Coaching Language Teacher Development

I was asked recently, “How can I help my teachers get better?”

This is probably one of the most important jobs of a director or program coordinator. The teaching ability of your staff can make or break the quality of your program.

Unfortunately, helping teachers develop can be difficult. The first hurdle is the teacher has to want to get better. As teaching is quite a personal thing, teachers can often become defensive when suggestions of how to improve are offered.

Another problem is that teaching is very complicated. As an instructional coach, it can often be difficult to decide where to start. And in some cases, the point of development may not have a clear solution.

In this post, I will take you through my process for helping teachers to develop. It isn’t a quick fix, but I have found it has helped me achieve the vital goal of building the skills of a staff.

Step 1: What does great teaching look like?

Before any coaching can occur, great teaching has to be defined. If you don’t have a model, then you don’t have an end goal of what you are trying to achieve.

Many models exist such as:

And of course there are countless others.

Existing frameworks are good places to start (I like Marzano’s), but I recommend creating one specific to your school or program. This can be done along with your leadership team or it can be done as a department (depending on size).

One final note on creating a model: Rome was not built in a day. Do not feel in year 1 that your model needs everything accounted for. Pick 2-3 items that are really important and add to the model as the program develops.

Step 2: Identifying an Area of Improvement

So you have answered the question of what great teaching looks like and everyone in the department is on the same page. Now it’s time to identify areas that need improvement based on the model.

WARNING: This is the step many leaders get wrong.

You have two ways you could approach this:

  1. After an observation, you could tell your teacher they need to fix 1) this 2) this 3) this 3) this 4) this 5) this 6) this… you get the point. OR…
  2. You could have the teacher identify ONE area they want to improve

Again, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It was built one brick at a time. (Did the Romans use bricks? stones? I digress…)

There are two reasons I prefer #2. First, getting teacher buy-in is critical. If they don’t want to improve, it won’t happen, no matter how powerful you think you are.

Second, mastering one thing at a time is manageable. One thing at a time is how we approach our students’ learning, isn’t it? The only difference between students and teachers is height.

My recommendation for this step is to sit down one by one with your teachers with the model from step 1 on paper, and ask, “What area do you need help with?”

If they aren’t sure or say nothing, do an observation of their class or get a video recording (or both!). If observation, ask “What did you think of today’s lesson?” in the post-observation meeting.

If video tape, watch it together and ask the teacher to stop and comment whenever they want. If they find a point of improvement, you do not necessarily need to watch the whole tape. Alternatively, the teacher could fast-forward to a part they want to discuss or showcase. This can help save time.

Step 3: Make an Action Plan

Once a point of development has been chosen, it’s time to make an action plan.

This step could go a couple of ways. One option is you could offer a “menu of strategies” to help the teacher with the area of difficulty. Talk with the teacher and have them choose a strategy that they would feel most comfortable with, not necessarily the one that works best for you.

If you are not sure of strategies, Google is your friend. You and the teacher could leave the meeting and research strategies on your own, then come back and share what you’ve learned. As with the last step, the teacher should choose a strategy they feel most comfortable with.

Step 4: The Strategy in Action

It is now time for the teacher to try to implement the strategy. Depending on the teacher’s level of comfort, they may need to see the strategy used first before they can implement it. Two ways to facilitate this:

  1. You could introduce the strategy in the teacher’s class as they observe. Once you have demonstrated, let the teacher try once or twice with your support.
  2. Have them observe another teacher who implements the strategy well.

After the teacher is ready to try the strategy on their own, give them some time to practice without you. Follow-up with a quick conversation in the hall a few days later asking how it’s working and then arrange a time to observe.

During the observation, only take notes on the strategy. You should look for the following:

  1. Is the teacher implementing the strategy effectively?
  2. Are the students responding to the strategy?

Step 5: Assessing Progress

Following observation of the strategy, it’s time to have a post-observation meeting. Ask the teacher the same questions you used for the observation in step 4. Share your thoughts after they have had a chance to speak.

If both parties agree that the answer to both questions is yes, then you could jump back to step 2 and work on another area or try another strategy.

If the answer is no for one or both of the questions, discuss why? Can adjustments be made to the implementation of the strategy or does a new strategy need to be tried? In this case, you would return to step 3 and make a new action plan.

Conclusion

As professional development coordinator at a private school in Taiwan, I tried to follow this strategy with my teachers, and I had fairly good success with it. Teachers reported feeling “empowered” by the process and never felt like their teaching was being attacked. They felt that improvement, not evaluation or criticism, was the driving force behind the process. And most importantly, both parties saw improvement.

This is not easy! It is a slow process, and it requires patience from the leader. We all want the best staff yesterday, but that timeline is not realistic. It takes time to build a staff of great teachers, but it is time well spent.

What are your experiences with developing teachers? Do you have a similar process or something completely different? Share in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Coaching Language Teacher Development”

  1. Thank you Keith,
    This is great information. Very helpful for this upcoming year. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my team.

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