Convincing Teachers that Coaching Means Support, Not Obstruction
As I approached a Brooklyn public high school in one of my favorite suits, fending off the discomfort of the September heat recently, a mix of excitement and anxiousness bubbled in my chest. This moment was the product of 11 months of groundwork. Today, a pilot of EdConnective coaching was to begin with five teachers at a high-performing school in New York City that serves predominantly African American and Latino students.
Last October, I reached out to Jahmani Hylton, the director of the New York City Young Men's Initiative (YMI), a "public/private partnership aimed at reducing disparities between the economic and social outcomes of young men of color and other demographic groups in New York City." I hoped that the YMI could fund EdConnective coaching as an innovative tool for some of the schools in its Expanded Success Initiative (ESI), which supports new and creative ideas for preparing black and Latino males for college and career opportunities. Jahmani could have ignored my email (the way many others already had). But even when traffic turned a two-hour drive from Philadelphia to New York City into a six-hour trip, Jahmani still made time to meet with me.
He listened to me pitch my vision for ensuring great teaching in every classroom by providing teachers with the supports they need to thrive. He even reeled in Paul Forbes, the director of the Expanded Success Initiative, who got an earful about my research and my mission to accelerate student outcomes by empowering teachers through video coaching. Numerous meetings and visits to City Hall later, an EdConnective pilot was approved. YMI agreed to fund the endeavor for a small group of teachers, and ESI agreed to offer it to its affiliated schools as a pilot.
Fast forward 11 months and I, along with a colleague, find myself at this Brooklyn high school, ready to provide an overview of EdConnective to a group of teachers selected by the principal. Two hours later, with cameras, bagels, and handouts in tow, we begin to present to the participating teachers. The first thing I notice is the surprise on the faces of the teachers, evidence that this might be the first time they are hearing about their participation in this pilot. Then I notice signs of fatigue and possible discontent marked by glossy eyes and luke-warm temperaments. Furthermore, our presentation comes immediately after a long morning of professional development workshops, and right before lunch. You guessed it: all of these factors means EdConnective faces an uphill battle for teacher buy-in.
I explain to the teachers that I had interviewed successful black and Latino males in their school one year earlier, as a research team member on the Succeeding in the City study. I mention how students at their school noted how talented teachers contributed to their success and how EdConnective could support teachers in new ways. I detail how often they would Skype their instructional coach and how to upload recordings of their classroom instruction. However, it was only after meeting with teachers one-on-one, that they started to engage.
We went into each teacher's classroom and helped set up the cameras. There, we were met with questions such as, "What is this really about?", "Who are the coaches?" and "What makes a good coach?" We took this opportunity to answer every question, ensuring teachers that the effort was not an evaluation. We provided detailed information about the backgrounds of the EdConnective coaches, and their abilities to provide feedback and new strategies. With each conversation, I felt progress towards acceptance of the EdConnective program.
I empathize with the initial apprehension of the teachers at this Brooklyn high school. In So Much Reform, So Little Change, Charles Payne explains how educators are often demoralized, winded, and disheartened by their experiences with wave after wave of new initiatives and responsibilities thrust upon them, only to see these endeavors fail, lose traction, or be scuttled after short periods of time. For the next seven weeks, EdConnective will be working diligently to win the buy-in of the teachers while simultaneously providing an experience that will hopefully escape the gravitational pull of the education reform graveyard.
For more information follow Will Morris on Twitter @edconnective.