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  • Writer's pictureDr. Rick Jetter

I Model, You Model: Transferring Skills from Coach to Teacher to Teacher to Students

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

Dr. Rick Jetter has over 20 years of experience in the field of education. He has held various positions such as teacher, principal, superintendent and consultant and I love how these experiences shine through his work. He is constantly working to push school systems to think about the importance of student voice, transformative culture and ways to successfully implement sustainable school reform initiatives. In this blog, Rick shares the four steps of impactful instructional coaching to ensure transferability of skills and strategies. I hope you enjoy his reflections on coaching teachers. -Sherry St, Clair

Educators ask me all the time about what I think makes the most impact on teachers becoming expert teachers. I always seem to go back to the role that modeling plays. Grounded in Vygotskian theory, one’s zone of proximal development (ZOPED) is when “a more capable other” (or expert in something) demonstrates a skill or task for someone else to follow or mimic. In its most basic form, I might use a blender to make a milkshake while my daughter watches me each step of the way and then does it, herself, without me. Mission accomplished.

The same goes for classroom instruction and the relationship between coaches and teachers. While I believe that the relationship between coach and teacher should not be based on power dynamics (the coach is not better than the teacher), it is crucial to hire coaches and school leaders who can model good instructional practices for our teachers. That is when the real learning (and transferability of skills) begins. Yet, even a novice teacher can model something for coaches or school leaders because we all can learn something new each day.

Let’s go back to the milkshake and transferability analogy. If I show a teacher how to make a milkshake using a blender, but they already know how to do that, then it is up to me to show them a new skill or additional element to the milkshake project. Maybe, they have never seen a milkshake pie being made. Maybe, they have never considered using whole milk instead of skim milk while also adding a few cups of flavored coffee creamer to enhance the flavor and thickness. You get it. So, I show the teacher a new skill and the teacher can show their students that new skill, as well.

Maybe, I want to help a teacher strengthen their anticipatory sets for students (a.k.a. how they “hook” students into a lesson) and I model telling the students a scary story that really frightens the bejeebers out of them! The teacher watches how I engage the students, how I use props and facial expressions, how I inflect my voice and then quiet myself down to get a more eerie effect. The teacher watches me and the students’ reactions and then the next day, the teacher delivers an even more powerful anticipatory set that rattles the students’ brains!

In order for powerful transferability to take place and instructional strategies to be delivered with high octane expertise, follow these steps (while recognizing missteps):

Step 1: Plan and have intentional discussions.

A coaching session shouldn’t fly by the seat of its pants. Coaches or school leaders need to have deep conversations about the teacher’s needs and what students will ultimately need to learn.

Step 2: Zero in on what needs to be explicitly modeled and why.

Don’t model too much in one session. Stay focused on one particular skill for each session. It is difficult to make a milkshake and chop up salad vegetables all at once in the same blender. Plus, it’s gross.

Step 3: Don’t take notes.

Yes, I stated, “don’t.” While modeling is taking place, the teacher needs to watch and observe every detail. If notetaking is going on during the session, the teacher may miss something that is going on.

Step 4: Debrief immediately after the session.

Planning a coaching/modeling session right before a planning period or lunch is important so instant feedback and healthy conversations can take place right after the session.

This series of steps, along with focusing on the “I Model, You Model” concept is simple and easy. And, everyone increases their skill set: The coach or school leader, the teacher and the students.

So, the question now is:

What are you going to model for another colleague?

Dr. Rick Jetter (a.k.a. Dr. J.) is an author, consultant and speaker, Asst. Head of Schools at Western NY Maritime Charter School and Co-Founder of Pushing Boundaries Consulting, LLC.

Twitter: @RickJetter

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LinkedIn: Rick Jetter, Ph.D.

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