In my last post, I discussed a few misconceptions around strengths-based coaching approaches and borrowed a term coined by the expert coaches on our professional development team here at Teachstone: a “spark” moment. In this post, I’ll interview one of our coaching experts, Rebecca Freedman, to dig into this concept and what it’s all about.
What are "spark moments" and why are they important?
A ‘spark moment’ is a moment to capitalize on—a moment where you see an effective interaction occur and can’t wait to share it and spread it. Spark moments are important because they provide the foundation for strength-based coaching. They are the interactions that we identify and share with teachers to help them reflect on the effectiveness of their own practice.
What advice would you give to a coach who is worried about sharing feedback about a dimension that a teacher scored low in?
The purpose of providing CLASS feedback to a teacher is ultimately to generate an outcome—ideally a change in the effective interactions we see that teacher demonstrate. However, change takes time—especially if we are talking about an area that may be more challenging for a teacher. My first advice for coaches who are entering into a feedback session is to ensure they have spent time reflecting on the observation notes and planning for the feedback session. Coaches want to demonstrate for teachers the same level of respect and intentionality that we ask them to show in their interactions with children.
In reflecting on the observation notes, it is important to remain strength-based, even when sharing feedback on a dimension where a teacher has a lower CLASS score. Our feedback is most effective when we focus on the positive. Effective coaches help teachers to see that they can—and in fact are—facilitating aspects of that challenging dimension. I have found that even when a teacher scores in the low range of a dimension there are still some spark moments for coaches to capitalize on. These moments can actually be just that: a moment, a couple of seconds where you see a teacher display a behavior marker. Even if the example is limited, a coach should try hard to find a moment that can be used as a jumping off point for reflection.
Do you have any tips on how to pick out effective moments when there might be limited examples?
I would tell them to try to look for a moment that was a first step towards effectively displaying an indicator. Even if the interaction doesn’t have the depth to qualify it as highly effective, a coach could use it as an example to share in the feedback session. Take for instance Concept Development, the dimension where we see a lot of our teachers struggling. Let’s say we saw a teacher ask one why and/or how question. Although the interaction was limited—it may not have led to sustained higher-order thinking skills for a child—a coach can use this example to demonstrate to the teacher that she displayed a behavior marker and then collaboratively reflect on steps that would deepen the interaction to turn it into an opportunity for analysis and reasoning.
Many coaches give feedback or focus on a teacher's lowest scoring dimension because that's where they need the most work. Would you recommend this approach, why or why not?
I have seen more coaching success when I start coaching a teacher on a dimension where she is mid-range. We want to meet teachers where they are at and help them to improve their effective interactions with children. Helping a teacher to see herself engaging in effective interactions and reflecting on how to increase the frequency, depth, and duration of those interactions builds self-efficacy and feels more attainable than trying something you have never or seldom done. I liken it to my new outlook on fitness. Lately I’ve been thinking I want to start exercising more and I mentioned it to some friends. One friend invited me to go surfing. I’ve never surfed, am somewhat terrified of sharks and don’t own a surfboard. My other friend asked me to start jogging with her. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea but thought to myself, hey at least I own sneakers and feel somewhat competent in my ability to go for a run. For feedback to be effective, a teacher must feel somewhat ready to engage with it. The thought of surfing—completely overwhelming; the thought of jogging—somewhat more attainable. So, I’ll start running, feel good about it, and hopefully build the confidence to surf.
If you are passionate about effective coaching and helping teachers be the best they can be, check out myTeachstone, our latest tool that helps coaches better support their teachers. Better yet, contact us to learn more about how you can make coaches and teachers truly shine in their efforts to improve classroom interactions.
Rebecca is a PD Specialist at Teachstone, coaching teachers and supporting coaches using MyTeachingPartner. She has been in the field of early education for over thirteen years, including working internationally as a teacher trainer/coach in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. Nationally, she has had the opportunity to do direct coaching at a large university-based childcare program and has also supported coaches and set up coaching systems as a regional consultant for Head Start. Her background is in Applied Behavior Analysis and she is passionate about working with teachers and coaches to meet the social and academic needs of children.
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When I was a teacher, I can remember taking care to intentionally plan differentiated, or individualized, instruction. And, when I was teaching pre-K I added the same level of intentionality to which materials were available in interest areas, and how I approached transitions throughout the day.
While any level of intentionally, specifically in relation to planning, is important -- I missed a critical opportunity in being more intentional in my interactions with the children in my class.
There is always an opportunity for interaction. Some opportunities are easily recognizable: times of play, free choice, centers, small group. We often see teachers engaged in activities alongside children during these times or hear questions being asked. Other opportunities might be a little less obvious. These are the times of your day that you might see as mundane moments that merely require your supervision or monitoring. The times where you’re going through the motions. “I’m doing this thing so I can move on to the next thing.”
In a previous blog, colleague and early childhood environment extraordinaire, Heather Sason, discussed how your classroom environment can help promote effective teacher-child interactions. In this blog, I propose we explore some of the often overlooked times in your day that are ripe for interactions with children and that do promote exploration, learning, and development!
It's not uncommon for teachers in early education to need to strike a balance between following children's leads and sticking to the classroom schedule. We know that intentional teachers are aware of their responsibility to assess student progress, understand skill mastery, and plan accordingly to provide opportunities for children to grow. However, many times, as teachers begin a specific teacher-directed activity, it is unsettling when students begin to veer from the step-by-step plans the teacher has worked hard to implement.
Teacher and coach, Colleen Schmit, will share how teachers can strike the balance between following the lesson plans and giving children freedom of choice and flexibility in the classroom.
As an educator, you’re busy. Your time is being split by competing priorities, from managing students’ needs, meeting your program’s goals, and communicating with parents. While you’re juggling your work, it can be difficult to keep learning about important ways to improve your daily teaching practice. Teachstone is here to help!