At Regent Secondary School, key personnel and reporting officers use a 4-step approach of cognitive coaching to provide effective feedback to teachers. This facilitative approach is designed to inform and empower teachers to become key enablers who will make a difference.
With feedback comes awareness and improvement. But despite having one of the most important jobs in the world, teachers get almost no feedback on their teaching that will help them perform better (Gates, 2013).
As a School Staff Developer in Regent Secondary School, Madam Mohana Ratnam felt compelled to build the professional capacities and increase the self-efficacy of her colleagues.
When she was awarded a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Programme, Mohana decided to focus on using cognitive coaching to inform and empower teachers, as part of her Fulbright Capstone Project (now known as Fulbright Inquiry Project).
The Importance of Teacher Efficacy
“The key enabler for making every school a good school are the teachers. We make the difference,” says Mohana. But first, teachers must believe they can do the job, and do it very well.
Teachers with high self-efficacy possess confidence. “We want our teachers to go in front of a class of 40 students who might not be doing very well in their studies, and say: ‘Hey, let me be your hope,’” notes Mohana.
Teachers should also have high expectations for their students. Regardless of whether they are in the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) or Express stream, teachers’ high expectations for students will motivate them to achieve beyond what is stereotypically expected of them.
When Mohana visited the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School in the US for a 4-month exchange programme, she saw for herself how expectations made a difference.
“These kids come from home environments that are very challenging,” she notes. “But with high expectations from the teachers, they make it to top universities like Stanford and Harvard.”
Persisting in the face of challenges is important, stresses Mohana. On top of that, empathizing with the challenges that students face is also necessary.
“The challenges that our students face might not be the challenges that we faced (as students),” she says. “Therefore, we need to understand them and have empathy towards their challenges.”
“As teachers, we ought to face these challenges together with the students, and we need to keep persisting until they can overcome.”
Providing Effective Feedback for Capacity Building
When conversations allow for reflections by design, it brings about a deeper understanding of the self, thereby empowering teachers to really care and inspire others through a shared vision.
– Mohana Ratnam, Regent Secondary School
The answer to improving teachers’ efficacy lies in providing effective feedback to the teachers.
“It has been studied that many teachers report positive impact following feedback they received about their work, including their classroom teaching practices,” notes Mohana. “The feedback that they received led to positive changes in both their teaching practices and use of student assessment to improve student learning.”
Research literature also shows that feedback without coaching is insufficient. This means that having a coach in the process of providing feedback will lead to a greater improvement on the job.
At Regent Secondary, the role of a coach falls on the shoulders of the reporting officers (RO) and key personnel (KP), exemplified particularly during pre- and post-lesson observations and work-review sessions.
Even though Mohana notes the importance of a coach in evaluation and feedback, she emphasizes that the agenda of any lesson observation or work-review session has to be set by the teacher.
“The key role of an RO is to inspire, develop and guide,” says Mohana. “Directives should be removed when mitigating the learning gaps.” (Read more about the coaching process in the box story below.)
“Through this, an environment of good climate for teacher growth is created while teachers make meaning of their own experiences,” she continues.
The Cognitive Coaching Process
With all these in mind, Regent Secondary developed a 4-step cognitive coaching approach with the help and expertise of a consultant engaged by the school. Each step is accompanied by key strategic questions.
The steps are: identify main issues, explore possibilities of the issues, identify critical success factors, and conclude with reflections.
All ROs and KPs attended workshops to familiarize themselves with cognitive coaching.
For cognitive coaching, accountability rests with the teachers as they decide what they want to improve on.
During her presentation, Mohana played a video of a post-lesson observation session between a RO and a teacher. Mohana noted that the RO did not tell the teacher what was not done right.
Instead, in the video, the RO prompted the teacher with reflective questions. “You’ll notice that the teacher himself becomes self-critiquing,” says Mohana. “This practice helps shift the conversation from one where teachers defend their practice to one where teachers discuss how their practice goes towards attaining their own goal.”
Mohana shares that some colleagues found the process strange initially and fumbled over the questions. But through self-practice and video recording of the practice sessions, the process started to feel more natural to them.
Teachers appreciate the deep conversations, as it allows them to reflect deeper on what they wish for their students, she says.
“When conversations allow for reflections by design, it brings about a deeper understanding of the self, thereby empowering teachers to really care and inspire others through a shared vision.”
Mohana notes that teacher coaching and feedback must occur within an atmosphere of trust. “It must be a comfortable atmosphere in a collaborative and non-judgmental context.”
“Today, our teachers welcome their RO’s feedback because they now trust that they are not being judged,” says Mohana.
With the right environment and structure in place for effective feedback, teachers will be able to be more confident of their teaching and help even more students.
Gates, B. (May, 2013). Bill Gates: Teachers need real feedback [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates_teachers_need_real_feedback