Sunday, March 10, 2019

Bug-In-Ear Coaching: Why Is This Still A Thing?

You're a young teacher, working hard to get the hang of running a classroom, sequencing instruction, monitoring a roomful of students, tracking the clock, and otherwise managing your role as educational Boss Of The Room. It reminds you of when you first started driving, and it was taxing just to carefully monitor everything that needed to be monitored. Your hands are full and your brain is just this far from overloading.

Clearly what you need more than anything else is a voice in your ear offering back seat driving while you are trying to do your job.

Excellent. Do your anticipatory set, then dance for me.
Somehow bug-in-ear coaching continues to be a thing. EdWeek wrote this puffy promotional piece for the practice just last month. But the practice has been around for a while. Here's an extensive piece of happy talk about it back in 2011-- and it cites sources going back to 1994. The writers at least have the sense to acknowledge that "the virtual coach's role can quickly deteriorate into a Big Brother or a nagging mother." Well, yes. They also advise to keep things short, maybe just using key words.

Coaches advocating for this approach insist that teachers love it, which is not exactly a shocker. It's younger teachers or struggling teachers who are mostly likely to have the bug-ear thrust upon them and who are also least likely to say, "Are you kidding me?" But if you want to read an account of someone who went through it and hated it, here's a piece from Ann Berard, a former charter teacher who decided that she did not want to be "just like Tom Brady."

The students were also perplexed by my new earpiece accessory. "Um, Miss, what’s that in your ear?" they asked. I looked over to the three adults in the far back corner of the room for my scripted answer. "Tell them you are like Tom Brady. Tom Brady wears an earpiece to be coached remotely and so do you," was the response. I never would have said that, and mumbled instead: "But I’m not Tom Brady. No, I’m not Tom Brady." The students, who could hear me, but not what I was hearing through my earpiece, were more confused than ever. At which point I explained to them that I was being trained by the people in the corner who were telling me what to say via their walkie talkie. I’m all for transparency and simple answers to simple questions.

Berard's experience contains some commonly noted features of this type of coaching, most notably the comparison to pro football coaching. However, the new model now calls for the coach not to be in the back of the room, but somewhere else entirely, watching via video camera. Because nothing gives you a real sense of the classroom better than a little monitor cam mounted like some sort of security camera in the corner.

This stuff has also apparently caught on in the UK, where "just like Tom Brady" must not seem quite as compelling, but where officials insist that, unlike in the US, the system is under the control of the teacher and not used as a means of instructing teachers "how to behave in the classroom."

The Big Kahunas of voice-in-your-head coaching is a company called CT3 (The Center for Transformative Teacher Training). CT3 has two co-founders. Co-founder Kristyn Klei Borrero is also CEO. Borrero did at least start out with an education degree from Miami (1995). Borrero was a principal at age 27 and running turnaround charter schools in Oakland and Palo Alto, California. She was also a honcho at Aspire charters in California, the charter chain set up by Don Shalvey (Gates Foundation) and Reed "Elected School Boards Suck" Hastings (Netflix). Aspire is also in the Build Your Own Teachers business.

The other co-founder's name is familiar to most teachers Of A Certain Age. Lee Canter made a name for himself on the professional development circuit with Assertive Discipline, an approach based on taking control of your classroom. But for CT3 Cantor has also developed the No-Nonsense Nurturer program and the Real-Time Coaching model. Both NNN and RTC are registered trademarks, because there's no point in repackaging well-worn materials with a little twist unless you can call it proprietary information.

CT3 was focused on micromanaging teachers to implement CT3's ideas about how a teacher is supposed to teach (here's an account from a coach learning the coaching biz). That gets us to the heart of why bug-eared coaching is a bad idea. When I have "coached" student teachers, I've always been crystal clear about one thing, and they all get this same speech-- "I'm not here to get you to teach like me. You have to figure out how to teach like you."  Teaching is highly personal, and if you pursue it as a career, you will be immersed in it your whole life. That makes it far too exhausting to teach as anyone other than your own authentic self.  Teaching is also a job of relationship, and the first rule of relationships is that you have to show up, which means the authentic you and not some part your trying to act out to placate the voices in your head.

Are there aspects of teaching that are universal, or rough corners of your authentic self that need to be knocked off before you take over a classroom? Sure. And bug-eared coaching fans say that the instant real-time correction is good because it keeps proto-teachers from practicing something the wrong way. I get their point, but I disagree. Nothing drives home a lesson about "Do not do that" better than a bad student reaction. There's no use in steering a newby away from a baddish idea so that she can later wonder, "Ah, how bad could that have been."

Of course, much of this micro-managing is not about avoiding bad classroom outcomes as much as it's about forcing teachers to conform to the proscribed model of the charter or public school administrator involved. (Mostly, it's charters. Time after time, the happy talk article about "Coaching is so great because it helps us get teachers to do exactly what we want them to" is from a charter school.)  Here's my two cents of advice for any young teacher who finds herself in a school with bosses who want to tell her exactly, precisely how to do her job-- get out. Get out now. 

Does it work? Well, we don't really have a definition of "works," do we. The EdWeek piece says a "growing body of evidence" says yes-- but then it links to the 2011 article which is heavy on "this is what we do" and tenuously light on "here's the evidence." I'm not going to say that I can't ever imagine any situation or teachers for whom it could work, used in certain ways. But I will say that it seems like a terrible idea, that it is often found in conjunction with truly terrible ideas about how to teach (No Nonsense Nurturing deserves its own extended rant), that it is dehumanizing and demeaning and that there are far better ways to help someone perfect their craft. Sit in their classroom, like a real person. Watch them, like a real person. And after the lesson is over, have a conversation with them, like a real person. Because of course when the voice is chirping in your ear, there is no opportunity for conversation or discussion, no chance for the teacher to say "But here was my thinking..." or "But I really wanted to..." Ear-bug coaching is dictation, boss to plebe, not a conversation of equal human professionals. Proponents are going to say, "And that's why we recommend a follow-up conference between teacher and coach afterwards," and I'm going to say, "Just have that conference and skip the remote control ear bossing part." 

There are many bad ideas that won't die stomping around the education space. This is not one of the baddest or biggest, but it's definitely due to be done. 

1 comment:

  1. These are called zombie ideas which just don't die, like "merit" pay, academic rigor in kindergarten, etc.