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March 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 6

Overview / Coaching and Collegiality

The key word in this month's theme is performance. Schools, like other institutions, have always had provisions intended to bring improvement, including systems for evaluating and training staff members. Now, some schools are changing these systems, placing new emphasis on performance, but also on collegiality.
In recent years, educators have focused on student performance. Recognizing that conventional tests don't fully measure student learning, they have devised tasks that enable students to show what they can do, rubrics to describe various levels of performance, and portfolios to document growth over time. Educators who wanted to reform assessment soon found themselves dealing with other aspects of schooling: record keeping, reporting, curriculum, and instruction. They found what the basketball coach and the choir director knew all along: a performance orientation changes not only the way you assess learning but the way you teach for it.
Some of the same factors that brought attention to student performance led also to concern over the performance of educators. As curriculum groups were busy writing standards for what students should know and be able to do, other groups were defining standards of professional practice—and pondering how one type of standard might be related to the other. Educational Testing Service replaced the paper-and-pencil National Teacher Examination, formerly used to screen prospective teachers, with Praxis III, which requires judgments of the applicants' actual teaching behavior. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards uses portfolios tied to performance standards to decide which applicants should be awarded national certification.
As noted by Linda Darling-Hammond (p. 4), the move to define standards for teachers and administrators has inspired hopes for greater professionalization and more focused staff development. In 1994 the ASCD Board of Directors adopted, as one of two official positions, a statement calling for teacher certification, staff development, and continued employment to be based on “demonstrated teaching ability."
Without knowing the whole story, one might expect an emphasis on teacher performance to lead to increased use of clinical supervision. Paradoxically, leading educators are finding that a quite different approach—collegial interaction—is more effective. For example, Tom McGreal (p. 30), who has helped numerous school districts revise their teacher evaluation programs, reports that many of these districts are adopting a three-track approach, devoting extraordinary resources to working with beginning teachers and with a small number of experienced staff members placed on the "assistance track," but encouraging the majority of teachers to set and pursue group goals as members of professional development teams.
Pauline Sahakian and John Stockton (p. 50), who teach at Buchanan High School in Clovis, California, describe a slightly different version of staff collaboration. There, teachers observe one another's classes and then meet for group postconferences, which are professional conversations rather than "feedback" about what the teachers did or did not do.
The role of feedback from peers is, for me, the most surprising aspect of what pioneering staff developers are learning about professional improvement. Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers (p. 12), who introduced the idea of "coaching" and whose well-known model originally stressed the importance of feedback, now omit feedback altogether. The reason? "When teachers try to give one another feedback, collaborative activity tends to disintegrate."
That helps explain Tom McGreal's observation that conventional peer coaching is rare in most schools—but it doesn't mean we can do without feedback. For most aspects of performance, helpful feedback is probably essential; just ask the basketball coach and the choir director. But giving adult professionals feedback about their work performance requires great skill and tact. As Paul Caccia (p. 17) explains, the coach has to gain the teacher's trust, and must be able to ask questions and make suggestions in a way that inspires confidence rather than provokes defensiveness. In other words, teachers still need skilled supervision. These days, though, as members of professional development teams, teachers are also learning to improve their performance through collaborative activity with their peers.

Education writer and consultant Ron Brandt is the former editor of Educational Leadership and other publications of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

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