Question Detail

How do I coach in classrooms where there is no structure and where the norms are such that very little, if any, learning can occur?

Nov 9, 2014 9:44am

I am coaching in some classrooms where there is complete chaos. My role, as coach, is math content. These few teachers, that have no classroom management, are also assigned a coach to deal with their lack of management. How do I coach the content when there are foundational issues that have not been rectified?

  • Math
  • 6-8
  • Behavior / Class Culture / Coaching / Engagement / New Teachers


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    • Nov 10, 2014 7:07pm

      This is a tricky situation and one that I'm very familiar with. I see that you work in middle school -- and that's a particularly tricky context (although don't get me wrong about this, I LOVE teaching and working in middle schools!). I think that what makes this hard is that we know that to some extent these two areas are intertwined: sometimes when the teacher doesn't have strong content knowledge or the ability to plan engaging, rigorous lessons on that content, student behaviors deteriorate. What is the root cause of the problem in these classes? Is it that the teacher has poor management, or the school has weak systems in general for developing positive school culture, or that the teacher doesn't have a strong grasp on the content or pedagogy?

      I'd suggest partnering with the management coaches so that you both know what the other is working on. For example, if the management coach is working on entrance procedures, you might work on helping the teacher design a really good "Do Now" activity that reviews content, that is very structured, and that can be a regular routine. If the teacher is struggling in many areas then you need to chunk the teacher's learning so that it can be tackled piece by piece. You can use your knowledge of instructional and curriculum to identify high leverage practices. For example, maybe you start with just working on objectives or learning targets. We know that this knowledge set is essential for good instruction -- everything else flows from it. And then maybe the next big chunk you work on is around formative assessment -- this has to come after the focus on objectives and is really high leverage.

      I think that what's key is that you select a narrow focus so that the teacher can feel like he/she can learn and can gain some confidence. Teachers in classrooms like this usually aren't feeling too good. Even though you're focused on math, think about coaching the whole person--coach their behaviors and also their beliefs (about themselves, their students, their content) and also coach their "ways of being." Who are they being when they're teaching math to 7th grades? Who do they want to be? Your coaching can be circular, you can touch on many aspects of teaching including math content.

      Finally, I'd remind you to check in with the teacher about what he/she wants coaching on. We have to have their buy-in for coaching and they may have good insight into what they want help learning. Even if you don't think it's the most important thing to coach aruond, see what happens if you coach a teacher on an area that he/she has identified as wanting help on. It might be a turning point in how they experience themselves as learners.

      • Dec 31, 2014 10:17am

        I would also suggest starting with small, manageable goals in terms of the content. As Elena and Lauren already said, these two areas are very intertwined and working with the teacher and the other coach is key.