This is part 2 of a blog post series in which Elliot, a coaching lead at Manchester Communication Primary Academy, shares the five lessons he learnt when building a TA coaching programme, and the positive impact Instructional Coaching has had on TA practice.
In Part 1, Elliot outlined how he:
- Built a positive culture around coaching
- Reduced TA cognitive load and simplified feedback
We’d recommend starting with Part 1, before digging into Part 2 here and exploring how Elliot went onto:
- Normalise modelling and rehearsal
- Build a shared language
- Respond to data and link coaching to PD
Lesson 3: Normalise modelling and rehearsal
Even when TA coaching was up and running, modelling and practice continued to be a big hurdle to overcome: regular feedback was already alien - rehearsal even more so! I knew that making practice matter was vital for instructional coaching to work because it:
- prompts conversation and ensures the TA understands the step and its criteria fully
- ensures reflection on current performance and allows TAs to see the gap and where they need to go next
- improves mental models: the modelling and rehearsal helps the TA to visualise the change they need to make
To normalise modelling and rehearsal, I had to practise what I preached. It was important to begin by modelling the step myself, and arrive at a feedback session with a model scripted and prepared. Once I had modelled the step myself, I would then ask the TA to unpick my model with me, giving me feedback against the criteria, before rehearsing it themselves. Modelling the step myself first, and then asking my coachee for their thoughts and feedback, meant coaching became a collaborative experience.
TAs quickly began to see the benefits. When I surveyed staff on their experiences, they told me:
“I like practising it as many times as I need to to get it right. Before, I would doubt myself and think 'have I done this right?' Now, I feel a lot more confident and at ease with what I am doing.” (TA, EYFS)
“At first I thought it was all a bit silly but the smallest of changes really do have an impact when you are teaching. It took me a while to really think about where I stand and how I deliver certain things or ask questions to the class but being shown exactly what I need to do has helped me lots.” (TA, KS2)
- Take time to carefully script and prepare a model - use the Steplab videos as a guide
- Model the step yourself first to make the rehearsal process feel collaborative
- Ensure you take time together to unpick the ways the model is different from current practice - use the prompt question on Steplab
Lesson 4: Build a shared language
In education, we often take for granted what others know. We use so much teacher jargon, without even realising how specialised it is. For example, phrases like cold-calling, hinge-routines and think-pair-share might be familiar to teachers who have spent time in weekly PD sessions, but will be much less familiar to TAs who have not had the same training opportunities.
At first, I assumed that my coachees knew exactly what I was talking about: “I noticed in your lesson some children struggled to answer your probing question. How could you ensure you consolidate and activate prior knowledge to help students acquire new knowledge?” I knew what I was asking, I knew where I wanted to go with the next action step, but my coachees couldn't always follow what I was talking about.
Slowing down was imperative here: I introduced new content in stages and spent time ensuring we were building a shared language gradually.
Using Steplab to record and upload videos was also a game-changer. This allowed us to watch sections of the lesson back together, and to name and describe elements of their practice. Over time, this contributed to the shared language we were building for describing what was happening in lessons and the consequent impact on student learning. For example, I introduced phrases like ‘proximity’ ‘chunking instructions’ and ‘managing student attention’ and ensured they appeared in the step sequence I designed. One TA, a KS2 practitioner said:
“I often found that when children were quiet or not speaking, they were listening to me. When watching the video back that Elliot presented me I thought- wow there is a lack of engagement, there was little focus. I was then able to agree on an action step and have now mastered student attention before instructions, but also during activities to ensure they are taking information in. It really has changed my whole perspective on classroom management.”
Gradually, that shared language began to evolve.
TAs would film their lesson and I could use this as part of reviewing the previous action step and implementing a new action step. This was a real advantage because:
- I could watch the video numerous times to ensure nothing was missed
- I could play the video back alongside the TA and show them the exact moment we needed to improve
- The rehearsal became even more concrete, as it was linked to a very specific change or moment in a lesson
I find that watching back the video is often the point where the penny drops and staff really see what they need to improve. Filming rehearsal was also key to seeing TAs implement their action steps successfully. A coaching session lasts 30 minutes to 45 minutes but a video is far less transient. I began filming the modelling and practice element of the feedback session so that it was available for the TA to constantly revisit in order to make the change happen.
- Spend time building a shared language and avoid unnecessary jargon
- Keep language consistent and use it to design your own sequence of steps - Steplab makes this really easy!
- Video lessons (using Steplab's functionality) to support with building a shared language for describing the change that needs to be made
- Video modelling and rehearsal to create a resource for TAs to return to in their own time
Lesson 5: Respond to data and link coaching to PD
In schools, there are often competing development priorities and sometimes coaching can become divorced from these. TAs might be receiving coaching focused on giving instructions whilst also receiving training from the SENDCO on a completely different area of their practice.
As our coaching programme progressed and I was using Steplab for all of our TAs, I began to build data. Steplab’s Lead and Advanced Reporting pages allowed me to quickly see which steps were being achieved and which routines still needed time to embed into typical classroom practice.
I realised that weekly PD needed to be informed by this data and to be more aligned with the coaching which was taking place. The PD also needed to draw on the mechanisms that support changes to TA practice, such as modelling and rehearsal. I began ensuring that each staff training session had a period of modelling, followed by an opportunity for practice and rehearsal. For example, once I identified that I was coaching a lot on entry routines, I planned a series of group PD sessions on this.
First I shared the theory around why children are more likely to thrive when there are clear routines in the classroom using the Insight Modules on Steplab. Secondly, I modelled what a successful entry routine would look like, before giving TAs an opportunity to practise in pairs. As a result, TAs gained an understanding of what they should be doing in their own classroom context, but more importantly why they were doing it. I could then monitor this during lesson drop-ins and, as a result, provide individualised feedback and coaching if any TAs were struggling to implement this well.
- Look for trends in your coaching and plan PD responsively
- Supercharge the impact of coaching and PD by linking the two together
- Normalise practice and rehearsal by building it into PD sessions
- Follow-up group PD sessions with 1:1 coaching in order to support TAs to adopt changes
TAs at Manchester Communication Academy are fully onboard with Instructional Coaching, and keen to get a little bit better every day. Our initial question ‘How can we ensure our TAs are maximising their impact?’ has been answered. As a result of increased practitioner knowledge, confidence and understanding, it has developed outcomes for children. In KS1; l 92% passed the Phonics Screening Test. In KS2 progress scores were a huge achievement at this year, with a 0.8 scaled score in Reading and Maths respectively and an impressive 1.2 score in writing.
TAs no longer work with just 1 or 2 children who seem to be struggling. Instead they work in unison with the class teacher, in roving roles. They manage smooth starts to lessons, and lead children to produce quality work because of their increased understanding of how to scaffold knowledge or provide subject-specific feedback.
Instructional coaching through Steplab has been instrumental in supporting our TAs to get better. Our TAs are confident, knowledgeable and well-equipped to maximise their impact.
The buzz from TAs around Instructional Coaching means that when we launched coaching with our teachers this year, they were keen to get involved, and we’ve applied some of our learning to the design of a programme for teachers:
- Staff have dedicated development time in their timetables to feedback to one another
- Staff have regular training and support to develop their coaching skills through completion of the Steplab Coaching Skills Builder and regular coaching on coaching sessions
- Teacher coaching has a clear focus, ensuring coaching and PD are aligned
- Staff use the Insight Modules to develop their understanding of the science of learning, deepening their understanding of the action steps on Steplab
- Advanced Reporting continues to help us to look for trends in coaching data, enabling us to be responsive to teacher and school priorities.