As we approach the end of another academic year, with exams well underway and final assessment being completed at all levels, it is time again to reflect on another academic year. For teachers, this means reflecting on planning, assessments and the next steps in professional development which will support them to continue to improve. So too, leaders are also looking at this – for themselves, but also for those they lead and manage.
A major part of this is in the observations, learning walks and work scrutiny activity which underpins so much of the monitoring activity which guides leaders in the support they give. But before getting to this step, do leaders and teachers spend enough time looking at the feedback that is being given and the impact it can have?
Feedback models: Traditional but effective?
For many, this feedback follows a traditional model of completing activity; meeting to give feedback at a later time; identifying and sharing strengths; identifying and sharing areas for improvement; setting relevant actions and identifying a timeline. To an extent, this has worked for as long as anyone can remember. However, is this approach still valid in an age when remote/ online/ flipped learning and the growth in EduTech mean that reflection is more and more at the centre of education?
Perhaps as a reaction to this, instructional coaching has become come to the fore in recent years and is often cited as more effective in the impact it can have in comparison to traditional coaching feedback.
Instructional coaching differs in approach through the use of dialogic questioning as opposed to simply outlining or explaining strengths and areas for improvement. It seeks to support teachers to identify their own strengths and areas for improvement, with the goal of supporting teachers to continue to do this long into the future when planning or teaching any lesson, at any level. Too often, traditional feedback can mean that only one specific part of one specific lesson is reflected on (the snapshot in which an area for improvement was identified). Instructional coaching, however, seeks to support reflection for over a much longer period, and looks to embed that reflection.
As mentioned, this is done through dialogic questioning. But what do these questions look like? Jim Knight, research associate at the University of Kansas and international coaching expert (who literally wrote the book on instructional coaching), identifies several questions which set the tone and allow for a reflective conversation:
- How would you rate the lesson from 1 – 10 (10 being perfect)?
An interesting starting question, this allows the observer/ leader to gauge where the teacher is at in terms of their own reflection. It also helps to frame following questions – if the teacher feels the lesson was 10/10, but the observer feels it was significantly lower, questions can be adapted to support additional reflection on the session.
- You asked a student a question on X – can you explain why you did this?
A key tenet of instructional coaching is that the observer or coach should refrain from explicitly giving their opinion. This stifles reflection and could stunt development. By saying that an element of the session was ‘really good’ or ‘needed development’, any reflection is immediately shut down. Much better to say that an element of the session was ‘really interesting’ or discuss facts (‘some of the boys in class weren’t sure what to do’/ ‘some of the students said they really enjoyed the activity;’).
- You started with an assessment task: can you give me some detail around your thinking?
Similar to the above, we are not saying the assessment task start was effective or that it can be improved: we are simply saying that it occurred (a fact) and asking for some additional information. We are asking the teacher to reflect and discuss their rationale and will support with additional questions to ensure reflection.
- I really enjoyed the starter – do you think you could have added anything else? What? How?
There are times when a coach opinion may need to be given: if the teacher is new to the profession or has potentially not developed a reflective toolkit, it may be necessary to step in and give some detail and opinion. This should happen in a minority of cases, and should be eventually phased out as support, intervention and additional training are utilised.
Similarly, action plans and next steps should be designed in a similar way – what resource would you like to develop this? How do you think you can work on that? What timeframe do you think would support you in developing that skill?
As a result, and a perceived lack of judgement, there is so much more buy-in from teachers and so they are much more motivated.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of Teaching, Learning and Assessment at a college in the North East. He has previously worked as Head of English and maths in FE and as an English teacher and Head of English in Secondary schools. He tweets @jonnykayteacher and his book, 'Improving Maths and English in Further Education: A Practical Guide', is available now.