Coaching Teachers When One Thinks Essay

Pages: 7 (2411 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Leadership

Coaching Teachers

When one thinks of a teacher, one generally thinks of someone who is an expert in their subject matter and who, having learned what they need to know, is able to pass that information along to others. What people sometimes tend to forget is that teachers are human beings with their own needs and that teaching is, in and of itself, a learned skill. It is not enough to be an expert in one's field; one also needs to be an expert in education to be an excellent teacher. Unfortunately, this part of the teaching process has long been ignored by those in education. Teachers were considered qualified based on their mastery of the subjects that they taught, and little attention was paid to their actual teaching skills. Moreover, because schools were organized in a very isolating manner, teachers had few opportunities to interact with other professionals in a way that could provide feedback for their jobs. In more recent times, this trend has been changing, and many school districts and/or individual schools are making an effort to make teaching a more collaborative enterprise and to provide more actual structure and mentoring to teachers. In these districts, gone are the days of short-term student teaching assignments, after which a teacher is expected to handle teaching problems without having an adult, peer support system in place. Instead, these schools or districts establish mentoring or coaching units, in which a teacher can get peer support for teaching ideas or problems. The video describing the learning environment at Souhegan High School in Amherst, New Hampshire, explains how one high school has successfully implemented such a program.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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For years, teacher development was imposed by the administration and teachers had little input on what staff development involved. As a result, this development may or may not meet the professional development needs of teachers, and goes against just about everything that forms the foundation of good professional development for teachers. Good teacher development programs are: (1) grounded in inquiry and reflection; (2) participant-driven; (3) collaborative; (4) sustained, ongoing, and intensive; (5) supported by modeling, coaching, and collective problem-solving; (6) going to engage teachers in concrete tasks and reflection illuminating the process of learning and development; and (7) connected to other aspects of change (Neufeld and Roper, 2003). The reality is that while there are some areas where big-group-based professional development may be helpful, such as when a district or school is introducing new guidelines or protocols, this large-group approach to professional development has frequently failed to meet teachers' most basic needs. In order to improve teachers' skills, they need "professional development that is closely and explicitly tied to teachers' ongoing work" (Neufeld and Roper, 2003). Coaching and mentoring, in which teachers help provide ongoing professional education and development to their peers, are ways to closely and explicitly tie professional development to a teacher's ongoing work.

While the benefits of coaching or mentoring may seem intuitive, there is more than intuition to suggest they are effective ways of helping teachers perform better. According to John Holloway, "assigning experienced teachers to guide and support novice teachers provides valuable professional development for both new and veteran teachers" (2001). Holloway bases this opinion on several factors. First, he cites a study suggesting that new teachers benefit from the reflective activities and professional conversations they have in mentoring relationships (Holloway, 2001). He cites another study suggesting that "well-designed mentoring programs can also lower the attrition rates of new teachers" (Holloway, 2001). This seems to be particularly relevant when teachers are given more challenging work. For example, a mentoring program seemed to improve stay-rates for overall teachers by 13%, but stay-rates for special education teachers by 20% (Holloway, 2001). The fact that mentoring can dramatically impact stay-rates is important; currently, almost 50% of new teachers move on to a different career in five years (Saffold, 2003). The fact that mentoring can help retention rates should really come as no surprise given that both protegees and mentors seem very supportive of the mentoring process. In fact, experienced teachers seem to be even more enthusiastic about mentoring than the novice teachers, revealing the fact that mentoring can contribute to the professional development of the mentors and the mentees. "The experienced teachers were particularly enthusiastic because they believed that mentoring allowed them to help others, improve themselves, receive respect, develop collegiality, and profit from the novice teachers' fresh ideas and energy" (Holloway, 2001).

Felicia Saffold examined a teacher mentoring program to see if mentoring was successful, and, if so, what characteristics lead to a successful mentoring program. She examined the Dorothy Danforth Compton Fellowship Program, which was a structured, year-long teacher education and mentoring program, focusing on the needs of mid-career changers who had switched to teaching. The mentors in the program were experienced teachers who could offer emotional support, suggest ways to manage the classroom, assist the new teachers with curriculum planning, guide the teachers towards educational materials, help assess the new teachers' teaching styles, team teach, model instructional strategies, engage in problem solving, and help the new teachers meet state standards while dealing with individual student needs (Saffold, 2003). The mentors in the program were experienced teachers hired specifically and full-time to mentor the novice teachers, so that the mentors did not have their own teaching duties at the time of the study. Moreover, because the mentoring program was aimed at helping teachers in urban schools, the mentors all had experience with the cultural backgrounds of the students being taught. What these mentors did was to "help their mentees go beyond the traditional textbook curricula" (Saffold, 2003).

The program at Souhegan high is an interesting one that provides the benefits of mentoring and coaching, though it is not what one would label a traditional mentoring program. Teachers are not paired with a specific mentor, but instead work in collaborative groups, where several teachers can give feedback to another teacher about ongoing teaching problems. The video did not make it clear whether the groups mentored issues for all of the teachers in the group, or whether the group was established to provide assistance for a particular teacher. In the video, a single teacher was being mentored by the three members of her group, but whether that is the total structure of the group, or simply the experience that was recorded on video, is not something that was really explained, though the impression given was that the group existed to help all of its members. However, regardless of whether a single teacher is helped by a group or multiple teachers helped by a group, the benefits of such a group are clear.

It is difficult to describe how the group process assisted the teacher without getting into details of the problems that the teacher was encountering in the classroom. This particular teacher was confronted with difficulties in teaching her math and science classes. For her chemistry class, she had students working as lab partners, able to pick from a variety of experiments and document them. She was wondering whether or not taking a different approach to the project would have a major impact on student success or failure. She also discussed problems she encountered in teaching math, expressing her belief that her students had difficulty expressing themselves in written terms. She described wanting students to use an essay-like proof to explain their reasoning in their math in order to stimulate them to think about the process that they used to get their answers (See generally, A community of learners, 1998).

After allowing her to explain the issues that she was having, the group then went into a structured manner of helping her deal with the issues. One interesting aspect of the group's approach was that the teacher was prevented from talking when the other teachers were giving her advice, except if answering a direct question from the group. She had been given an opportunity to present the issue to the other teachers, and this was their opportunity to give her feedback. When the video first explained that the teacher would not be allowed to speak while receiving feedback, it actually seemed somewhat draconian. After all, they were discussing her teaching methods and plans; to forbid her to speak seemed very dismissive of her. However, after watching the process unfold, one comes away with a different impression. First, denying her the right to speak is only draconian if the other people are attacking her, and the group functioned in a very supportive non-attacking manner. However, while the group was supportive, it did have some interesting points to bring up to the teacher. First, it questioned whether the use of the same lab partner throughout the school year was the best way to promote the type of creativity in labwork that the teacher seemed to be seeking. This was a novel idea for the teacher. Second, the group suggested that the students' problems articulating their reasoning process may have had a root in the fact… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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