Why You Should Get Coached: Part 2. And, 20 Questions to Guide Conferring

I’m about to get coached. And I know it. It’s ahead of a planned observation of a PLC meeting I’ll facilitate. This coaching experience will be, well, different from those I experienced as a classroom teacher. Not only will I be netting my own thinking as my co-coach surfaces it, but also I’ll be observing the questions she casts. I’m hoping to catch more than ideas for how to best support the team of teachers I’ll serve. I’m hoping to hook on to more ways of listening, more ways of asking the right questions, more ways to perfect the timing of my casts.  Like many of you, I began this work through conferring with readers and writers. And, hence Part II of Why You Should Get Coached: to further build your conferring skills. 

When I attended Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s 180 Days Conference last October, they spoke to this, with urgency. In their eyes, conferring is the single most important strategy for an ELA teacher (I’d argue for ALL teachers but I’m still working on how to angle that for other content areas) AND it’s the one teachers need the most professional development around. In Katie Martin’s Learner Centered Innovation, she cites research from Joyce and Showers (2002) that demonstrates that “teachers who were coached in the classroom implemented 95% of skills over time compared with 5% of their peers that implemented instructional practices in their classroom without coaching.” When you invite a coach to be a part of your classroom story, you’re acquiring direct access to listening and questioning and reflecting skills. Imagine the outcome! When I invited my coach in to observe small group conferring and when I invited him in to observe video of my conferring, my tackle box of strategies swelled. So did my confidence. So did my trust in my coach and my students’ trust in me. This occurred for me because of talk that invited it.

Screen Shot 2019-12-03 at 11.01.01 PMKittle is right: “The language we use to invite talk begins with the questions we ask.” Because coaches’ learning centers around building rapport, trust, and reflective capacity, and because we are (or at least should be!) the most coached in a building, we’re uniquely centered to model questioning and listening and to coach on it.

Here are some of my new favorite questions you might toss out when you need to reel in student thinking. 

  1. What’s on your mind?Screen Shot 2019-12-03 at 11.00.36 PM
  2. And what else?
  3. What all have you tried?
  4. If you were someone else, what do you think you would try?
  5. If you did know the answer, what would you think?
  6. What have you tried in the past that might work here?
  7. On what past successes might you draw on as you do this work?
  8. So how do you feel about _____________?
  9. What’s the most important part of your work?
  10. What are you hoping to accomplish with _________?
  11. What skill or process are you looking to really strengthen with this?
  12. What will guide your decisions about _________?
  13. What might your classmates think (especially in terms of strengths) is important for you to focus on?
  14. Which of these is the biggest challenge right now?
  15. What’s keeping you up at night?
  16. It seems you might be feeling _________. Would you like to talk about that?
  17. Looking back, what would you do differently?
  18. What is most important to you?
  19. What do you think your next steps are?
  20. What was most helpful today?

Your coaches will lean into other, even better questions. And they’ll listen to you because they see your value. Why not toss out an invite?

Kristin Jeschke loves questions and really appreciates (in her new role as Instructional Coach) that she doesn’t have to have the answers. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kajeschke.

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