Can teamwork and coaching can improve teaching?

December 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Bliss Maki, a new teacher at the Bradwell School of Excellence on Chicago’s South Side, has yet to develop that all-important trait of her more seasoned colleagues: eyes in the back of her head.

Not much bigger than some of the fourth-graders she teaches, Maki is also still working on her “strong voice,” a tool essential to keeping a class of wiggly 9-year-olds focused on the reading assignment at hand. But on a recent Tuesday afternoon, she had help — the voice of a veteran teacher giving pointers through a transmitter in her ear.

Melissa Monaco, a “coach” with many years of experience as a teacher, sat in the back of the room whispering advice into a walkie-talkie. It was Monaco who noted that two boys in the back row were beginning to talk. Instantly, Maki was beside them, suggesting that they get back to work or consider detention.

“There’s not much that a 10-year-old can pull I haven’t seen before, but she’s new and there are 30 of them,” Monaco said. “A fresh set of eyes helps.”

The Academy for Urban School Leadership — which manages 19 schools in Chicago, including 12 that were designated for “turnaround” because of poor academic performance — employs the technology to help speed up the time it takes new teachers to learn the basics of classroom management.

Underlying the new gadgetry, however, is a deeper innovation that is spreading across the country. Schools are hiring instructional coaches and master teachers to work with new and struggling teachers. Principals are spending more time in classrooms. Teachers are collaborating to help low-performing students, writing lesson plans and sharing ideas that have worked. All of these efforts are pieces of a growing effort to open up classroom doors and transform teaching from a solo endeavor into teamwork.

It’s a quiet reform in an era of more extreme moves such as firing principals, opening charter schools or splitting dropout factories into smaller schools. But in the quest to improve achievement, many educators say the job of teaching can’t continue to be modeled on the idea of one adult standing alone in front of 30 students. READ MORE…

(A version of this story was also published in the Chicago Tribune; Tara Malone contributed reporting.)

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