Jim Knight, in his book “Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction”, says there are 4 Big Areas that coaches should focus on when working with teachers: behavior, content knowledge, direct instruction, and formative assessment. What’s different in how he describes these areas, however, is that he states they should be addressed in sequential order. In other words, if a teacher expresses a desire for help with her writing instruction, as a coach you must first help her to analyze her behavior management system to see if it’s effective and be sure she has a strong understanding of the content knowledge that’s needed for successful writing workshop.
As I was discussing these ideas with another coach the other day, she almost jumped out of her chair in agreement as she realized why a particular coaching partnership had not worked well in the past. As she and the teacher had worked to improve guided reading instruction in her classroom, the coach had tried to ignore what was for her a huge elephant in the classroom – the complete off-task behaviors of the students at literacy centers: some students were huddled in the classroom library with the hanging chart stand blocking the teacher’s view from what the students were actually doing, another group of students was sitting on the rug tossing marbles into a plastic cup for no discernible reason, and other students freely roamed the room looking for other things to do, all as the noise level made hearing the guided reading group difficult. At no time did the teacher redirect the students, however, since she felt perfectly comfortable with their activities and the noise level.
In this particular instance, the teacher lacked both the content knowledge regarding the purpose of literacy centers (more than just busy work for students while the teacher conducts small groups) but also the necessity for consistent rituals and routines to focus students and maximize learning time. For the coach to be truly effective in helping this teacher improve her instruction, she was going to have to address the classroom behavior first, and then provide her with the content knowledge she needed. Simply going in and modeling a guided reading lesson would not be enough.
As coaches, sometimes we feel that behavior management is a personal decision by the teacher – some teachers are more lenient than others, and comfort levels with noise differ. I agree that there are certainly many ways to organize classroom behavior, and no one way is the “best” method. But if we are to be truly effective as coaches, and if students are going to benefit from the teacher’s instruction, we’re going to have to become more comfortable discussing classroom behavior with the teachers for whom it is a problem.