Teachers have chosen to enter the profession for many reasons. They all have a picture of what they want their classroom to be like. Some, like my daughter, want a classroom where students feel welcomed and where relationships are important. Others want a classroom where students work hard and are compliant. Still others want a classroom that is fun with lots of enjoyment, laughter, and activity. Each classroom operates differently and each classroom is motivated by the teacher’s desire to create the classroom he or she wants.
These pictures of what teachers want drives teacher behaviours in the classroom. My daughter’s classroom includes learning activities that built a cohesive group. Her interactions are encouraging and respectful and she teaches her students these behaviours alongside academic subjects.
Interestingly, many teachers have not consciously considered what they do in the classroom and what drives the choices they make. Like an iceberg, there is more below the surface than the teacher realizes. Many teachers are unconsciously skilled – successful, but not fully aware of exactly what they do that leads them to be so successful. Teachers can often talk on the behaviours level, but investigating the beliefs that lie beneath the behaviour is often a new experience for many.
When teachers bring to a conscious level what drives their choices, they can explore and understand these on a deeper level. As a result of this exploration, teachers are more able to fine-tune their behaviours to get what they want. Once they can articulate what they want, they are more able to evaluate their own teaching against these pictures.
Investigating beliefs about how learning best occurs in the classroom is not simple. It typically takes time to identify and explain the reasons behind choices at the behavioural level to enable themes to emerge. A teacher in a class of eight and nine year olds may have planned a lesson that involves learners engaging in a mathematics activity to develop the key concept of place value. The activity requires each student to write a three-digit numeral between 100 and 999 on a “post it” note. As a class, they mingle and form groups of three or four with other learners who have numerals with some similarities.
In answering the following question about this particular activity, the underlying beliefs can be more easily uncovered: “You would have considered many ways to develop an understanding about the concept of place value. What is behind the choice of doing it this way?”
In answering, the teacher is able to explore their choices in terms of their beliefs. The teacher might say things like: “I want students to really consider numerals in a way that engages their ability to compare and contrast and evaluate. I want to have them using the language such as “more” and ‘less,” and “hundreds,” “tens,” and “ones” from the perspective of understanding place value rather than just looking at number and saying, “This is the hundreds, this is the tens and this is the ones.”
Focusing on emerging themes, this discussion can uncover underlying belief statements for this teacher. They might include the belief that students need to…
- engage in higher levels of thinking to develop deep understanding of complex concepts
- discuss concepts with others to think on these higher levels
- be provided with opportunities for interaction as a motivator for engagement that results in learning
Once these beliefs are articulated, teachers will usually operate at a more conscious level and make deliberate choices about how they teach. The moment-by-moment activity in the classroom can become more conscious as the continuous self -evaluation ‘in action’ happens. For example, the conscious self-questioning may be, “How can I can make this more interactive and motivational? ”
This process of uncovering what is below the surface for the teacher is very powerful. Having a Collegial Coach who facilitates this professional dialogue encourages reflection and self-evaluation by the teacher, resulting in continuous improvement.
A Collegial Coach not only helps teachers uncover their beliefs about effective learning and teaching, but also gathers data to facilitate the self-evaluation process. Once teachers have clarity about their driving motivations, the Collegial Coach acts as a ‘mirror’ in the classroom, enabling teachers to see how closely their behaviours support their picture of the classroom they want. This becomes “reflection on action,” keeping control in the hands of the teacher.
Collegial Coaching is a reciprocal process. Over a period of thirty years, thousand of teachers in Queensland, Australia have experienced Collegial Coaching both as a coach and as an “inviting” teacher. Because it is such a needs satisfying process, teachers really buy into it.
We are motivated by how we want to feel. Teachers want to feel competent and confident. Like learners in the classroom, by being in control of their own learning, by having their personal beliefs accepted and valued by others, teachers will continue to be inspired to have classrooms where students want to learn.