationship, we knew she had our best interest and the kids’ best interest in mind.

We had to be interested in self-reflection and bettering our practices.

We had to remember to include her in all team communications.

We had to make time for conversations following observations, etc.

Take a moment and compare the list of Shanda’s work with the NSDC roles.

Guidelines for Administering Feedback for Students and Teachers

Annie Murphy Paul, in the article Four Ways to Give Good Feedback, states:

“When effectively administered, feedback is a powerful way to build knowledge and skills, increase skills, increase motivation, and develop reflective habits of mind in students and employees. Too often, however, the feedback we give (and get) is ineffectual or even counterproductive.”

Guidelines for Administering Feedback for Students and Teachers

She provides four guidelines which I have identified below along with my thoughts on the connections I see for teachers use with students and for those coaching teachers.

#1 – Supply information about what the learner is doing, rather than simply praise or criticism.

#2 – Orient feedback around goals.

Paul cites John Hattie and Helen Timperly in The Power of Feedback:

Feedback is most effective when it provides information on exactly what the learner is doing right, and on what he or she is doing differently (and more successfully) than in previous attempts. Three questions that feedback can help answer: (1) “Where am I going?” (That is: What is my goal?); (2) “How am I going?” (That is: What progress is being made toward my goal?); and lastly, (3) “Where to next?” (That is: What actions must be taken to make further progress?).

  • Teachers: I’ve become increasingly convinced that most classrooms need clearer goals for students to understand why their effort is needed and worth the cost that effort requires. While many classrooms post learning objectives or “I can” statements, I sense they are frequently unclear or unimportant to the learners. I find students setting goals to raise their scores, yet they can’t describe what the work/product would look like that would earn the desired score. I believe clearer goals drive more specific feedback from teachers and perhaps cause students to question the feedback they receive assisting the teacher in sharpening the helpfulness of the feedback.
  • Coaches: A key element of coaching pre-conferences should be clarifying of the goal the teacher is looking to reach. The observation can produce feedback on current student behaviors and their alignment with the teachers’ desired learning outcomes. Feedback can also inform the teacher on his/her actions and their impact on students. This feedback might provide information of which the teacher was unaware. Often teachers’ initial changes are not evident in positive student responses. The coach’s feedback is vital here as reinforcement to the teacher. A coach catching and sharing the first glimpses of desired change in students supports the teacher’s effort.

#3 – Take care in how you present feedback.

Paul cites Edward Deci, who identified several conditions under which feedback may actually reduce learners’ motivation:

When learners sense that their performance is being too closely monitored, for example, they may disengage from learning out of feelings of nervousness or self-consciousness.

Learners can interpret feedback as an attempt to control them.

Feedback can reduce learners’ engagement if it creates an uncomfortable sense of competition.

Guidelines for Administering Feedback for Students and Teachers

Teachers: I believe the more the student “owns” the goal the less negative impact these concerns pose. As schools we have been guilty of controlling with feedback more than empowering. Grades and points often are used to give feedback on how closely the student’s behavior aligns with the teachers’ desired management rather than the student’s goal. I often struggle with the best ways to provide feedback during group work as I find my observing presence can stifle the conversations of the students. Students providing growth-oriented feedback to each other can ease some of the sense of competition. Connecting individual goals to team goals is a strategy I’ve seen teachers use to counter competition.

Coaches: As I read Paul’s review of Deci’s concerns, I thought about teachers’ comments concerning “walkthroughs”. While many administrators describe them as coaching, teachers often sense them as supervision. Feedback to control me more than to support me.” I’ve seen that view change when teachers are involved in creating a walkthrough focus with their particular goals in mind. The math department wants observers to note student voice in math classrooms or the third-grade teachers want input on students’ independent reading while the teacher has guided groups. Peer coaching among PLC members can provide non-threatening feedback.

#4 – Use feedback to build metacognitive skills.

The ultimate goal of feedback, in other words, should be to teach learners how to give feedback to themselves.

Teachers: As students have understanding and practice with rubrics they develop the ability to provide their own feedback. The opportunity to request feedback and the ability to assess one’s own work builds empowerment.

Coaches: Quality coaching tends to extend beyond the actual time spent with a coach. A coach’s questions and feedback tend to be pondered during the planning, execution, and reflection of lessons for days and even weeks afterwards.

Teacher Goals and Shared Student Achievement Outcomes

Using a backwards planning process reinforces that teachers develop their decisions/plans by beginning with the identification of student learning outcome goals. Teachers have a reason to work collaboratively with their colleagues when they are focused on shared desired student outcomes. Those shared outcomes create teams. Teachers are encouraged to be vulnerable and growth focused with their coach when the coach “signs on” to assisting the teacher in reaching learning goals she has set.

With school, PLC, or teacher goals at hand I use the following considerations to support educators in deciding what actions they will take:

First consideration: Is the goal described as a student achievement outcome?

PLC Goal: Develop clear learning goals with assessments using student friendly rubrics. I read this goal as a strategy that this PLC wants to execute. Questioning the PLC members, I would look to identify how they envisioned clear learning goals with student friendly rubrics impacting student learning behaviors and student learning outcomes. Knowing what changes they wanted in learning outcomes leads to identifying what changes are needed in student learning production behaviors. As teachers implement the learning goals and assessments, they can immediately look for changes in what students are doing. These changes provide early feedback on the effectiveness of the learning rubrics. Observing how students work with the rubrics is a natural focus for coaching observations.

Teacher Goals and Shared Student Achievement OutcomesPLC Goal: 100% of students will self-assess using the rubric criteria established in each unit.

This PLC’s goal is focused on a change in student learning behaviors. My questions would first center on what changes the teachers felt would be observable in students if the students self-assessed with the rubrics. How do they see those student changes impacting student learning outcomes? At this point the team should be identifying how teachers should design the rubrics (perhaps engaging the students in the design), teach and coach students on self-assessing, and assess impact of the rubric. Observations of students using the rubrics is a natural focus for coaching. The coaches’ observations can assist the PLC in gathering early evidence of the impact of their work.

Teacher Goal: 90% of students will be able to solve two-step word problems, representing the students’ thinking with a visual representation.

Since the teacher’s goal describes a student learning outcome, my initial questions would identify the challenges within this goal. Who are the 90% that the teacher plans to meet this criterion? Are there any students who can already meet the standard? Which students should rather easily meet the standard? Which of the 90% will be most challenged by the standard? If any have already met the standard, what goal does the teacher have for them? What goal does the teacher have for the 10% who should make progress but are unlikely to meet the goal? With those goals now defined, the teacher can identify what the student learning production behaviors are for each group. What is most important for each group to be doing and experiencing:

  • Should rather easily meet
  • Most challenged by the standard and expected to meet
  • Already achieved the standard
  • 10% progressing but not meeting the standard

A coach observing in this teacher’s classroom could be noting the student learning behaviors of individual students or groups of students to assist the teacher in identifying if her teacher behaviors/actions are generating the desired student behaviors.

The breaking out of student groups can assist the teacher in believing that her goal is doable. In Switch, Dan and Chip Heath identify the value of people seeing that they are already on the way to reaching their goal (page 126). Heaths cite an example of a car wash promotion where one group of customers was given a card to record eight car washes which would lead to a free carwash. Another group was given a card that required 10 car washes to receive a free one but two of the spaces were already stamped. Both groups needed eight washes to receive a free wash. More of the second group who saw that they were already 20% toward the goal earned the free wash and they earned it faster. “People find it more motivating to be partly finished with a longer journey than to be at the starting gate of a shorter one.”

My coaching approach aligns with the Heaths’ reference (page 145) to Dan Allen’s work in Getting Things Done. Allen states that the key question to ask is, “What’s the next action?” When we work backwards from learning outcome goals to needed student production behaviors, we are ready to focus on what a teacher has control over, “What action will I take?” I find that teachers value leaving a coaching session with a decision of what they will do next. While we can’t be sure of the outcome, we can be confident that the teacher can take the action she decided upon.

Engaging Students for Maximum Learning

Consider times that you have seen students engaged in what you would label as deep quality learning. Recall the last time that you were engaged in deep quality learning for yourself. How many of the following quality learning items would you identify as being present?

  • Depth
  • Complexity
  • Detail
  • Ownership / Pride
  • Constant Improvement
  • Originality / Creativity
  • Integration

Depth, Complexity, Detail

Quality learning engages students in digging deep into a concept or question. Quality learning is unlikely to occur during a teacher’s “coverage” of a unit or standard unless a student pushes beyond the class coverage activity. With deep learning, students work in the complexity of the content early in the process and the key learning content emerges as they wrestle with questions. When teachers are pressed to cover material, students tend to receive the content elements already laid out for them. Often teachers want to get to complexity later but “run out of time” or lose student engagement before getting to the application activity. It can be productive to open a study with the complexity.

Ownership, Pride

Students illustrating pride and ownership of learning are indicating that they are engaged in deep quality learning. I frequently observe students in small groups who are successful in unlocking a learning challenge wanting to run to other groups and share their “discovery.” While the teacher is anxious to stop them from spoiling the activity for others, their desire to share indicates positive engagement. When I was a first-grade teacher, I often assessed the effectiveness of my social studies and science instruction by asking parents at conference time what they had heard about our units. I knew I had created the desired learning and engagement when my students had repeated science experiments at home or retold historical stories.  We all have a desire to pass on our learning and insights.

“When students are interested, engaged, and working well with peers, they are likely to operate at a greater depth of learning and make progress that is permanent in developing skills for the future.”

– Sparking Student Engagement

Constant Improvement

When teachers have taken students deep into learning you’ll sometimes hear a teacher tell students they need to stop. The teacher has to move on. The students know that with more time they could find another solution or add another element to their project. Each successful outcome motivates them to consider another possibility. In many ways the ultimate learning outcome at the end of a unit of study is for students to have more questions that they want to answer rather than the amount of knowledge or skills gained in the study.

Originality and Creativity

When students are engaged in quality learning, they make connections with previous knowledge and experiences and generate new ideas and solutions. The responses need not be new to the world but are insights the student reaches.  A favorite example for me was observing a preschool student who was busy matching plastic upper and lowercase letters. He suddenly shouted out a discovery, “A little r isn’t a little R but a little s is a little S”.

The Buck Institute identifies these behaviors as indicators of students’ creative practice:

  • Uses idea-generating techniques to develop several original ideas for product(s)
  • Carefully evaluates the quality of ideas and selects the best one to shape into a product
  • Asks new questions, takes different perspectives to elaborate and improve on the selected idea
  • Uses ingenuity and imagination, going outside conventional boundaries, when shaping ideas into a product
  • Seeks out and uses feedback and critique to revise product to better meet the needs of the intended audience


Often when integration of various content is discussed, it is explored as the teacher’s responsibility to plan for the connections. When students go deeper into the content in any area, they can discover connections. If you study history deep and wide, you will “run into” music and the arts. A deep study of geography will unearth connections to history, literature, science, etc. Providing time and sparking interest leading to depth can create additional learning from integration.

Focusing on creating opportunities for students to explore deeply, teachers can increase the quality of learning. A study from The Education Trust, Motivation and Engagement in Student Assignments shares that teachers bring relevancy to assignments when they:

  • Teach rigorous content using themes across disciplines, cultures, and generations; consider essential questions; and explore universal understandings.
  • Use real-world materials and events to explore salient topics.
  • Connect with the values, interests, and goals of their students.

Strategies to increase students’ engagement in quality learning can be found in Engaging 21st Century Learners to Promote Student Interaction Micro-credential. 

Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud Podcast Turns One!

Ten years ago I made the commitment to blog every week (50 blogs a year). I was told that blogging was a great way to learn because it creates reflection and research which leads to insight; 500 blogs later, that turns out to be true.

Last summer I embarked upon the world of podcasting and created the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Producing the podcasts has generated an enhanced learning experiences for my listeners and for myself.

Having educators join me on the podcast has been especially rewarding. Here are a few of my favorites from the past year:

  • A conversation with Jim Knight, an author and Senior Partner of Instructional Coaching Group, where we discussed coaching and education.
  • A conversation with JoEllen Killion and Cindy Harrison, where views on coaching were shared are great examples of extending my thinking.
  • The interview with Karen Crouse, author of Norwich which is about a Vermont town that produced 11 Olympians but not in the way that you’d think!
  • Joe Griffith and his students, who did a simulation and live event about homelessness were very insightful.

When I ask followers of my blog or podcast why they engage with Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud, they share that gaining a specific “strategy or skill to implement” is a top reason they return week after week. Choosing Your Words While Coaching and Tapping Student Effort are good examples of podcasts where you can take something concrete away and use it the very next day.

As I reflect upon the year, here are a few interesting facts and figures:

  • 45 Episodes Recorded
  • 15 Interviews
  • 10,380 Downloads and growing!
  • 4,356 downloads just in the last 3 months

Top 5 Most Downloaded Episodes (July 2017 – July 2018)

  1. A Conversation with Jim Knight
  2. Choosing Your Words While Coaching
  3. Taking The Lead: New Roles for Teachers & School Based Coaches
  4. Multi-Year Teacher Collaboration
  5. Guiding Learning From the Complex to the Pattern

The Future of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud Podcast.

I am both humbled and gracious to all of my listeners. I truly hope that I instill new ways of thinking to help you on your personal journey toward educational excellence. I’m always open to your questions or ideas for future podcasts or interviews. Please leave comments or email [email protected] with your ideas. Onward and upward my friends!