I was lucky to be in Kansas last week with Jim Knight, a leader of the Instructional Coaching movement in education. I heard about instructional coaching a few years ago from a forward-thinking friend in education, Matt Horvat, who had just created a new position at his school in Redmond, WA, for the express purpose of giving teachers some targeted support in their classrooms. At the time, I wondered whether teachers would want to work with an on-staff coach. Now, I am convinced that if done the way Jim Knight suggests, instructional coaching is not only a sound idea but a necessity in any school committed to constantly improving teaching and learning.
Successful instructional coaching relies on a few simple things: 1) the coach is not an administrator responsible for evaluation; 2) the teacher wants coaching and has a goal in mind; and 3) the coach and the teacher engage in an equal partnership where learning is the outcome of co-created dialogue, experience, and feedback. The hinge, though, is likely 4): the coach and the teacher work one on one. In a world where time and attention are perhaps our most valuable commodities, this one on one relationship remains the heart of learning. As I participated in Jim’s workshop, I considered how his coaching approach mirrors the ideal student-teacher relationship, where grades are not given, the student knows what he/she hopes to or needs to learn, and the student and teacher both adopt a learning stance.
During one of the seminars, my eyes began to wander around the room and landed on a dynamic but silent scene. A hearing impaired educator was sitting across from a woman dressed in black who was engaged in translating Jim’s words into sign language. The interpreter was using every element of her face, hands, and body to communicate and connect with the educator. They appeared to be locked in full communication with one another. Both parties clearly wanted to be there and to connect; their desire to learn from one another and to gain knowledge was palpable.
I thought as I watched, this is the dance of education — the sharing of information, the listening, the responding to, the feedback about, the final analysis or the decision to keep thinking — and it is sometimes the most profound when done one-on-one.
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