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Professional Learning

Improving Your Practice Through A Self-Coaching Framework

Picking a single problem to work on and mapping out strategies to tackle it can help teachers overcome their biggest challenges.

October 20, 2020
Man takes notes while working on his laptop
Tetiana Soares/ iStock

No one has all the answers right now, not even the experts. Too often we use professional learning as a space to try to give the solutions we think teachers need. Instead, we should focus on how we can use the professional learning space to work with teachers as they try to figure out how to solve challenges for themselves.

Teachers have the answers to a lot of the problems we’re facing. When teachers are given the time and support to devote toward designing solutions to challenges that have arisen, students end up with personalized solutions that fit their needs. As former teachers, Darcy Bakkegard—my co-author on the book The Startup Teacher Playbook—and I have made it our mission to create professional learning that’s differentiated to support and coach teachers. It’s better for students. It’s empowering for teachers.

Our method is simple: We don’t tell teachers what to do. We simply guide teachers through a process where they can come up with the answers for themselves (and then we try to give professional development credit for their investment of time).

Here’s our process. Grab a piece of paper and guide yourself through, or use these steps to guide someone else through.

6 Steps to Effective Self-Coaching

1. Pick one idea or challenge to work on: Take a moment to reflect. Picture your classroom or school. List your current frustrations. Jot down things you’d like to improve or new ideas you have. List complaints that you hear from students. Write down requirements that you need to check off your list. Now prioritize. What’s most pressing? Which would most greatly benefit your students? Select that issue.

2. Decide your solution: Now it’s time to decide how you will take action. If you already have an idea in mind, great. If not, take some time to brainstorm some possibilities. Write down everything and anything that comes to mind. If possible, ask your students for input (highly recommended) or search the web for inspiration. Now select one idea you’d like to try. If you’re not sure which to choose, look for the idea that would have the greatest impact for your students and would require the least amount of energy.

For example, maybe students seem to be overloaded, and you’re wondering how to make life easier. Do you provide catch-up days? Do you need to communicate with your team to lighten the course load across the board? Do you join forces with another teacher for interdisciplinary learning? This is your space to get creative about what you could do.

3. Think about your impact: Now it’s time to set some parameters around your idea. Write down (or draw) what success would look like if your solution worked. Use this vision of success to write down your goal(s). Then take a moment to determine how you will measure those goals and know that your solution is working. This doesn’t need to be complicated: If a goal is to boost engagement, you might look for better attendance or more participation.

4. Get insights from others: This section is about thinking through the implementation of your idea. Set yourself up for success by learning from others. If applicable, search the web for how others have implemented a similar solution. Are there tools, ideas, or resources you could borrow to help you? We say it’s best to not reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Incorporate the students’ voices. How would they recommend that you implement the idea? How could you get their feedback? See if you can just ask them directly.

Again, keep this simple. Maybe you want to create virtual breakout rooms, and you see online that someone’s already created a great strategy to do this. Don’t be shy to use that idea.

5. Think through logistics: This is your chance to get organized. Write down the tasks you need to complete to make your idea happen and, if you’re working with others, who is accountable for each task. Jot down the resources you need and how you will get them.

Think through any partners or people who could support you in this work. See if you can involve students in some capacity to give them ownership over the idea. Partners are often overlooked when we solve problems. Think about whom you can reach out to. Need a space? Ask the librarian. Need volunteers? Ask parents or the local scout troop.

6. Plan for successful execution: Use this step to manage expectations and develop a strategy. First, look back at your tasks and see if you can give yourself some deadlines. Be realistic and allot a sufficient amount of time for each task so that you can complete them without being stressed out. Now, think through any potential roadblocks (we suggest picking your top three) that might prevent you from completing this work. Brainstorm how you will overcome those obstacles.

Finally, think about how this work might impact others. How will you help mitigate the stress that comes with change or something new? If you already have that one person in mind who might hold your idea back, don’t give them so much power. Get savvy on how you can make this idea happen with minimal setbacks.

And there you have it. Problems are turned into possibilities by devoting time toward crafting solutions. This simple process can be done in person or virtually to help coach teachers as they work out the kinks of teaching and learning. It’s personalized and naturally differentiated to enable all teachers to work on what’s relevant to them and at a pace that works for them. Teachers desperately need more time and support as they tirelessly work to support the needs of our students. They have the answers; we just need to provide them with an outlet to materialize those answers.

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