Effective teaching requires that a teacher knows what methods and teaching strategies are useful for helping students learn a specific content, and how to adapt these methods and strategies to particular learners. Coaching is often the missing link that connects this knowledge base to the actual application of what is known or learned. CLI’s coaching model links the training of content to the application of content by considering the four components that ensure that teacher learning transfers to classroom practice:
- Teachers must be provided with and understand the theory supporting a strategy.
- Teachers must have the opportunity to watch a skillful demonstration of the strategy.
- Teachers must be given time to practice the strategy.
- Teachers must engage in follow-up sharing of practice and participation in peer coaching.
CLI’s coaching model is content-focused and designed to provide teachers with individualized and situation-specific assistance focused on literacy content, pedagogy, and student learning. Content-focused coaching is based upon the belief that in order for teachers to be most effective, they need to know the content of that which they are teaching. Understanding what is to be taught first oftentimes leads teachers to modify how the lesson will be taught. In this model, teacher and Professional Developer pre-conference to discuss literacy goals, lesson plan and implementation, and core issues in effective lesson design. Teacher and Professional Developer then decide on the level of support needed from the Professional Developer in the lesson in order to determine whether the Professional Developer models, co-teaches, or observes the lesson being taught. Finally, in a post conference, the teacher and Professional Developer reflect on student learning by analyzing student work, considering the effectiveness of the lesson, and planning for the goals of future lessons. This model can be similar to an action research process as suggested by Lent (2006, pp. 136-37), in which teachers and coaches create a focus question to explore, collect and organize data from the classroom activities, analyze the data for insights related to the focus question, construct an answer to the question and test it with the data, and then decide what action to take to address the question.
In coaching, teachers, under the guidance of the CLI professional developers, choose the strategies they will begin to implement in their classrooms and how and when they will do so. Not every teacher is required to begin with the same strategy. The actions planned determined by the teacher and coach indicate their reasons for choosing specific strategies, the goals they intend to accomplish, the resources they will use, and the kinds of coaching they might need. This is a differentiated approach to coaching as the teachers are making choices based on their own readiness, interest, or learning styles, coupled with the readiness, interest, learning needs, and learning styles of their students. They move at their own pace toward self-sufficiency with the new learning (McNeil & Klink, 2004).
At the center of the model is coaching conversations. The National Staff Development Council (NSDC) advises that professional learning must include continuous conversations, it must be meaningful to a teacher’s work, and there must be methods to evaluate progress (Hord & Sommers, 2008). Coaching is what allows for these continuous conversations to occur, in which the professional developer and teacher work together to understand, interpret, and apply new strategies. Coaching conversations focus on core issues in lesson design such as lesson goals, the literacy content of the lesson, the context of the lesson, students’ prior knowledge, lesson implementation, evidence of students’ understanding and learning, and collaboration in a learning community. Progress on goals is evaluated through a rubric of effective practices called the TELP (Teachers Effective Literacy Practices).
In order for the content-focused coaching model to be successful, relationships need to be cultivated and sustained. This requires CLI professional developers to not only have a passion for the content, but also a passion for the success of the person being coached. Great coaching is the result of the mutual commitment and action of teacher and learner as equal partners (McNeil & Klink, 2004). Jim Knight (2007, p. 33) agrees that coaching is about building relationships with teachers as much as it is about instruction. This partnership recognizes the authentic respect for the teacher’s professionalism. Once this “partnership philosophy” is realized, collaborative work between the coach and teacher can begin.