Growing teachers: A cycle of feedback and support
This post is Part 3 of a three-part series on a session about collective teacher efficacy that Sue Forbes, principal, and Stacey Hankinson, academic coach, of Kahului, Hawaii, presented at the 2023 ASCD Annual Conference. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the series to get the full story and all the tips.
Teachers and administrators have different levels of influence on student achievement, Kahului Elementary School Principal Sue Forbes said during her “Aloha! Supporting Teachers for Success in Hawaii” session at the 2023 ASCD Annual Conference in Denver. Teachers have a direct effect on student performance through their daily work in the classroom. It’s different for administrators, though, Forbes said.
“Do we have some impact? We do, indirectly,” she said. “We are actually impacting teachers more than students.”
Much of this comes through the school’s classroom visit feedback support cycle. Forbes and academic coach Stacey Hankinson outlined the steps of the process.
Classroom visits at Kahului Elementary are done by an administrator — either Forbes or her vice principal — and are informal, non-evaluative observations. These unannounced visits are about three to five minutes each and take place at different times of the day. All are based on teacher need.
“I spend most of my time in the classrooms where the teachers are at those lower levels, because we want to get them up,” Forbes said. “But don’t ignore your teachers that are at the highest levels. They still want your feedback.”
Forbes is careful about referring to these observations as “visits.” “If you’re calling it a walk-through, I recommend you change that language, because that is compliance,” she said. “You’re visiting; you actually sit down and you visit. And the students in the class get to see you as someone who values their learning.”
Feedback is formative, she said. When it comes time for her to conduct formal observations, there are no surprises. “I already know how every teacher is going to perform and so do they,” she said. “They’re gonna do an amazing job because they’ve been getting formative feedback all year.”
Forbes uses a phone message pad to write the teacher a note after the classroom visit. Use of the message pad is intentional.
“There’s not a lot of space to write, which makes it brief,” she said, holding up an example for session attendees to see. “I focus on one thing: where they are on the hierarchy.”
Forbes urged administrators to use the key indicators tool as a guide for their feedback.
“If you don’t know what to focus on, go back to the key indicators. That’s your cheat sheet,” she said. “Look for those things where the teacher is, and start providing feedback for that. One thing. And it’s very informal; it’s a handwritten note.”
The last phase of the cycle is support, managed by Hankinson. Support is collaborative and focused on one skill from the hierarchy. Time with Hankinson is built into the school day so teachers don’t have to stay after school.
Hankinson outlined the six-part structure of the support phase.
Teacher-coach relationship. This is the heart of the teacher-coach relationship. The fact that Hankinson does not do the classroom visits is important. It helps teachers see her as a partner in their success. “This really helps keep us on the same level,” she said. “The moment we have this dynamic where I’m seen as above that teacher, then it becomes a compliance piece, which is not the heart of coaching. It really provided this relationship to get the work done.”
Discussions during the coaching sessions are private, Hankinson said. She might share with Forbes what the teacher is working on — so Forbes can look for it in her classroom visits — but everything else is confidential. “That really helps build that trust. If there’s no trust then coaching can’t happen,” Hankinson said.
Feedback. Feedback from the administrators — specific and targeted to where the teacher is on the hierarchy — provides the focus for the coaching sessions. This not only helps guide the sessions, but it keeps teachers from getting overwhelmed. “That’s where all our conversations are grounded,” Hankinson said. “It gives us a specific place to start, and we build from there.”
Differentiation. Differentiating the training lets Hankinson meet the unique needs of each teacher. “It is not one-size-fits-all PD,” she said. “It gives me a chance to cater my type of coaching to their specific needs, [if] I need to be more direct or less direct, based on my relationship with that teacher.”
Hankinson also differentiates the supports. That might include classroom visits and observing other teachers’ instruction; a lesson study; or reviewing their schedules. “Each teacher feels like they’re getting what they need, and it’s specific,” she said.
Modeling. Practice what you preach: “If we’re going to differentiate instruction for students, we have to also differentiate our support for teachers,” Hankinson explained. “Being able to model that was really crucial. We’ve all been to that stand-and-deliver PD when we’re talking about student engagement. It doesn’t really work.”
Hankinson also models her growth in her coaching role, looking at research and finding evidence-based practices.
Provide time during the school day for coaching. Teachers receive coaching during their workday in 45-55 minute increments while students are attending encore classes. Carving out this time for teachers has gone a long way toward the success of the program, Hankinson said.
“That gave me the time during the school day to work with teachers one on one. I think if it was after school, we wouldn’t see as much commitment to it,” she said. “So we really prioritize. Where we spend our time shows what we value. That supportive partnership has been working.”
Commitment. Kahului’s coaching structure supports its commitment to developing a culture of learning across its campus. “We’re valuing growth for teachers and students,” Hankinson said.
Be sure to put your energy and resources back into teaching. “Spend time building teachers and looking at where they were at and going from there. The coaching piece is really, really crucial in that cycle,” Hankinson said.