Sharing our repertoire is the common lot of coaches. We recommend based on what we have seen, read, and experienced. When teachers lack knowledge and experience in an area where coaches have expertise, recommending can be an effective move. Using a mental checklist of “3 C’s for Recommending” can improve the impact of recommendations. As you purposefully plan for feedback conversations, seek to be clear, concise, and conversational.
Although there are times when questioning to prompt or probe is effective, if there is a suggestion you plan to make, say it. Don’t make a recommendation disguised as a question, and don’t rely on buzzwords. Describe what it is you think could happen in concrete, actionable terms. What will it look like when the suggestion has been implemented?
For recommendations, target something that can make a short-term, noticeable difference. Of course, it has to be implementable – by this teacher, at this time. It needs to be something that the teacher is ready to do; adjust recommendations based on the teacher’s level of experience and expertise. You can work out together how she will apply the new strategy in her own instruction.
To support implementation of the suggestion, it’s important to have the necessary resources. Recommendations might be accompanied by materials, video clips, or suggestions about someone at the school with expertise in the area. When recommendations come with commensurate resources – the necessary knowledge and materials to support them – teachers are more likely to see recommendations as a creative challenge to which they can rise.
As you consider recommendations, prioritize one area for improvement. Having a narrow area of focus builds self-efficacy, where a laundry list of suggestions would be daunting, deflating, and perhaps defeating. What’s motivating is to have an actionable task that can be implemented in a short period of time.
After choosing an area for improvement, narrow to a specific recommendation. For recommendations to be actionable, they need to be focused. A narrow recommendation feels helpful; a broad one may feel evaluative.** For example, saying, “It might be helpful to put sticky notes with your pre-planned questions on the pages of the read-aloud book,” could be a helpful comment. Saying, “You should ask more high-level questions,” feels judgmental.
Keep the recommending conversation brief. Although coaches often complain that it’s hard to find time for a substantive coaching conversation, brevity can be used to advantage when making recommendations. Keeping the conversation succinct makes the focus clear.
A casual tone puts the teacher at ease, lower defenses, and makes conversations more productive. Consider the temperament (and current situation) of the teacher. You’ll recommend differently to an easy-going teacher than to a defensive one. It’s always wise to listen respectfully and have positive assumptions, but these are especially important if the teacher feels vulnerable.
Give recommendations as part of a dialogue. The recommendation is not the first sentence in the conversation or the last. It helps to lead in with positive comments and follow-up by asking the teacher’s thoughts about the recommendation. An exchange of ideas solidifies the recommendation.
The recommendation should be a “special delivery.” Give consideration to body language, word choice, and seating arrangement. Nod. Make eye contact. Sit side by side. Recognize the teacher’s point of view. The way that a recommendation is given makes almost as much difference as its content. Aim for collaboration during the recommending conversation.
All the Right Moves
Recommending isn’t always the right move; sometimes it’s more helpful to model, question, affirm, or praise. But when a suggestion is called for, being clear, concise, and conversational can encourage uptake and increase coaches’ effectiveness.
*Berkowitz, D. (2013). Spirit Magazine, March 2013, p. 67.
**Archer, J. Cantrell, S. Holtzman, S., Joe, J., Tocci, C., & Wood, J. (2016). Better feedback for better teaching: A practical guide to improving classroom observations. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
This week, you might want to take a look at:
Building vocabulary in a blended classroom with “Word Sneak”:
A podcast on mentoring new teachers on social-emotional learning:
Avoiding isolation as an instructional coach:
I love the idea of jot lots as a formative assessment tool. I bet you can come up with ideas for use in addition to theses:
Give students and teachers the opportunity to write themselves into new ways of being:
That’s it for this week. Happy Coaching!
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