Article from the Swedish teacher magazine Skolvarlden

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"All teachers need a coach"

PUBLISHED APRIL 30, 2018

It is through feedback and reflection that teachers get better, and therefore all teachers need a coach in the classroom, according to Howard Pitler, a doctor of pedagogy.

John Hattie's often quoted metastudy Visible learning states that the most important factor for the success of school students is that they receive good feedback from their teachers. But if it is true, who will the teacher give feedback, so that they also develop optimally? The American, Howard Pitler, himself, the former teacher, reads the rector and doctor of pedagogy.

- If a doctor knows what is best practice and chooses not to follow it, and something bad happens, the doctor can be prosecuted. If in education we know what best practice is, and deliberately choose not to follow it, I think it's the same, he says.

Howard Pitler aims at the teacher after education getting a supervisor at the beginning, but then stands more or less without a plan for structured, continuous professional development. And he believes that even though teachers develop by reflecting their teaching themselves and engaging in collegial learning, it's not as good as anyone observing the lessons and giving the valuable feedback that John Hattie, among others, points out.

"There is a misconception about tutorials, which means that we only put it in when a teacher is inexperienced or has it extra difficult. But watch someone like the tennis player Serena Williams - she's the best in the world of what she's doing, yet there's a coach behind her and helping her develop by helping her reflect on what she's doing well and pointing out what she needs work more on If she needs a coach, I think everyone should have a coach.

In concrete terms, Howard Pitler is coaching about classroom observations with subsequent feedback. The coach studies lessons and sometimes, sometimes in the classroom, sometimes through video recording of the lessons. But there are no evaluations of the teacher's work, but only to continue to develop the teacher. Co-operation is ongoing continuously year after year, from the beginning to the end of the teacher's career.

How long does it take for teachers to get used to being observed?

- At the beginning, teachers send the video to me saying that "I was terrified when I recorded the video, this is scary." My goal in the beginning is to lower that turmoil and help them understand that our goals are the same. It is about helping the students.

Few Swedish schools have the opportunity to hire coaches to work with their teachers. So who in school can act as coach? The headmaster?

- It's not ideal. One of the keys to the success of a coach is to establish trust. If I'm your coach, but you know that at the end of the semester I will also evaluate you and possibly determine your professional future, you will not be able to seek my help or be honest with me when things are not working well. If a principal succeeds in building up the level of trust with the teachers, then it's fine, but it's hardly the norm, he says.

It is more common with specialized teacher coaches in the United States than in Sweden, but according to Howard Pitler, an option is that coaching becomes part of collegial learning, where teachers are about to coach each other.

"I usually do so that I first engage teachers at a school in my way of coaching and making them comfortable. Then they are divided into groups of three who turn to observe each other and reflect on what they see in each other's classroom. By dividing them into three instead of two, we avoid power relationships where one is always in the upper position. A trio tends to be more collegial, he says.

But if the teachers should coach each other. Where do you have time to do?

- I have not figured out any way to add more hours to the day, and we know teachers do not have time with more things. So it's about prioritizing down other things. My guess, with 19 years of experience of being a principal, is that things are less important than this, which can be removed.

Text: Emil Hedman

Howard Pitler

Howard Pitler is an expert in classroom observations, with over 40 years of experience in the education sector. First in elementary school as a teacher and then as director of studies and principal. After that, he worked with research and development around learning and teacher, has written a number of books on the subject and is a file. PhD in pedagogy. He travels around the world and lectures, and participated in the conference Future Learning in Stockholm at the end of April.

@hpitler on twitter.