Some thoughts on “Coaching Language Teachers.”
Last week I was able to go through a CAL (Center for Applied Linguistics) digest entitled “Coaching Language Teachers (http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/coaching-languange-teachers.html )” by Ariel Sherris. It’s a short article and worth a read for those interested in reflective practice. There is a very active reflective practice within the ELT community in South Korea. I think this is generally all to the good. The question that came to my mind while I was reading this brief article was “would/could this work in South Korea?” Maybe is the only answer I could muster. So, in this reflection, I’ll briefly describe the model Sherris uses, discuss some pre-requisites for this to work, and address factors which may limit the effectiveness of such a program.
Sherris’s model is based on peer coaching. There are three stages in Sherris’ model. They include, in the following sequence, an exploratory, critical, and reflective stage. The exploratory stage is very much an elaboration/justification of the procedures chosen by the coached instructor. For instance, the basic structure of a teacher’s lesson plan, why certain behaviors are chosen, et al. This is essentially an outlining stage. A lot of descriptive information is conveyed at this stage. In the second, critical, stage, an instructor critiques his/her own lesson. The goal is to find weaknesses…and consider resolutions. However, the critique does not come from the coach at this stage. Finally, the reflective stage involves two parts. The first is what Sherris refers to as “relationship vigilance.” Both coach and mentee discuss the strengths and shortcomings of the initial coaching sessions and consider how it may be improved upon in the future. The next session is devoted to feedback and suggestions for improvement on the part of the coach. Whereas, during the critical stage, it was the instructor’s responsibility to critique his own lesson, now the coach offers some constructive criticism and feedback as well. After this, presumably the cycle is repeated, ideally with modifications and improvements coming from the experience of the previous sessions.
So, in sum:
|1st: Exploratory||Describe/justify choices in a lesson.|
|2nd: Critical||Teacher critiques himself, coach reflects teacher’s ideas|
|3rd: Reflective||a) Consider how to improve the coaching sessionsb) Coach provides feedback and critiques, opportunities for improvement are considered|
So what would it take to make this work in an EFL environment in South Korea? Here are a few variables which may help: trust, space, commitment, and intimacy.
Trust: Without trust, nothing is going to work. The teacher will not be open to the coach, and the activity will not reflect the purpose.
Space: I don’t know if I would want to go this deep with a colleague in my school (Korean or NES). I would have no problem with a colleague I meet on occassion, but a person I see everyday may be too close for comfort, which may result in me providing limited information during the exploratory and critical stages, thus sabotaging the goal.
Commitment: This would take a minimum of four sessions, and if it became an ongoing procedure, commitment is imperative for success. Likely, only committed teachers would engage in such a process (voluntarily) in the first place.
Intimacy: Peer coaching works best on a one on one interaction. There is room for whole-group discussion in the reflective practice “panoply,” however; given the intensiveness of this peer coaching model, whole group discussion would likely breed many tangents and distractions which would limit the effectiveness of this strategy.
It’s also important to recognize what wouldn’t work: making peer coaching a mandatory activity. This greatly increases the likelihood that someone doesn’t really want to be there. As is well known, negativity is contagious. This could make a peer coaching scenario counterproductive.
I close with a few questions: has anyone used such a model, formally or informally, before? What were the results? Do you think you have the level of commitment and desire to improve your teaching to implement such a strategy to improve your teaching? Thanks for reading.