The Lesson Thought and the Lesson Taught

Training to be a teacher can be an emotional roller
coaster: lesson triumphs can quickly melt away
following classroom car crashes and dismal failures
can be rapidly followed by the sunny uplands of success. And
of course, a persistent flow of well-intentioned advice from
seasoned colleagues, each of whom is operating from their own
experientially developed model of learning, can sometimes add
to a disintegrating sense of self based on thoughts such as “Now
why didn’t I do that? Why didn’t I see that?” and “I must be so
stupid not to have thought of that!” Advice implies a better way, a
way that, in many trainees’ experience, is understandably absent
from their practice. So, what is the alternative? Just how do we
help a trainee teacher to construct a model of good teaching and
learning for themselves? And what, specifically, is the role of the
established colleague in the process of helping a trainee in all of
this? In short, how should we be thinking about feedback?

NLP assumes that we have all the resources we need. With this
thought in mind and after observing trainee teachers, I always
invite them to compare, either as a reflection or in discussion, the
lesson they taught with the lesson they had in mind. After this,
I ask trainees to think about the changes that they would make,
in the light of experience, to the lesson just taught. It is always
interesting to hear about the changes and then, with the logical
levels to hand, locate any issues. For instance, a trainee might
identify questioning as a change area but feel that she is not very
skilled in asking questions. Alternatively, the trainee might find
the role of the questioner an uncomfortable fit with how she sees
herself in the classroom. In both examples, using the logical levels
as a template for coaching helps the trainee to critically evolve
her own construct of good teaching and learning and what she
needs to do to deliver it. My role, as the established colleague,
rather than to offer my construct of teaching and learning as
the gold standard, is to ask the questions that prompt critically
framed thinking. In my experience, trainees are very adept at
realising what needs to change for improved student outcomes.
Or, put another way, understanding the differences that will make
the difference.

Yes, this is a variation of watching oneself in a movie and then
thinking about what needs to change. But the central cognitive
principle here, and indeed in the movie watching, is contrastive
analysis: how is the idealised (planned lesson) different from
the reality of the delivered one? Teachers of all stripes are very
familiar with AoL (assessment of learning) and AfL (assessment
for learning). Now it strikes me that the thinking processes
involved in contrastive analysis exactly correlate with AoL and
AfL: this is where I am, and this is what I need to do to change.
And isn’t this, after all, how coaching works? From our earliest
years, indeed from the moment we are born, we are continually
making comparisons – some conscious but most of them
unconscious – with our actions and outcomes and then pondering
our actions and how they might change to get us what we want.

Assessment is hardwired into our genes: this is what has possibly
made us the most successful species on the planet. We can
imagine a desired future and then cognitively engage with how
we can achieve it. Sure, a bit of feedback from somebody who
has been successful in the past is helpful, but for the experience
of learning to be meaningful and uniquely useful, we are better
off if we come to realisations and actions because of our own
thinking. If we are aware of what works for us, we are then able to
generalise outcomes to other situations with a comforting degree
of confidence. The ability to assess is already a firmly established
part of how we operate. We need, then, to tap into this with our
coaching-styled approach with trainee teachers.
The great benefit of a coaching-styled approach to feedback is
that trainees identify and have ownership of their future teaching
goals: goals that are unique to their own development and which
are the outcomes of critically reflective thinking. Yes, I could tell a
trainee how they could improve, but the advice would be coming
from my own subjectively developed model of learning: my own
construct of good teaching and learning. Trainees, like the rest
of us, know when a lesson is not going well: they process the
somatic information, they engage emotionally. Self-awareness
in the classroom is rich currency; without it, trainees will remain
oblivious to the need for change. However, using the movie/
contrastive analysis approach enables trainees to turn these
emotionally charged experiences into goals. They are the experts
on themselves: they know what needs to change. And it is a
given, that the only thing the trainee can change in the classroom
is themselves.

In my experience, trainee teachers are quite willing and expert
in telling observers what needs to change, and they do it often
with complete disregard to their ego. They want to learn and to
improve their practice. The difficulty is getting the trainees to
limit their self-criticism to just several key points. A coaching styled approach, however, calls for some hard, focused thinking
and helps to make the process of developing a construct of good
teaching and learning manageable and specific: And thinking
about the observations you have made, which of them would
you act upon? And if you acted upon just one, what do you
think the impact would be? And is it possible to take this action
immediately? What would stop you from taking this action?

We want our students to be critically minded, self-evaluating
citizens. It makes a great deal of sense, therefore, to have the
same intention for our trainee teachers. They can model the
process for students on the back of their experiences. Providing a
framework for thinking and critical reflection in a coaching-styled
environment affords trainee teachers the opportunity to evolve
their own construct of good teaching and learning; moreover, it
builds confidence and lays the foundations for producing teachers
who have capacity for reflection and self-leadership. And aren’t
these the very teachers we want in our classrooms?

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