This is a continuation of last month’s post on the cascade approach.
Sundari is a 5th grade teacher in a primary school in East Java, Indonesia. Like Ismail, whose professional development (PD) experience was discussed last month, Sundari also attended a computer-based “training”—but not in a training center, rather in her school.
In this workshop, the use of computers was far more modest than Ismail experienced—Sundari learned to use one computer to model for students how to analyze a short story. The instructor told the teachers that she was their “coach.” Sundari was not really sure what this meant, but over the next several months, her “coach,” Ibu Lia, began coming to Sundari’s school three times a week. “I’m here to help you use the computer and adapt this lesson to your classroom.”
The coach helped Sundari plan a lesson in which her students used the school’s one laptop to analyze a short story. Together Sundari and her coach co-taught the lesson so Sundari could practice using technology to support learner-centered instruction. The coach then helped Sundari prepare to do the lesson alone. She videotaped the lesson and together with Sundari analyzed the instruction and discussed areas for improvement. The coach is really helpful…
For many who read last month’s post, the outcome of Ismail’s PD experience was a familiar one. But we may be less familiar with how Sundari’s tale ends. That’s because in most teacher professional development programs in developing-country contexts, the kind of support Sundari received is virtually non-existent. Her story is so rare as to be considered fiction.
But it is real. Sundari’s coach left the school after six months, but because of the support and skills Sundari had received, she is still using ICTs to promote learner-centered instruction in math, social studies and science – even four years later.
Sundari was part of a coaching program (1) developed by the Education Development Center (EDC). It was designed, in part, to counteract the poor implementation rates associated with the cascade approach. Launched in 2010 with 300 teachers and 25 coaches, this program helped teachers implement four one-computer learner-centered activities in their classrooms.
An ace in the role
Without a highly skilled coach, coaching can hurt, not help, teacher performance and student learning. Therefore, we carefully recruited and developed our own coaches. While these recruits had been trainers, teachers and/or supervised teachers, they had never actually coached teachers, so we provided them with three weeks of face-to-face instruction on coaching, a five-month intensive online coaching course, and weekly supervision, mentoring and support. Week-by-week, the coaches learned a particular skill online, and with a coaching partner, spent 3-4 days in a school coaching teachers. Formal certification as a coach was based on successful completion of all course requirements, a coaching portfolio, and formal evaluations from their mentor, principal and teachers.
It’s not the training…
The bottom line of any professional development is transfer of learning “from the training room to the classroom”. Ninety-eight percent of the teachers in the coaching program implemented at least one one-computer activity. How did this compare to teachers in our cascade approach? We never actually kept track (like most organizations), so I once asked a group of Indonesian principals if the implementation rate of our cascade approach might approach 20%. The principals laughed... “You are very generous,” said one.
…It’s the follow-up (3)
I don’t highlight this coaching program because it was an EDC project. Rather, I do so because it is further evidence that coaching, when done well, works. Teachers who receive quality coaching “practice new skills and strategies more frequently and apply them more appropriately than teachers who participate in workshops with no coaching” (Showers & Joyce, 1996:14)—on average an estimated differential of 80% versus 10% (Ibid). Students whose teachers receive intensive coaching show consistent gains in learning outcomes (Allen, Pianta, Gregory, Mikami & Lun, 2011). In my own work as a school-based coach in several US school districts, I saw first-hand how struggling teachers flourished with the support of a caring and competent coach—and how their students flourished too.
We know quite a bit about workshops. We know that teachers who participate most frequently in workshops or trainings often have more experience and expertise than those who don’t participate (OECD, 2008). Conversely, those who participate least in workshops are “at-risk” teachers—new teachers, unqualified teachers, teachers teaching out of their content area, and teachers teaching in fragile contexts—the very teachers professional development is supposed to help.
Workshops are effective for experienced teachers because such teachers can more easily assimilate new knowledge into their existing repertoire of knowledge. Workshops are less effective for at-risk teachers who don’t have this existing repertoire or who have gaps in their skill set. Metaphorically, if the cascade approach is Procrustean, as I wrote last month, truncating teacher learning, coaching is Promethean. Like the mythological Greek figure who gave fire to humans, coaching, when done well, instills in teachers a greater sense of efficacy and agency to do their jobs well.
Why is this so? Research on change (Rogers, 1995) categorizes those going through any change as falling into five “types” (See Figure 3). The smallest percentage—“innovators” (about 2.5% of any population) will immediately implement an innovation with no prodding. Early adopters (13.5%) are also eager to implement new ideas but not as quickly, effortlessly or independently as innovators. Further along the continuum, individuals become more resistant to change. Most individuals—about 68% (a normal distribution) are in the middle. About 16% are classified as “laggards” (Roger’s term) or “resistors.”
Figure 3: Diffusions of innovation: Change types (Rogers, 1995)
A train-the-trainers’ model or workshop with no follow-up may easily capture innovators and perhaps even early adopters. But for the remaining 84% of teachers who won’t or can’t implement an innovation independently, coaching provides varying degrees and types of support, practice and handholding. Because it is a 1:1 intervention, as individual teachers learn new behaviors, change their practice, and experience different “stages of concern” (Hord, Rutherford, Luling-Austin & Hall, 2006), coaching can provide differentiated, personalized support (Burns, 2011) that is so critical to teacher change:
(With the cascade approach) I did not really understand what was going on…I was thinking how will I implement these ideas? But with a coach, I could talk about my plan, revise it based on his feedback and guidance, and try it out before the class with help. Because, you know, you have to make sure that everything is well prepared before the class begins. (Indonesian teacher)
Mission over margin
Fortunately, awareness about the power of instructional coaching is beginning to receive greater attention in the education development world. Coaching and more long-term and practice-based forms of professional development certainly must be part of a new pedagogy for teachers. More important, they must reflect a new psychology about how teachers learn (to be discussed in the next post). Coaching is intensive and ongoing and developmental—it is not a text message or a phone call or a couple of classroom visits over a term. We must take care not to dilute coaching as we have so many other types of professional development. Otherwise we will further denigrate the cause of providing quality professional learning to the teachers who need it most.
Ismail and Sundari are not fictitious characters (I worked with Ismail in India in 2010 in a school-based support PD program I designed. I have communicated with Sundari and worked very closely with her coach, Ibu Lia, from 2008-2011 in Indonesia.). Like teachers everywhere, Ismail and Sundari are well aware of which professional development models work best for them and those that don’t. The last word goes to them:
Sundari: Ordinary training is just training. That’s it. There’s no follow up. I will never know what I lack or need to develop further for improvements. With coaching, I receive feedback and refinements.
Ismail: Please, Madame, do (follow-up support) for all teachers in India… this (support) is the only way our teaching will progress.
- I designed the program and all its content and managed the work of a very talented and hard-working group of Indonesian colleagues, mentors and coaches (like Ibu Lia) who made it all happen.
- Such classifications are not fixed in stone. Individuals can fall into different categories, depending on the innovation. For example, a teacher may be an early adopter of IRI, but a resistor when it comes to using computers.
- The mantra of my former manager at SEDL in Austin, Vicki Dimock—a strong advocate of supporting teachers.
Allen, J., Pianta, R., Gregory, A., Mikami, A. & Lun, J. (2011). An interaction-based approach to enhancing secondary school instruction and student achievement. Science, 333, 1034-1037
Burns, M. (2011). Distance education for teacher training: Modes, models and methods. Retrieved from http://go.edc.org/07xd
Hord, S., Rutherford, W. L., Huling-Austin, L. & Hall, G. E. (2006). Taking charge of change. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
OECD. (2008). TALIS 2008 technical report: Teaching and learning international survey. Paris, France: Author.
Rogers, E. (1995). Diffusions of innovations (4th ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.
Showers, B. & Joyce, B. (1996, March). The evolution of peer coaching. Educational Leadership, 53 (6):12-16