Teachers are all too well aware that change is
a real constant in their professional lives. For the most part, expectations
for change have been about teaching practice. They are told it’s better to
teach this way rather than that way or that one instructional program is to
be adopted instead of another. Yet probably the most profound expectations
for change in recent years are to be found in the assumptions that underlie
No Child Left Behind (Armbruster, Lehr, and Osborn 2001). To leave no child
behind demands an emphasis on student learning as a measure of effective
Over many years I
have been privileged to work with teachers and administrators who have
always believed that the only measure of effective instruction is the extent
to which it improves the learning of every student. In the early 1990s, I
was introduced to The Learning Network This model of
professional development included a component for training site-based
teacher leaders, who became teacher developers or coaches. Their training
was from a Learning Network coordinator, who had developed expertise in the
processes of teaching and learning, content standards, and working with
adults. This model was years ahead of other professional development
For me, the
approach The Learning Network took to professional development for teachers
was a dramatic shift from what I had experienced earlier. Each school in The
Learning Network assigned or chose a minimum of two teacher leaders. The
goal of training teacher leaders was to provide professional development
that was job embedded; that focused on improving student achievement by
improving the effectiveness of classroom practice.
When working as a
Learning Network coordinator, my colleagues and I developed a process for
supporting coaches we called instructional dialogue. In effect, it was
little more than a structured conversation that was a way of providing
feedback and help for teachers to say more clearly what they were doing, why
they were doing it, and how they might think about how they would change
their practice to make their instruction more effective. The measure of this
effectiveness was always student learning. The evidence was an increase in
student achievement. Instructional dialogue proved challenging for many
teachers. In an education culture that emphasized what to do and how
to do it, it was disconcerting for many new teacher leaders or coaches to
have a coordinator ask questions about what they were doing and why
they were doing it. They felt that asking “why” was a suggestion that what
they did was wrong or not good enough.
What I now
understand is that teachers, like the students they instruct, are on a
continuum of learning. There is no end point to learning for anyone at any
time. The knowledge and skills teachers need are dependent upon the
challenges they face with the next group of learners who walk into their
describes a type of professional support that is meaningful and provides
appropriate feedback to teachers that can make them more effective teachers.
Developed over a period of fifteen years, instructional dialogue has become
an important part of a teacher development process that can and does lead to
improving the learning achievement of all students. To give the reader an
idea about how instructional dialogue can work, this book includes a DVD
showing some classroom instruction and an instructional dialogue between a
teacher and a coach. This is intended to be an example of an instructional
dialogue. The style and approach will differ among different coaches and
teachers. This video footage illustrates one of the ways I have learned to
work with teachers.
How to Use
This book is
divided into three parts. Part 1, Laying a Foundation for Reflective
Teaching, is designed to answer the question, “What is
instructional dialogue?” Introduced in Chapter 1 with a scenario of a
teacher and coach working together, this provides the reader with an
opportunity to see the process of instructional dialogue in action. Chapter
2 contains a definition of instructional dialogue, a description of how the
process works, and an articulation of the roles of both the coach and the
teacher involved in the process.
Implementing a Process for Instructional Dialogue, is designed to support
the reader in understanding how instructional dialogue works.
Chapter 3 describes the action plan, a tool the teacher and coach use to
determine the focus for the work they will do together. Chapter 4 explains
the thinking of the coach as he or she works “on the job” with the teacher.
Chapter 5 depicts the role of the coach during instructional dialogue.
Chapter 6 puts the action plan, the job-embedded work, and instructional
dialogue together in a description of the process that is depicted in the
DVD that accompanies this book.
The book concludes
with Part 3, Ensuring That the Process of Instructional Dialogue Works,
which explores the why behind instructional dialogue.
Chapter 7 describes the need for a school to develop agreements in order for
the process to be transparent. Finally, Chapter 8 shares the research that
supports the concept of instructional dialogue.
In one sense, this
is a handbook; a book that is a reference for those supporting teachers as
they develop as more competent professionals. But it’s not a typical
handbook. The difference is that this handbook is about people who are
learning at different rates and in different ways, not things that are
pre-programmed to work in particular ways if the right actions are taken.
And one thing we know about adult people is that as diverse learners they
learn more effectively when they learn together.
theme of this book is collegiality; the idea that a group of colleagues
share responsibility toward achieving a common goal. This book
supports the goal of developing teachers to become more confident, competent
professional educators. It may work well for small groups of coaches and
teachers to study this book and the accompanying DVD, try some of the
suggested approaches for working together and instructional dialogue, and
regroup periodically to share experiences. What is critical to this process
is how the collegial environment supports adult learners, who when asked
“why?” are often tentative and reluctant to expose themselves to the
scrutiny of others. Since the need to work together is an essential
component of this kind of professional learning, there is a real
responsibility on the part of those who lead these group experiences to
develop quickly the kind of respect and trust within the group that again is
an underlying theme of this book. Whether study groups form as a district
initiative, at the school level, or from small groups of colleagues simply
wishing to work together, respect and trust are crucial to success.
To consider this
handbook as a resource and a guide, that together with the kind of
leadership in the local district or school that inspires colleagues to
become better at what they do best, is how I would like to think <i>Literacy
Coaching: Developing Effective Teachers through Instructional Dialogue</i>
could be most helpful.