Before you read this post, read this article by Atul Gawande: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/03/111003fa_fact_gawande?currentPage=all
Or read my brief summary. Basically, he’s saying that we have this idea that being a “professional” in any field but sports means that you have reached a level beyond needing a coach, or needing improvement advice. You’re supposed to be able to improve on your own. Except that in sports, this would be unthinkable, mostly because it’s crap and specific observations and specific advice on changes to make will help you improve in just about anything from sports to medicine to teaching. On the one hand, if the advice is bad and your coach isn’t very good, it may harm rather than hurt. But if the advice is good and the coach knows what they’re doing, one-on-one coaching will help more than any training session.
This was a very interesting article because I am right now one of those people who is only implementing maybe 40% of what I’m learning at trainings, mostly because I don’t really know how to implement it or just only retained 40% of the training. At the same time, I have never been observed teaching in an official capacity by anyone I work for–the only person who has observed me for more than 5 minutes has been my TFA manager person, and she tends to offer general advice like plan more, rather than specific observations. People from the school district generally come in for 2-5 minutes to look at what I have posted on my walls, as if that matters at all (fun fact: most of what they are observing they require me to post and is full of $10 words that my kids don’t and can’t read anyway).
No one tells me what I’m doing well. No one tells me what I’m doing wrong. No one offers ideas on how to fix something that are based on observations or what they see me doing. Instead, I fumble around trying to figure out what I’m doing, identify problems, then describe what I’m doing to other teachers, and finally adapt their general advice to what is possible in my classroom situation. It’s seven degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, and it’s much harder to change what really happens.
It’s one of those things where if coaching were available, I would jump at the chance to get it. But even though our district sucks by all measures, the solution is always buy a new curriculum or change the schedule, make it somehow teacher-proof. No one ever thinks that maybe if we helped the teachers be better at what they do, they would be the proof themselves.