“If it is to be, it is up to me”: Respecting Choice

This is the second of my personal reflections based on Jim Knight’s ‘Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction’. Jim outlines seven principles that frame the work of partnership instructional coaching, which are:

  1. Recognising equality
  2. Respecting choice
  3. Encouraging voice
  4. Engaging in dialogue
  5. Encouraging reflection
  6. Enacting praxis
  7. Experiencing reciprocity

Today’s thought is about Respecting choice: Teachers should have choice regarding what and how they learn’.

One of the things I have been wrestling personally about myself as a developing coach, is to what extent are the teachers who I am working with reflecting upon and naming their own next steps for learning. If it is truly a partnership approach, my actions and words must begin from a perspective that each person in the partnership is equal and that knowledge can be co-constructed through dialogue.

So has choice looked like in the context of my role at St Luke’s?

In prepping to work with teachers at the beginning of the term, staff had the opportunity to reflect on an area of their practice that they felt as though needed developing. For some, this looked like developing mathematical tasks that was both challenging and open. For others, it was more about how to launch an investigation without “talking the children out of their curiosity”. Whatever their self-identified need was, my next step was meeting with staff individually or in small groups during planning time to unpack the why behind their goal. More often than not, it was an area that I had also identified.  Through collaborative discussion, we named:

  • look fors;
  • what evidence we may collect to determine success;
  • what time will there be for modelling and observation; and finally
  • when will we reflect on the process to determine our next steps.

At the first instance, choice was provided. The path forward was shaped together and co-constructed to honour the professionalism that is inherent in our Foundations staff. Without the choice the professionalism is bypassed and there could be a breakdown in the ownership of the goal, process and consequently lower student learning outcomes.

This term has been effectively my first coaching rodeo, or at the very least, the first where I have strategically thought about the process of coaching. These posts may seem like fragmented ramblings where I am trying to make sense of the duty, calling and honour it is to lead staff in such a manner, but it just seems so morally correct to begin from the platform of relationship in leadership.

Have you worked with someone who has operated from a platform of relationship where choice and equality were pillars in the relationship? How did it feel?

Conversely, what about times where choice has been withheld or taken away? What did it feel like?

 

 

 

I am first a teacher

There were many things that I needed to have certain in my mind for me to be successful in the role of Numeracy Instructional Leader- K-4. I knew that I could always be more sharp in my content knowledge, and I had recently developed an interest in common misconceptions in early years learners.

I had heard the term ‘learning coach’ before. I had heard the term ‘instructional leader before’. In reflection, I probably had been doing elements of these roles in previous leadership positions. But now I was officially an instructional leader. My mind boggled with questions and wonderings…

  • What does it mean to be a coach or IL?
  • What type of IL will I be? A good one? Will I know if I am not very good?
  • What if people won’t work with me?
  • How do I listen better?
  • Where do I start when working with teachers?
  • What if I don’t have an answer to questions?
  • How do I have tricky conversations with people?

Then by happenstance, I began following someone called Jim Knight on Twitter. I followed some chats through the hashtags #educoach #instructionalcoaching, and there was a great buzz about Jim’s works, and in particular a text authored by Jim Knight. I ordered it, and read it over the duration of the Easter holidays. The book is titled,  Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction (2007). 

Knight, J., 2007. Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction. SAGE Publications.

In order to understand my role as a leader and a coach, I was looking for something to have as a theoretical platform in my new position at St Luke’s. One of the opening chapters called ‘What does coaching look like?’, Jim features a quote from Devona Dunekack, an instructional coach in the USA.

“I am first a teacher. My job hasn’t changed, but my audience has. Now I teach teachers to use strategies and routines. My job is to still impact kids, but now I do it by helping teachers be as focused and effective as they can be” (p.19)

I . AM . FIRST . A . TEACHER

There it was. Words that I wanted to still be told, to hear and believe. I had spent 10 years learning to teach children, with the last 3-4 being the most influential years of my career thus far. Upon reading those words, the Instructional Leader shirt began to feel a bit less uncomfortable and more like one that I can really see myself wearing.

Jim’s book details the essential skills required to be a coach, and while not definitive, they do give me a great starting point. As a part of this starting point, I will be beginning a series of reflective posts in response to one of the main themes in the book- The Partnership Philosophy. This philosophy represents seven principles underpinning instructional coaching.  The principles which “we base our actions on have very practical implications” (p.38). and help to provide “a conceptual language” (p.40) to frame the work of coaching. These principles are:

  1. Recognising equality
  2. Respecting choice
  3. Encouraging voice
  4. Engaging in dialogue
  5. Encouraging reflection
  6. Enacting praxis
  7. Experiencing reciprocity

My thoughts today will focus on the first principle: recognising equality.

Recognising equality

In this section, leaders and teachers are equal partners in the work they do to drive student learning. Without believing that teachers are professionals who have valid and equal thoughts, ideas and opinions, and instructional leader cannot be in ‘partnership’ with their colleague. The playing field is uneven, heavily skewed towards a relationship where the leader is all-knowing and the teacher is awaiting the one-way, controlled flow of information from the coach. This relationship (if it can be called this), has been a professional learning model adopted the world over, and unsurprisingly hasn’t always succeeded. Furthermore, CEDP has created a document entitled Transformation Journey where it acknowledges that teachers and leaders are learners, affirming this with the words, “Each school is a learning community and a community of learners”.

My reflection is that knowledge can be shared and co-created when partners recognise the equality in the relationship. Where one may offer mathematical content knowledge, the other may offer the intricacies of dynamics amongst students in this class. Together, through the shared knowledge, new understandings are created. One was not more important than the other, and each needed each other.

Remembering that I am first a teacher will ground me in the understanding that I can learn from my colleagues, as much or if not more, as they may learn from me.

Knight, J., 2007. Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction. SAGE Publications.