Removing the Obstacles to Professional Growth in Teacher Development

Insight – the ability to step back, reflect, and to think about what works and doesn’t work in all we’re doing – is crucial if we are going to make a genuine difference in the lives of our students.  Yet, despite the substantive training afforded to those entering the profession, little is done to prepare teachers to analyze their practices, and to use, examine and interpret student data in ways that ensure maximum classroom effectiveness.  As a result of this anomaly, no area is frankly more appropriate for coaches to intervene.  Increasing our advisee’s awareness – about their craft and about their effect upon students – can be immensely satisfying.  Further, it raises inquiry and commitment, and tends to open doors that remain frequently closed and unnoticed during rudimentary teaching practices and methods courses.

So how do we do it?  How do we open doors for those we coach, and how do we recognize obstacles when they arise?  Here are some preliminaries you might consider:

  • Breaking Through Obstacles That Interfere with Teacher Development
  1. Continuously examining and refining what to look and listen for in a teacher’s classroom – to ensure that our skills as advisors are never limited or antiquated.  Not fully understanding what one is looking for in an observation radically undermines trust in our purpose.
  2. Avoiding even the appearance of condescension while giving feedback and managing interactions with teachers.
  3. Recognizing strengths at the outset, and blending areas of concern with areas of proficiency during discussions.
  4. Maintaining confidentiality.  Always – unless health and safety are at risk.
  • Additional Fundamentals:
  1. Scheduling teachers to provide appropriate reflection time with colleagues  including strategically arranged (and used) common planning time.
  2. Providing master-teachers who can demonstrate model lessons for teacher observations
  3. Maintaining focus on the specific behaviors that are enhancing or undermining the teacher’s work.
  4. Providing release time for the teacher to actually go and observe teaching practices in other schools and classrooms (with explicit purposes pre-agreed upon).
  5. Making frequent visits to the teacher’s classroom for variety of purposes (e.g., walk-throughs, observations and data collection, for personally modeling lessons if appropriate).
  6. Creating and maintaining a work environment in which it is safe to occasionally fail as one explores different options on the path towards improvement.

We were all novices at one time, and we all continue to be novices in some areas of our work.  Interestingly, when the founder and CEO of a Fortune 500 company was recently asked to identify whether there was one thing to which he felt he could attribute his organization’s successes, he responded – without hesitation – “our failures.”  His company had come close to filing for bankruptcy protection on three separate occasions as the company was growing at a remarkable pace; there were times decisions were made that had served the organization badly.  But painful – and inordinately stressful – periods during which the mistakes were recognized for what they ultimately were, enabled him – with his team – to change strategies and grow more resilient and successful.  That old adage “that which does not kill one only make one stronger” has some truth to it – even in our work as coaches.

What has become clear in the research is this: occasionally, coaches risk unintentionally reinforcing an individual’s internalized obstacles to professional growth.

  • Coaching Traps to Avoid
  1. A tendency to teach or prescribe (too quickly)
  2. The tendency to avoid telling difficult truths.
  3. The habit of seeing ourselves in the teachers we are coaching and projecting what we would do in their circumstance
  4. The tendency to follow predictable lines of inquiry or approaches in coaching that allow us to feel comfortable.
  5. The need to feel competent or to establish a perception of competence (“as a coach”)
  6. The desire to engage in the coaching relationship as a means to elevate one’s own status
  7. Certain emotional triggers that tend to take us into impatience, judgment, sadness, or other detrimental emotional states
  8. The habit of mistaking our advisee’s success (or lack of it) with our own

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