Powerful Teacher Support
Teacher videotapes herself teaching a 4Rs lesson.
Photo by © Carolina Kroon
The 4Rs + My Teaching Partner
Several years ago, Morningside Center decided to try out an innovative teacher coaching model called “My Teaching Partner", developed by researchers at the University of Virginia (UVA). When our staff developer Cora Miles asked for teachers who wanted to participate in the project, a third-grade teacher, “Denise,” stepped forward. Denise was in her second year of teaching at a school in the Bronx, and she was open to coaching, even though some parts of the model made her nervous.
In My Teaching Partner, the teacher selects a particular aspect of her teaching to work on, using a framework called CLASS, which breaks down teaching into a number of clearly defined dimensions grouped under three broad categories: Emotional Support, Classroom Management, and Instructional Support.
Denise chose to focus on the dimension called Regard for Student Perspectives. “That’s something teachers are not always aware of,” said Denise. “I thought that would help me with how I teach and how I approach children.” In the CLASS framework, Regard for Student Perspectives includes qualities like listening and empathy; flexibility; and support for student autonomy.
The next step in the project – videotaping herself teaching – made Denise a little uneasy at first. She’d never been videotaped before. But Denise overcame her reservations and made the videotape, and Cora picked out sections of it to discuss. When Denise viewed the video clips, she made some discoveries: “I saw in the clips that I talk a lot,” she said. She also saw that she was sometimes sarcastic in class.
Cora gave Denise feedback – beginning with the positive. “Cora’s approach was to catch me doing something right,” says Denise. “In the tape she pointed out a time when a child said something and I asked him to say more and then listened while he explained. Since I had decided to focus on Regard for Student Perspectives, Cora encouraged me to do that more often, and asked what other strategies I might use to elicit student perspectives.”
Denise said that as a result of the coaching, she’d become “much more conscious” of her interactions with students and better at listening. “I realized that I’d be better able to listen for student perspectives if I talked less and took more time to listen to their points of view,” observed Denise. Soon Denise began to see a change in her students as well. They opened up more in class and got more engaged.
Encouraged by promising results with Denise and other teachers, Morningside Center collaborated with UVA in submitting a successful proposal for a federal grant to adapt My Teaching Partner for coaching teachers in our 4Rs Program. We created the adapted model in Year 1, and are now piloting and tweaking it in Year 2. Next year we will roll out 4Rs-My Teaching Partner in five schools new to The 4Rs.
The past two years on the project have been both challenging and immensely rewarding. Morningside Center staff developers Mariana Gaston, Emma Gonzalez, Heather Loewecke and Kristin Page Stuart have worked hard to master My Teaching Partner, adapt it for use with The 4Rs, and pilot the adapted model with teachers. This has involved not only striving for a deep understanding of the CLASS rubric defining good teaching, but also learning to upload videotapes to a password protected website, select short clips, and write prompts for teacher reflection. Our UVA partners, Jason Downer, Megan Stuhlman, and Jessica Geist, have been wonderfully supportive.
Our videographers Carolina Kroon and Ben Gologor, part of the research team from Fordham led by Josh Brown, have been busy shooting exemplary 4Rs lessons for a video library that staff developers and teachers will use in the coaching process.
“UVA has developed an amazing tool,” says Kristin. “CLASS breaks down the whole complex of interaction skills. The detail they’ve brought out is incredible. It allows us to provide much more focused feedback, because CLASS has many facets. It gives us a way to talk about the pedagogy that we didn’t have before.”
“I’m always excited to get extra help,” says one of Kristin’s teachers. “I feel isolated. I get feedback on walking my class through the hallways but not on my teaching.”
Even when teachers do get feedback on their classroom work, it’s often not that helpful. “A teacher might hear a comment like, ‘You have a problem with classroom management,’” says Kristin. Even positive statements (“That was a great lesson!”) don’t help much if they’re not specific.
“A general comment like that might make you feel good, but it doesn’t help you figure out what you were doing that worked so that you can repeat it or build on it,” Kristin observes.
Through 4Rs-My Teaching Partner, Kristin is able to provide teachers with clear, specific, and personalized feedback to help them do their best work in an area they themselves have targeted. “The more specific the feedback we can provide, the better,” says Kristin.
“We’re looking at some very specific, very small changes. And the teacher and I are working on this together. Once you get down to that very fine level of detail, it becomes non evaluative. It’s just, ‘Let’s try this. Let’s see what happens.’”
One of the teachers Kristin coached, “Emily,” wanted to work on the Behavior Management dimension. She was looking for ways to address a common occurrence in her classroom: After she gave the class an instruction, two or three of the students would do the opposite of what she had asked. From the video, Kristin could clearly see how Emily typically responded: She would wait a minute or two before saying anything to the students in question.
“I highlighted this in the video and then we talked about it,” says Kristin. “I told her that I understood she had a good intention, which was to give the kids a chance to change their behavior. But I suggested that maybe we could try adjusting that a little. Maybe she could cut her response time to, say, fifteen seconds. I said, let’s just try this and see what happens. If that doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.” Emily tried it. And, said Kristin, “It changed everything. She was really happy.”
We aim to make lots of teachers happy in the years to come – and help their students learn while they’re at it. High teacher ratings on the CLASS rubric correlate with high student growth, socially, emotionally, and academically. We hope that what we are learning from our collaboration with UVA will improve our coaching of teachers, help teachers create a great classroom climate – and give students an academic boost.
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