From Coaching to Teaching
Posted by Shasta Looper on December 4, 2018 at 10:27 AM
Shasta Looper, 4th grade teacher and former instructional coach, shares four "critical path items" to impact student growth that she learned through her experience working as a coach.
our years ago I began a coaching position in conjunction with a grant in my school district. From the start, even though I knew that I would only have 3 years in the position, I wasn't fully prepared for the transition back into the classroom. I spent an entire summer preparing myself for a huge switch, and during that time, I spent many hours reflecting on my coaching experiences and thinking about how I could transfer my knowledge into a classroom setting—what lessons did I share with teachers that I could, and should, take into my own classroom to impact my students? Over time, it led me to think about "critical path items" in the construction industry of all places, and how this thinking would translate into my instruction.
Critical Path Items for Teachers That Impact Student Growth
My husband's area of expertise lies within the construction industry. In his field, contractors determine the "critical path items" that need to be completed on a project and focus on those tasks rather than consuming their time on those that, while necessary, won't propel the project forward. In other words, focusing on paint color instead of the foundation will halt the project. As I moved into the classroom this year, I focused on the critical path items that would most effectively impact student progress.
Building relationships with students and parents is the foundation upon which all other things are built. Without deep relationships, students and teachers lack a shared understanding that both parties have a responsibility in learning. If students don't trust a teacher, it's likely that a student won't perform as expected. Moving back into my classroom, I knew this piece was where I would spend a great deal of effort. This work would begin early in the year, but have to be reevaluated periodically.
When students are doing well academically, a teacher may assume that the relationship is thriving. Consequently, when a student faces a struggle—whether it's academic or personal—the strength of the relationship will reveal itself. Spending dedicated time with individual students is key to building relationships that are built on trust and focused on growth.
At the beginning of the school year, I carved out time to make positive phone calls to the 40 families of students with whom I'd be working. Additionally, each student received time during the school day to talk with me about likes, dislikes, books, hobbies, learning successes and failures, and more. These lower stakes conversations allowed me to have tough conversations with students about personal struggles that impede learning, what works in class, and what help may be needed to be successful. I'm quite certain that I'll continue to need to carve out time daily to ensure that the relationships we have built will continue to thrive.
We all know that formative assessments are crucial in truly understanding where our students are in relation to our standards, but knowing that and putting it into practice are two completely different things. As a coach, it was very easy for me to suggest an exit ticket, stop and jot, or even a quiz. There were many conversations and professional developments with school leadership and teachers about using the data to monitor student progress and make instructional decisions. Now, as a classroom teacher, formative assessments have become even more important and the key is actually analyzing them!
It wasn't too long ago that I had a teacher tell me, "You mean I need to look at every single exit ticket and use that to determine what and how I teach tomorrow?" Yes, that is exactly what teachers should do. Now entering that role, I'm certain that knowing where my students are in their understanding helps me to better meet their needs.
For example, I taught a lesson on fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences. I started the lesson with a task that required students to sort strips of paper into 3 categories: fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences. During this activity, while walking around and listening to student conversations for student understanding, I noticed right away that while my students had little understanding of fragments, they did understand what a run-on sentence was. Right away, I was able to monitor my lesson to include more focus on fragments than run-ons. Throughout the lesson, students revisited the sorting activity and made changes based on their new knowledge. This activity was a formative assessment for me, but it also served as a self-assessment for students. At the end of the lesson, we implemented a Google form to assess individual understanding and a written reflection.
After school, I sat with the data I collected through student conversation, the sort, and the quiz and grouped my students into 3 groups for the next lesson. Now, I can be more intentional in my instruction. The use of formative assessments is an important piece of instruction, but using the data gathered from these assessments is critical to my students’ success.
The Chinese proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime," is truly put into action in a classroom. As a coach, I spent many hours in classrooms observing teachers and working with students. I had the opportunity to observe many different styles of teaching, but there were two that stood out to me.
First, many teachers believed wholeheartedly in the "do as I say" method. These teachers were the ones who gave presentations and talked 40 out of the 45-50 minute class period. The other group of teachers I observed believed in the "do as I do" method. This group of teachers stepped into the shoes of the student and modeled expectations for student work. When I say model, I'm not talking about creating a list of expectations for students to use as a guide. What I'm actually suggesting is to take on the role of a student and create an example—all while thinking like a student. I noticed right away that when I provide a true model, my students have no doubt what the expectations are, but also what questions they need to ask themselves when they get into a tough spot.
I've known the importance of a coach for quite some time, but I don't think I've ever fully appreciated having someone else assist me in teaching until I was in the role of a coach myself. A coach is not just a resource provider, or a cheerleader. In fact, a true coach is someone who provides a different perspective, helps to identify blind spots in my instruction, assists in developing a plan to address a need, and consistently helps me to refine my practice. There's no greater tool in a teacher's toolbox than an instructional coach.
My instructional coach and I meet together weekly, look at student work, talk about roadblocks, set goals, etc. On top of this, she visits my classroom weekly and provides a second set of eyes that help me identify needs that I may have missed otherwise. Recently, she came in and worked with a group of students that needed more of me than was available. Through my experience as a coach, I recognize this much underused resource!
The transition back into the classroom has been an exciting opportunity so far and my experiences learned as a coach have helped tremendously. There are many other valuable lessons that I brought back into the classroom with me this year, but when asked to narrow it down, my top four would be:
- Take time to build strong and deep relationships
- Use your formative assessments to truly monitor student need
- Provide a truly model for students that communicates your expectations
- If you have a coach, use them!
About our Guest Blogger
Shasta Looper is currently a 4th grade teacher with Greenville County Schools. She gained her coaching experience as a literacy coach and a TAP Master teacher. In 2012, she was awarded the Milken Educator Award for her work inside and outside of the school setting.
Shasta has a passion for literacy, specifically creating engaging environments that develop students as readers. She fervently believes in the power of books and if you spend enough time with her, she will recommend a book to read! Her students see this passion every day and when asked to describe their teacher in a few words, one student said, "If you aren't a reader, Mrs. Looper will make you one."