Research School Network: Instructional coaching: The experience of an ITT mentor Charlotte Buffoni, ITT mentor from the Hampshire SCITT partnership, reflects on instructional coaching as a mentor

Instructional coaching: The experience of an ITT mentor

Charlotte Buffoni, ITT mentor from the Hampshire SCITT partnership, reflects on instructional coaching as a mentor

by HISP Research School
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As an experienced mentor with the Hampshire SCITT Partnership, I often reflect on my own experiences as a trainee (with the same partnership) so that I can empathise with trainees and the challenges that they face at different stages in the ITT programme. Reflecting also helps me recall how it felt to not yet be an expert practitioner but how desperate I was to become one. The way in which the Hampshire SCITT Partnership has designed its ITT programme allows trainees to follow the ITT Core Framework ensuring that the centre-based learning covers the learn that…’ so that the observations and professional discussions in school that follow can demonstrate these key concepts which will enable trainees to incorporate these into their own teaching so that one day they will become expert practitioners themselves.

The parts of my own training that had the most long-lasting impact on my practice were the conversations I had with expert colleagues, who had observed my teaching and whom during our professional conversations, offered their insight onto why a learning episode wasn’t as effective as it should have been. Whether this a result of an oversight during planning; my use of language during the lesson; or a lack of clarity on the precise learning that needed to take place. From this, I would be encouraged to observe other teachers, joint-plan with experts to model the thought process and then discuss my findings with my mentor at our next meeting. This is instructional coaching in practice. Now, as a full-time classroom teacher, the principles of instructional coaching continue to be an essential part of my teaching practice and how I mentor new teachers too. Ensuring that all teachers keep reflecting on their practice and modelling to trainees that this is what good teaching looks like is vital. Every year, teachers have to adapt their teaching to an ever-changing profile of students whilst the policies and practice landscapes of education continue to shift too and therefore setting small, realistic and manageable targets create the most impactful changes in the classroom.

The recent investment made by the Hampshire SCITT Partnership in providing each trainee and mentor with a copy of Tom Sherrington’s Rosenshine’s Principles in Action and Sherrington and Caviglioli’s Teaching WalkThrus make the transition between centre-based training and school-based teaching seamless: the language used in both books makes excellent practice obvious and achievable whilst being an accessible resource to new and experienced colleagues that is easy to refer to. The use of, and reference to, these books in both centre and school-based trainees ensures a common language is used in all aspects of the programme; this makes it easy for trainees to see exactly how the theory is put into practice and allows trainees to begin to incorporate into their own practice. Moving between school-based and centre-based training is just a natural part of a trainee’s week.

Every trainee teacher entering the field has similar emotions during their first year in school: confidence that this is the chosen career for them but inevitably, frustration that certain aspects of their teaching aren’t as easy to master as the experts make it look. This is where instructional coaching is crucial. It enables us (the mentor and trainee) to gain a clear picture of where their teaching is currently (through observations and professional discussions) so that together we can identify goals and set appropriate targets to help achieve those goals. By providing the trainee with appropriate strategies to help meet these goals, we monitor and reflect on their progress until the trainee is competent in this area.

Weekly meetings between a mentor and their trainee are focused around 3 key discussions that help trainees achieve the ultimate objective of QTS. Firstly, a discussion about the most recent centre-based training- what they learnt, where they have seen this in practice around the school and how it can be applied to their own lessons. Second, the professional studies held within school which, again, are focused on the teacher Walkthru’s and Rosenshine’s Principles and usually follow on from recent training provided by the centre. Professional studies sessions follow a clear structure which includes opportunities for trainees to put the ideas into a lesson of their own as well as questions that need to be discussed during the next mentor meeting this gives the weekly meetings a professional and productive discussion where all aspects of their training are threaded together to help piece together the bigger pitre. And finally, a discussion about the trainee’s current performance, based on observations, both formal and informal. All three discussions help complete a weekly review sheet whereby targets are set against agreed teaching standards and appropriate strategies are suggested to enable trainees to achieve these targets.

A challenge often faced by mentors when setting targets in weekly meetings is that the subtle techniques that an experienced teacher has embedded in their practice over years that are fundamental to the success of their classroom and are consistently applied in every lesson aren’t always obvious to a trainee during an observation. IRIS connect helps with this. Together, mentors and trainees can use lesson recordings to identify appropriate strategies for improvements against targets’ which is a key part of the weekly review sheet. IRIS connect allows mentors to record their own lessons so that, together with the trainee they can pause, reflect and discuss small parts of a lesson such as how a teacher gets the class silent for a register and ensures they are silent throughout or, how the teacher is able to transition between assessing the learning from one task, to introducing a new concept without disruptions from poor behaviour and identify how this can be incorporated into the trainee’s upcoming lessons. Then, when the trainee has had the opportunity to incorporate this into their planning, we can record their teaching to reflect on how successful these strategies have been.

As Sims (2019) rightly acknowledges, instructional coaching involves revisiting the same skills multiple times. In practice, this means that early on, a trainee may be set a target such as to learn the names of students in their class because without this, other targets that focus on behaviour management and building positive relationships with a class will not have the same effect. Once this target has been achieved, a mentor may look to set a target of sending a positive email home to a student’s parents, or to incorporate personalised praise within the lesson, such as writing names on the board or targeted feedback on a specific response or task. Whilst the targets that are set later on will be more advanced, this shows that instructional coaching is a personalised coaching strategy that continually focuses on where that trainee is at in their own development and what immediate next steps are needed to make the next small step in their progress. Making trainees aware that even when qualified, the process of observation-feedback-practice continues is vital to ensuring that teaching practice remains relevant and effective in a dynamic classroom environment.

Following the most recent changes to the ITT Core Framework (November 2019), the lesson observation feedback form has been adapted. Originally, each teaching standard was identified and displayed separate to all other standards when in reality, there is often obvious overlap between multiple standards. The Hampshire SCITT Partnership has incorporated this into their feedback criteria grid of effective teaching which no longer looks at 8 separate teaching standards but instead a summary of four of the five clusters of Standards in the ITT Framework: Behaviour Management:

S1& S7, Pedagogy: S2, S4, S5, Curriculum: S3, Assessment: S6. This makes setting targets as a mentor much more straightforward. Developing positive behaviour for learning in the classroom not only comes from competence in standard 7: managing behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment but also standard 1: setting high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils. As expert colleagues, we know that where behaviour is a challenge for teachers, the root cause is rarely a child choosing to behave poorly for the sake of it, but perhaps a lack of respect, a lack of appropriate challenge or an absence of praise in the classroom which make any methods of managing behaviour almost useless. It is this knowledge that helps mentors set trainees targets that are achievable and meaningful.

Instructional coaching enables trainees to develop the skills needed to deal with teaching life after qualifying too; newly qualified teachers must be able identify areas of their own practice that need further development not only for their NQT meetings but also so that they can continue to develop their practice even when they don’t have the input from expert colleagues observing every lesson that they teach. This is what makes instructional coaching such a powerful form of professional development for new and experienced teachers.

Charlotte Buffoni
ITT mentor from the Hampshire SCITT partnership

Four reasons instructional coaching is currently the best-evidenced form of CPD
ITT core framework…
Tom Sherrington’s book- Rosenshine’s principles in action…
Teaching walkthrus

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