There are subtle and substantial differences between coaching our novice teachers and our veteran teachers. Novice teachers, while inexperienced in the classroom, may have studied the latest technological insights or most recent academic learning trends. The instructional coach understands that this group needs the essential research, resources, skills, and strategies designed to create a community of learners.
However, what our novice teachers don’t yet have is the expertise and familiarity with teaching that make a seasoned veteran. The instructional coach needs to approach veteran teachers with respect and reverence.
As an example, veteran teachers are highly experienced, having seen every “new” initiative of education. They know a recycled idea when they hear one. They remember when differentiated instruction meant a child’s individual learning style, backward design meant writing the test first, and higher order thinking skills meant there could be more than one right answer. Veteran teachers understand students and know that the secret to building student rapport is to create engaging and motivating lessons that demonstrate a community of support.
In short, while we know our veteran teachers want to plan specifically, give directions explicitly, and offer student support intentionally, we also know they could probably offer teachable moments to the novice teachers as well as the instructional coach.
What can the instructional coach bring to veteran teachers that they haven’t tried already? What new insights or learning could support these wise, admired experts and not seem condescending or pompous?
Tips for Supporting Veteran Teachers
When working with veteran teachers, consider these suggestions in creating a successful and respectful coaching interaction:
- Ask to observe a class as a way to gather suggestions for helping new educators inspire their students. In this way, while gaining valuable insights to assist new teachers, you might also be able to see how the veteran teacher could benefit from support.
- Never give the impression that your goal is to change or uproot the years of work they’ve done. They’ve made mistakes and benefited from years of trial and error. Be cognizant of your tone and demeanor. Remember, you’re a guest in their highly structured academic community of learners.
- After observing the class, engage in conversation about the lesson to learn the story behind it. You might ask how they came up with the idea for the lesson, how they came up with the questions they asked, and what they hope students will remember about the lesson 10 years later.
- As the veteran teacher is sharing, actively listen and take detailed notes. Get to know the teacher and their life’s work. Look for entry points to make suggestions and ideas, using clarifying language to be as clear as possible. Clarifying language communicates that the listener has heard what the speaker said, but might not fully understand. Again, this is an excellent opportunity to listen to the veteran teacher and use conversation as a way to collaborate and eventually start planning together. Some specific clarifying questions might be: Did I understand you when you said _____? Did I paraphrase what you said correctly?
- Ask the veteran teacher if you could support an upcoming lesson. Could you teach a specific strategy such as annotation as a whole-class activity? Could you work with a small group of students as they read an assigned chapter? Offer specific ideas on how you can partner with the veteran teacher in learning their teaching methodologies and practices.
- Ask the veteran teacher if they’d be willing to showcase a lesson for the staff. Perhaps there’s a strategy that has been a successful staple in this teacher’s classroom but doesn’t seem commonplace in other classrooms. Often the successful strategy is something they’ll say they just do, without necessarily realizing that what they do is considered iconic and a best practice.
Finally, the wealth of wisdom that comes from years of teaching and learning cannot be underestimated. Veteran teachers are, undoubtedly, the educational leaders among staff. As a coach and colleague, you have the good fortune to learn from them and pass on their wisdom through your practice. Cultivate these relationships and grow them to gain insight into their important work and to advance student learning.