When I left my classroom to take the New Teacher Coach position at Ranson IB, what I wanted more than anything was to help other teachers find teaching as rewarding as it had become to me. Students’ success and happiness would quickly follow…
After a few weeks on the job, I realized that it was a much harder task than I had imagined. It wasn’t so much because the students were difficult. I had learned through 15 years of teaching on two Continents that the art of teaching does not vary much from a school to another: The fundamentals of sound teaching are universal.
No, what was so difficult was to learn the art of helping somebody else teach. First I had to learn how to quickly and effectively analyze what could help somebody else grow in their practices. Most important, I had to learn how to communicate feedback to somebody in a way that would make this person willing and capable to grow in their practices.
In particular, helping a teacher overcome difficulties in classroom management was and remains one of the most difficult challenges. We have all been in a situation like this. We come to the classroom of a colleague and the environment feels suddenly unsafe. The teacher is stressed and embarrassed that you have to see this. The students are riled up and your own stress level rises in an instant. What do you do?
During my first year, I would at times intervene and try to bring back order, thinking I would ultimately help the teacher. While in the moment, it was probably a relief, I would always hear afterwards that things had gotten worse. What was I thinking? How could my intervention make the scholars feel better about their teacher’s authority?
When I would wait to talk about it in a coaching session, I would often notice that what we discussed in my stress-free office environment would be very difficult to implement once thrown back into the reality of the classroom.
That same year, I was invited by TFA to join a Real Time Coaching session. The idea sounded intriguing: Equip the coach with a walkie-talkie, the teacher with an ear piece and whisper real time advice to the teacher on the spot. The method was brought to them by the Center for Transformative Teacher Training and it was tied to their No Nonsense Nurturing Classroom management approach.
Having seen it in action a couple times, with promising results, I started implementing elements of this on my own, without the technology or the proper training. Sometimes, I would use cue cards from the back of the room. Other times, I would simply pull my teacher aside with their agreement and ask them to use one specific action. Again, it seemed to help the teacher regain control without having to let go of his or her authority.
This year, as a Multi Classroom Leader 2 at Ranson, I have the chance to receive a year- long training in Real Time Coaching from experienced coaches from the Center For Transformative Teacher Training. We started two weeks ago and it has been quite a fascinating ride.
Before you all go buy walkie-talkies at Best Buy, it is important to understand that the real time support provided to the teacher is just the tip of a much deeper iceberg: What is so powerful about this approach is how we help teachers beforehand and afterwards unpacking simple principles of effective classroom management. They can be summarized as followed:
- Giving crystal clear directions for every phase of the class
- Continuously noticing what students are doing well and narrating it before any discipline intervention
- Giving consequences calmly and gradually without losing focus on positive momentum building
- Building nurturing relationships day in and day out
Real time coaching starts way before the class by practicing in a safe environment how to implement these 4 complex actions. For my first round of Real Time Coaching, I had the chance to work with 2 excellent teachers from my pods. They accepted to participate and for them, it is really about going from good to great, rather than it is to learn the ABCs of teaching. They are already strong teachers, whose impact is being expanded through Blended Learning. Here is a video of our 6th grade Blended Learning Teacher, Tara Anderson, practicing her direction giving and her narration in the pre-conference with Norman Merrifield from CTTT:
After a pre-conference like this one, we equip the teacher with a walkie-talkie and an ear piece, and we join their classroom for 15-20 minutes. Standing in the back of the room, hiding our mouths behind a clipboard, we deliver timely cues to help them do something key in the moment: “Get the attention of the class, Give your direction for note taking, Narrate three students meeting your expectation…” It is an art to find the right time to whisper in a teacher’s ear while he or she is teaching and I am working on getting better at it: Timing and economy of words are key, and those of you who know me, are aware that it is one of my areas of growth;)
In this short video, Molly Whelan, our 7th grade Blended Learning Teacher, is welcoming students in her room and I am giving cues from the back of the room. She did not need many as she handled this very well. Notice how most students will want to do the right thing after having heard what is clearly expected of them and that other students are already doing it
Finally, after this session in the classroom, we meet for a 20 minute post-conference, during which we debrief on the experience, celebrate improvements and focus on one or two next steps before the next session.
I will continue to journal the progress of this adventure but it has already been a powerful journey. We are starting to build a path toward a different way to collaborate and empower teachers to regain or improve control of the culture of their class. Multi-Classroom Leadership is about expanding the reach of teachers beyond the wall of their own classrooms. Can a walkie-talkie be part of the arsenal? To be continued…
For more info on Real Time Coaching and No Nonsense Nurturing