Instead of an instructional coach…

Here’s what I’d like to have instead of an instructional coach:

instead

Instead of a coach…. an assistant*.

Yup.  That’s right.

I want an assistant. Not actually an assistant for demos and teaching, although that could work. I want more of a, well,  lab manager.

I work with some pretty astonishing teachers, both in our science department and elsewhere in the building. At least I think they’re astonishing.  We share lessons openly, methods occasionally during the walk from the parking lot, email things of interest, and pass one another lab handouts over the copy machine. Students speak highly of them. I’ve learned things from every one, and hope they can say the same about me. Until last week, when I walked down the hall with my student teacher to observe another class taught by one of her cohort members, I haven’t actually been in any of their classes.  I just don’t have time.

All 9 science teachers in my school have commitments outside of the classroom with family, coaching, committees and district work, you get the picture. We have labs to run, solutions to make, equipment to maintain, lessons to plan, and student work on which to give feedback. We also have copies to make as we aren’t as up-to-speed with tech and a device for each student as we’d like to be (don’t get me started – this isn’t the time or place). We spend most of our prep time at school dealing with the chores we can’t take home. Much as we’d like to visit one another, as hard as we try to keep our promises to do so, day-to-day stuff we must do as science teachers keeps messing with us. Our visits don’t happen.

Some of the more mundane work can be done by our student aides. They wash glassware, tidy up lab benches and supply storage other than chemicals, run errands within the school, care for fishtanks, and do some simple scoring. They do basic tidy-up and sorting.  Sometimes, they tutor a student who’s been absent or fallen behind. They help with the construction of instructional materials and supplies that aren’t chemicals. Student aides can’t be in the chemical storeroom, and that’s a handicap for us.

We want an assistant to do lab prep, cleanup, equipment maintenance, chemical inventory and ordering, filing, and photocopying. Our assistant could be a student majoring in science ed or a science at the local university and could work part-time. The hours would not matter so long as they were able to get things done. This salary would be much cheaper than a licensed instructional coach. This experience would be great for the university student.

If we had an assistant to share among the 9 of us, we could spend a prep or two each week observing one another, giving one another feedback, and learning from one another.  Those of us with a common prep could work together in a modified lesson study format. We would be able to use our every-other-week late start time for real collaboration instead of playing catch-up. Since we do not have a science curriculum for our building, such collaboration would provide our students with a much more uniform experience than they  now receive. Students leaving Biology would be more prepared for Chemistry; and in turn would be more prepared for Physics.  Shoot, we could even go to the middle schools occasionally and keep up with what’s going on in those classrooms.

Why this model of improving practice? Why not a coach? Because we know our kids, we know science, and we know what works. We’re continually learning and revising. We each are as capable as any instructional coach when it comes to recognizing, implementing, modeling, and supporting accomplished teaching. An instructional coach would be a barrier in our work together. There’d be a third party, an additional layer of management, further isolating us. We’d get information secondhand from the coach, instead of working directly with one another. Even though a coach would be expected to share best practices uniformly across the building, there would be no commitment among us to practice what was coached with fidelity. Reflective practice would be meaningful only to the coach and the coach-ee.  Then, there’s our doubt that even a coach who is well-trained in coaching would know our kids well enough to suggest what is best at this particular time and in this setting, the guiding principle in every part of my practice since 1998. We want to share the coaching.

We attend conferences and workshops; usually not together. We read. We talk to other science teachers in other districts. We talk to teachers at other grade levels and in other disciplines. Some of us utilize relationships we’ve made on social media. I often know more about what’s going on in classrooms across the country than in the classroom across the hall. We stay current with best practices, in theory, anyway; we need time to share and implement those practices, visit one another’s classrooms in doing so, and make our respective practices even better. One of us could try a new idea that we felt would be valuable and doable, others could observe, and modify as needed, without each of us reinventing the wheel. Our reflections would be meaningful to one another, as we’d have firsthand knowledge of the work in the reflection. Among the 9 of us, some are more ready to share and some are in the needy stage. I’m thinking about a model that would be unique to our building’s needs in that respect, and allow the “coach” role to be shared among those who are ready to coach.

We could produce, pilot, and polish a most excellent science program/curriculum instead of attempting to copy/modify one that doesn’t really fit. Because we’d continue to meet and share and revise, the curriculum would be dynamic and stay up to date. With 80 minutes per week more time to observe one another and collaborate, I have no doubt that we would be very, very  successful.

But possibly the best part of this would be occasionally, we could not just observe. We could co-teach.  Two teachers working a lab, from table to table, would not only help kids but would help us develop new inquiry strategies; we could offer one-on-one help to students while the rest of the class is with the regular teacher. Two content-expert teachers working together in a classroom as co-teachers is a real benefit to students.

We’re pretty good teachers, but together, we’d be amazing.

Am I on the right track? If you were to implement my model, what would you add or change?

*My totally awesome student teacher and a student assistant.

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