In our role as a Professional Learning Lead School for the EAS, we have produced a series of one-page teacher guides to support teachers in developing their students’ metacognitive and self-regulative thinking.
I think that the most important attribute of a great coach is the ability to support a teacher to identify the biggest lever to improvement – to be able to notice the single most important thing that will make the most significant difference to pupils’ learning. A classroom is a complicated environment, with lots going on for both the teacher and pupils. I really love the way that Tom Sherrington starts many of his training sessions emphasising this point with an image of a busy classroom – note the number of different intentions, interactions, reactions, decisions and distractions in the illustration below:
In such a complex setting, how do we accurately hone in on a granular aspect of practice – something that might potentially translate into a more successful learning experience for our pupils? How do we notice the needle in the haystack?
‘When we choose to change, we often do it because we see a big difference between where we are and where we want to be.’ (Miller & Rollnick, 2013; in Knight, 2022).
In The Impact Cycle, Jim Knight stresses the importance of a coaching cycle beginning with a clear – and shared – understanding of the current reality for pupils in a teacher’s classroom. This is a challenge for many reasons, particularly because many traditional methods of data collection rely largely on subjective and unreliable sources:
I realise that this is rather unscientific – but generally speaking, traditional methods of data collection are less reliable than we might think. Lesson observations are problematic (this study by Micheal Strong et al found that experts were no more successful in predicting teacher effectiveness than a coin toss): they are often skewed by perceptual error and are intrinsically transient in nature. Pupil performance data is highly volatile and rarely gives a clear picture of what is actually going on in the classroom. Centralised work scrutinies can be helpful, providing the full context of learning is made available, which is rarely possible.
While all of these sources have their merits, the aim should be to base our decisions on something more objective and more reliable: whilst certainly not a panacea, video can be a really effective way into a coaching process, particularly when triangulated with other data sources. At Heolddu, teachers self-record an extract of their lesson in consultation with their coach. They have free choice around which class they choose, though increasingly it tends to be the class where they feel there is most to gain. Incidentally, we take a low-tech approach to filming – an iPad or a Chromebook set up in the corner of the room – I’m convinced that if you go high-tech it becomes a ‘thing’, a distraction beyond the point of the purpose.
In the identify phase of our cycle, we ask the teacher to share their coaching video with their coach. The aim is that both teacher and coach review the video prior to the first coaching meeting. We’ve done a huge amount of work with the coaches around how they use the videos. The golden rule is an acknowledgement that the video extract (20 minutes or so) might only ever be a way into the teacher’s practice, and shouldn’t be, by default, the absolute focus of the coaching process. That being said, video footage is reliable and can be objective – I’ve found that it’s a pretty powerful starting point.
Conversations between coach and teacher around the current reality in the classroom are guided by a clear purpose – to see the gap between the teacher’s intention (what the teacher wanted the pupils to be doing, saying or thinking) and the reality (what was the observable reality?). Tom Sherrington refers to this in Teaching WalkThrus as solving the learning problem – identifying precise points where the pupils struggle or can improve. You can’t fix everything at once, so it’s helpful to employ a hierarchy of practice to guide your thinking:
Knight and his team at Kansas refer to their ‘Big Four’ – this makes perfect sense as a hierarchical model:
You have to get behaviour right before you can work on other areas of practice;
You need great content knowledge before you can deliver effective instruction;
You need effective instruction before assessment becomes useful.
This type of model helps coaches to support teachers to find the biggest barrier to learning in their classrooms. When training coaches, it’s helpful that they recognise the symptoms of these problems when observing video or working directly with the teacher. Oliver Caviglioli’s brilliant illustration of a simple model of learning is a good foundation for this, if you’ll excuse my crude additions:
If we manage behaviour effectively, we support pupils’ ability to attend more successfully to the content of their learning. We also reduce extraneous distractions and regulate the load on pupils’ working memory.
Great instruction, which is deep and generative, supports pupils to transfer knowledge from working memory to long term memory. Instruction that is chunked and explicit reduces the burden on working memory and makes long term learning more likely.
Formative assessment, checking for understanding and retrieval practice supports pupils to store and remember what they are learning, whilst shallowing off the forgetting curve.
Each of these scenarios mirror an observable set of symptoms in the classroom. By this logic, we might be able to notice, by looking at what pupils are doing, saying or thinking, where to start coaching. For example:
Of course, this is not an attempt to coach by numbers, but our coaches have found it a really helpful way to start to notice the right things. It goes without saying that coaching a colleague is a huge responsibility, and this is something that new coaches really worry about. Once coaches become more familiar with the common symptoms, it becomes easier to help the teacher design solutions.
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found this post helpful, or if you’ve got any suggestions that might help us improve what we do.
Knight, J. The Impact Cycle: What Instructional Coaches Should Do to Foster Powerful Improvements in Teaching, 2017; SAGE Publications
Sherrington, T & Caviglioli, O. Teaching WalkThrus: Five Step Guides For Instructional Coaching, 2020; John Catt Educational
Strong, M et al. Do We Know a Successful Teacher When We See One? Experiments in the Identification of Effective Teachers; First Published March 15, 2011
Jim Knight’s latest book, The Definitive Guide To Instructional Coaching, is a single-volume distillation of Knight’s extensive back catalogue of coaching literature. Jim is without question the founding father of instructional coaching; his dialogical brand of coaching is a powerful model for teacher development. He is the architect of The Impact Cycle, a three-stage framework for instructional coaching, and an influential advocate of the use of high-impact, research-based instructional strategies to improve teachers’ practice.
Knight’s most recent offering proposes seven factors for coaching success:
1 | Partnership
Successful coaches employ the principles of equality, choice, voice, dialogue, reflection, praxis and reciprocity. If coaches see themselves as superior to others, they’ll likely find that others are not interested in hearing what they have to say.
2 | Communication
Good coaching is rooted in conversations that foster growth. Effective coaches build relationships and trust by asking great questions – real questions – and listening both internally and externally.
3 | Leadership
Effective coaches are great leaders. They demonstrate leadership in two areas: leading themselves and leading others. Coaches who lead their own self-improvement build habits that support others to thrive. They are multipliers: increasing the intelligence, energy and capability of those around them.
4 | Coaching Process
Effective coaches employ a coaching cycle. Knight’s Impact Cycle involves three stages. In the Identify stage, the coach partners with the teacher to identify: a clear picture of reality; a goal, and; a strategy that the teacher will implement in addressing their goal. In the Learn stage, the coach works with the teacher to consolidate their understanding of the teaching strategy through dialogical explanation and modelling. In the Improve stage, coaches and teachers collaborate to invent improvements and make adaptations until the goal is met.
5 | Data
Effective coaches support teachers to gather data on engagement (behavioural, cognitive, emotional) attainment and teaching. Data helps teachers and coaches to see more of what is happening in the classroom and to measure progress toward their goals.
6 | Instructional Playbook
Effective coaches have a deep knowledge of high-impact teaching strategies. These strategies can be organised into a playbook that summarises the research, purpose and use of each strategy, as well as including checklists to support implementation.
7 | System Support
Successful coaches work in settings where leaders are intentional and disciplined about providing the system support necessary to enable teachers and coaches to progress toward proficiency.
To sum up…
This book is full of great advice for schools looking to implement a programme of instructional coaching. There’s a greater emphasis on the partnership philosophy explored in Knight’s earlier work, while the logistical elements of running an Impact Cycle are trimmed back (The Impact Cycle book itself is worth its weight in gold). Each chapter concludes with a series of reflective questions for school leaders; these are incredibly valuable as a reference point for those already coaching.
As we approach the end of a busy half-term, here’s a round-up of what’s been happening with learning, teaching and professional learning at #TimHeolddu.
Instructional Coaching | Cycle 1
Our first coaching cycle of 21-22 launched in September, involving a cohort of 16 teachers working with our team of instructional coaches. There was a real buzz around this and it was brilliant to walk around the school and drop in on some of the high-quality coaching conversations taking place. Thank you to the teachers who engaged so positively with the cycle, and to the coaches who have worked incredibly hard to make the sessions as productive as they have been. Here’s what you said about Cycle 1:
This is a really strong indication that we are the right lines with our approach to professional learning. We’ll continue to work hard to get it right for everybody, but it’s really encouraging to see at least 90% Good / Excellent responses in all aspects of the process. A reminder that Cycle 2 starts on Monday 8th November 2021. You can access all that you need to know about coaching at Heolddu on our Charter website.
Self-directed Professional Learning
For those who weren’t involved in the first cycle of coaching, I hope that you were able to make a productive start on your selection for self-directed learning. I know that several teachers have found the Roseshine’s Principles workbook very helpful – remember that you can continue to work on this throughout the year – and lots of you have completed the Seneca courses in Cognitive Science. I’d be really interested in hearing your reflections on these and your plans for working your findings into your teaching practice. For those of you about to start your self-directed learning cycle, you can find all of the options available to you here.
Learning & teaching | Excellent Behaviour
Excellent behaviour is our number one learning and teaching priority. Pupils must be able to attend closely and directly to the content of the lesson if learning is to happen. This is not just about compliance and manners, it’s about promoting high expectations and positive attitudes to learning. I really would encourage all staff to look again at their classroom routines to ensure:
A strong start Pupils should be greeted at the door and directed to their seats and to their work. Some departments are making effective use of Do Now Activities linked to the learning intention for the lesson; this can be a really helpful strategy. A strong start sets the tone for the lesson. Here’s a useful example of the strategy in action.
S|L|A|N|T This technique, more accurately known as ‘Habits of Attention’, seeks to establish routines that cause students to focus their attention during class and build stronger attentional habits. In addition, it seeks to use the signals people send when they attend to someone else to a build stronger, more inclusive learning community.
Explicit exit routines Learning should be maximised, and pupils should expect to be working as close to the end of the lesson as possible. Pupils should not be dictating when the lesson ends. An explicit exit routine can help to bring calm, order and purposeful end to the lesson. Here’s a useful example of the strategy in action.
For many reasons, teaching remotely, however well we do it, is not comparable like-for-like with face to face teaching. We are simply in the business of making the best of a bad situation!
Listening to colleagues, there is no shortage of anecdotal suggestions that planning and preparing for online learning takes longer. When we consider that most teachers are novices when it comes to this way of working – through a new medium and new pedagogies – this is not surprising. Novices in all areas of expertise need more time to reach peak performance. This is the reality, and something that we should consider when strategising for remote learning.
The holy grail is curriculum continuity. There is an urgency to ensure that pupils working at home are not denied access to a full and rich curriculum. While this certainly is desirable – what teacher doesn’t want this? – it’s not necessarily achievable or realistic. This is where there is real danger of us trying to push an elephant up the stairs – when we build our expectations around idealistic intentions rather than around reality.
When focusing on your curriculum – what is to be taught – the best advice is do less, well. Slow down, strip back and carefully sequence your content to meet the needs of your context. More core, less hinterland.
Remember that it is highly likely to take many pupils longer to access, to process and to respond to digital task-setting, in comparison to the routines established, often over time, in a classroom setting.
The quality of pupils’ work is likely to be lower as they battle to mitigate a range of factors associated with working from home and creating digital output. In her brilliant book Teachers v Tech, Daisy Christodoulou notes that it is necessary for us all to have an awareness of the capacity of distractions that modern technology provides.
Keep it simple, and view it as a pupil
I think that it is incredibly important to simplify the lessons that we deliver to as few component parts as possible. So far, I’ve used: Google Meet, Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Forms, Jamboard, Kahoot; I’ve shared PDFs, I’ve shared videos, I’ve asked pupils to complete tasks on pen and paper away from the screen – sometimes several of these at once! I did it for the right reasons, and everything worked a little bit, but if you are familiar with John Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory and the limitations of the working memory, you’ll know where I was going wrong. I wonder how many students are sat in front of their screens thinking about where to find which resource and how to use it, rather than thinking about what we want them to be thinking about, what we want them to be learning.
The irony is this: Sat at my desk, I’ve got three screens running. I’m jumping between Chrome tabs, I’ve got the Classroom stream running on my iPhone. I’ve got a Jamboard running. I’ve got my notepad and pen: I’m like Rainman, flicking playing cards through the air, and the poor kids are home on a 7-inch Chromebook and they’re entirely lost and the learning just doesn’t happen.
So keep it simple. Consider cognitive load, and view your lessons through the lens of the pupil.
Working at home is not the same as working at school. Homes are not schools. That institutional routine of being in school, that shared and common understanding of purpose, of why we are here and what it means and what is expected of you in school, is missing for our students right now. Now, like us, they are trying to adapt to new systems and new ways of working. But in most cases, they simply do not have the knowledge needed to establish the effective and disciplined routines that they would ordinarily experience in school. They’ve got siblings running around, or they’re sharing a device, or they are reportable to a household routine that is incompatible with a school timetable. There is a growing body of evidence documenting the very real effects of screen fatigue, which I’m sure we’ve all seen and experienced first hand. The reality is that it’s sometimes just not feasible for pupils to work in the same ways that they are used to.
It really calls for us to be flexible. Flexible with attendance, with deadlines and with our systems of work.
Maintain academic rigour
What we can’t be flexible with, however, is academic rigour. It is so important now, perhaps even more than ever, to keep on planning lessons that keep our pupils on their toes: teaching that keeps pupils active in their learning rather than passive. It’s so important that we go high and teach to the top of the class, and that we maintain that standard by putting the steps in place to bring the bottom up and not the bring the top down.
I’ll talk more specifically about pedagogy in the next section, but high impact, high-rigour strategies like Cold Calling, building a No Opt Out culture are key. Developing strategies that enable us to elicit feedback from those pupils who hide behind their microphones, to check for and challenge the understanding of all of the pupils in front of us.
Pedagogy trumps the medium.
I keep coming back to Education Endowment Fund Rapid Evidence Review paper, published in April 2020:
“Ensuring that the elements of effective teaching are present, for example clear explanations, scaffolding and feedback is more important than how or when they are provided.”
So those principles, those fundamentals of effective learning and teaching in which we are expert day in, day out in the classroom, are absolutely the driving force behind what is going to work for our students now.
When seeking out the best pedagogy for online teaching, Doug Lemov’s latest book, Teaching in the Online Classroom, comes highly recommended. A key principle discussed in this text is the concept of dissolving the screen: minimising the medium in order to maximise the learning. In other chapters, Lemov takes the best bits of the TLAC network’s practice (Cold Calling, Means of Participation, Pause Points, Checking for Understanding) and contextualises them with case studies and videos of actual teachers teaching in the online world.
Focus on feedback
If you’ve heard about the transient information effect, where spoken information has a transient flaw where it’s there one minute, but gone the next, then you’ll easily grasp what I’m getting at here with online feedback. Students are spending hours tapping away into Google Docs, they hand it in, and then off it goes into the ether. It’s not in front of them – there’s no concrete representation of their work. Consequently, their effort – their learning – loses value.
Not only do we know that high quality feedback usually always correlates with success in learning and the development of expertise, but more than ever now pupils need to see an outcome to their work. They need acknowledgement that it has value and that it isn’t transient, that it is a contribution towards their development of expertise.
Lemov suggests a balance of implicit, lagged and real-time assessment: the key is finding and refining the digital tools to deliver this in an effective and meaningful way.
At INSET in October, I made reference to the ‘science of expertise’. This was influenced by the research of Anders Ericsson, and in particular his book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, which I had just finished reading.
Anders Ericsson is the world’s leading scientist on elite performance and deliberate practice. His research involves finding expert performers who can reliably do things that others can’t, and then figuring out how they’re able to do it.
Peak is the result of more than three decades of research. The book is filled with fascinating studies, eye-opening facts, and entertaining stories. For me, it really complements the work that we are doing as a school with Teaching Walkthrus, and the importance of automatising simple, effective routines through our focus on Expert Instruction. One of the things I like most about Ericsson’s findings is that they have implications not only for us, as teachers refining our expertise in the classroom, but for our pupils, and the ways in which we can support their progress from novice to expert.
I do my best to summarise some of the key ideas below.
In the foreword, Ericsson introduces the idea that expertise is not inherent or predisposed from birth. Instead, Ericsson asserts that every human brain possesses the potential to develop expert performance through a process that he describes as systematic deliberate practice.
Chapter 1 considers the power of purposeful practice. Most effective types of practice all follow the same set of general principles. The method needs to take into account what works and what does not, in driving changes in the body and the brain.
More experience is not automatically better. Research has shown that once a person reaches a level of ‘acceptable performance’, automatic addition of years of more practice do not lead to improvement. This is as true for doctors as for teachers and racing car drivers. The difference is in purposeful practice.
In Chapter 2, Ericsson considers the idea of harnessing adaptability. The brain changes in response to extended training. This is also referred as plasticity or neuroplasticity. If you practice something enough, your brain will repurpose neurons to help with the task even if they have another job to do.
Cognitive and physical changes caused by training require upkeep. Stop training and they begin to go away. However, it is important to remember that, with deliberate practice, the goal is not just to reach your potential, but to make things possible that were not possible before. The way forward is to keep pushing against the status-quo.
Chapter 3 proposes that the key to expertise is to build up better and more effectively usable mental representations. According to Ericsson, improvements in performance come down to improvements in mental representations. The better a chess player, the better his mental representations for the game of chess. The better a football player, the better her mental representations for playing football.
It takes years of practice for chess players to recognise that patterns. It helps if they study games played by masters. You analyse a position in depth, predicting the next move and if you go wrong you go back and guide out what you missed.
Research has shown that the time spent in this type of analysis, not the time spent in playing chess with others, is the single most important predictor of a chess player’s ability. The way a chess grandmaster ‘sees’ the board is quite different from the way a novice does.
In Chapter 4, Ericsson suggests that some approaches to training are more effective than others. He draws a distinction between naïve practice and purposeful practice, which he calls The Gold Standard. Naïve practice is not enough to improve our performance. What we need is a more focused and deliberate approach. Purposeful practice is what allows us to trigger adaptation, create a new normal, and continuously improve our performance.
There are four characteristics of purposeful practice.
Purposeful practice has well-defined, specific goals.
Purposeful practice is focused.
Purposeful practice involves feedback.
Purposeful practice requires getting out of one’s comfort zone.
Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote about the ‘10,000 hours rule’. He got the practice part broadly right but, according to Ericsson, did not specify that the practice must be purposeful to lead to improved performance.
In Chapter 5, Ericsson gives offers examples of the principles of deliberate practice ‘on the job’. The chapter describes the US Navy’s Top Gun programme, and how an elite training force was built using the very best pilots in the Navy. Rather than sending out the best pilots to fight, they instead used them as expert coaches to train student pilots. A programme of deliberate practice led to dramatic results. From an average of shooting down 1 enemy jet in 5 encounters, the students went up to shooting 1 enemy jet every encounter.The underlying principles of this initiative were:
Determine with some certainty who the experts already are
Figure out what underlies their superior performance. This is research into the mental representations of the experts.
Evolving a language to address the representations is essential to breaking open this path for many others.
Chapter 6 considers the role of deliberate practice in everyday life. Deliberate practice is for everyone who dreams of doing something. It could be anything: coding, drawing, juggling, golfing, playing an instrument or a game.
In Chapter 7, Ericsson examines the road to extraordinary, i.e. the stages required to help a child become an expert:
Start out as early as possible
Become serious: practice routine regular; motivate intrinsically
Commitment: seek best teachers
Chapter 8 unpicks the myth of natural talent. Studies of chess players have shown that practice is the major factor in their success. IQ had no noticeable role (in fact, there was some negative co-relation to IQs because those with lower IQ, tended to practice more). Those with higher IQ do learn faster in the beginning.
The real role of innate characteristics is in initial jump start, and in shaping how likely a person is to engage in deliberate practice.
The final chapter, Chapter 9, examines the work of University of British Columbia, Professor Carl Weiman. Working with a team of instructors across 850 students, Weiman used inexperienced teachers to reproduce remarkable learning results on a repeated basis. While the traditional batches scored 41% on average, these groups scored 74%.
The underlying design ideas was if facts, concepts and rules are built as a mental representation for doing something — they need not be juggled independently subject to limits of short-term memory. They can directly go into long term memory. Individual pieces become part of an interconnected pattern that provides context and meaning to information, making it easier to work with.
My summary, of course, does not do justice to the depth and detail with which Ericsson supports his assertions. This book left me in no doubt that the human brain – and that’s any human brain – has the capacity for expert performance. This has significant implications for our practice both in and out of the classroom.
If you’re interested, you can get yourself a copy of the book here.