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Clarifying "Role" – Part 3

Words can be easily misunderstood and/or misinterpreted. So the best possible word needs to be used to articulate, as clearly as possible, the change in role that is required from teachers.


In the last post I concluded that “coaching” is a role concept deeper than aligning care with curriculum delivery, deeper than optimizing participation from members of a group (i.e. facilitation) and deeper than simply offering alternatives to industrial era teaching approaches. Coaching is about personalized service as a defined system expectation and thus passes the litmus test of Edushift Premise One. However, the success of any educational system re-design will rely on a clear understanding and application of this critical change in teacher role.


Our current industrial era of education is essentially comprised of appraisal systems; with students placed into performance boxes that are often difficult to escape from - through either their own eyes or the eyes of their teachers. We are accustomed to students, particularly in their mid to later years, asking not “what will I learn and why” but “how much is this assignment or test worth?” The final mark remains, almost exclusively, the motivating factor.


The concept behind coaching can define the structural change in behaviour required from teachers to address the reality of Edushift Premise One; to apply strategies that build upon the various learning styles and needs of every student. But can the actual word “coach” be applied in a useful and effective systematic way to address the change in teaching role required?


On one hand, the word “coach”, in western civilization at least, is almost synonymous with athletic performance. Not that this doesn’t hold some potential merits either. Imagine if the academic progress of students was provided the same attention, through a newly defined role from teachers, as high performance athletes receive from athletic coaches. Nonetheless, used exclusively, it is possible that changing the word “teacher” to “coach” could be misunderstood and/or misinterpreted in educational systems overall.


On the other hand, I can also appreciate that it could be counterproductive for educational systems to continue identifying teachers as “teachers”, despite the shift to a coaching role, because the word is so indelibly linked in our collective psyche with knowledge transfer.

So, while getting the name right is important, I don’t want to embark down this path too early. Instead, I think it would be advantageous to develop a job description for this new role required for teachers - or whatever other word eventually come to light. In the meantime, I’ll simply use the term “Edushift teacher/coach”. To get at this, let’s take a moment to consider the wide spectrum of job descriptions currently available for potential application.


On one end of the spectrum is the traditional type of description used for industrial era teaching. Here’s an example of a generic job description for “teacher” that I found on a web site called Best-Job-Interview.com

Teacher: General Purpose To plan, organize and implement an appropriate instructional program in a learning environment that guides and encourages students to develop and fulfill their academic potential. Main Job Tasks and Responsibilities Ø Plan, prepare and deliver instructional activities that facilitate active learning experiences\ Ø Develop schemes of work and lesson plans Ø Establish and communicate clear objectives for all learning activities Ø Prepare classroom for class activities Ø Provide a variety of learning materials and resources for use in educational activities Ø Identify and select different instructional resources and methods to meet students’ varying needs Ø Instruct and monitor students in the use of learning materials and equipment Ø Use relevant technology to support instruction Ø Observe and evaluate student’s performance and development Ø Assign and grade class work, homework, tests and assignments Ø Provide appropriate feedback on work Ø Encourage and monitor the progress of individual students Ø Maintain accurate and complete records of students’ progress and development Ø Update all necessary records accurately and completely as required by laws, district policies and school regulations Ø Prepare required reports on students and activities Ø Manage student behavior in the classroom by establishing and enforcing rules and procedures Ø Maintain discipline in accordance with the rules and disciplinary systems of the school Ø Apply appropriate disciplinary measures where necessary Ø Perform certain pastoral duties including but not limited to student support, counseling students with academic problems and providing student encouragement Ø Participate in extracurricular activities such as social activities, sporting activities, clubs and student organizations Ø Participate in department and school meetings, parent meetings Ø Communicate necessary information regularly to students, colleagues and parents regarding student progress and student needs Ø Keep up to date with developments in subject area, teaching resources and methods and make relevant changes to instructional plans and activities We can see how the responsibilities from this job description, as would be expected from industrial era teaching, are teacher focused. This is not a job description that aligns well with the Edushift Premise One demand for personalized learning. This job description is more about meeting the necessary expectations to oversee student compliance with teacher developed learning plans. On the other end of the spectrum is how an interpretation of coaching could be applied for potential educational system re-design. Here’s an example of a job description for “sports coach” from the web site of a British organization calledGraduate Prospects. I have edited this a little bit to fit the rationale of this post, but the basic structure and text is as originally presented. I have also placed square brackets around any text with a sports context that could be replaced, as necessary, to align with an educational context for the “Edushift teacher/coach”. Sports Coach: General Purpose [Sports coaches] bring out ability by identifying needs and planning and implementing suitable [training] programmes. Whatever the context, [coaching] involves developing the participants’ [physical and psychological] fitness and providing the best possible practical conditions in order to maximize their performance. [Coaches] must be aware of their ethical and legal obligations to their clients. [Coaching] roles vary hugely according to context, but typical work activities include: Performance management Ø Evaluating performance and providing suitable feedback, balancing criticism with positive and motivating comments Ø Assessing strengths and weaknesses in a participant’s performance and identifying areas for further development Ø Adapting to the needs and interests of the group or individual participant Ø Communicating instructions by using clear, simple language Ø Encouraging participants to gain and develop skills, knowledge and techniques Ø Ensuring that participants train and perform to a high standard at all times Inspiring confidence Ø Developing knowledge and understanding [of fitness, injury, sports psychology, nutrition and sports science] Ø Working with IT-based resources to monitor and measure performance Ø Acting as a role model, gaining the respect and trust of the people you work with Ø Liaising with other partners in performance management [such as physiotherapists, doctors and nutritionists] Ø Working to a high legal and ethical standard at all times, particularly in relation to issues such as child safeguarding and health and safety requirements Planning and Administration Ø Producing personalized [training] programmes Ø Maintaining records of participant performance Ø Coordinating participants’ attendance at meetings and other [sports] events Ø Planning and running programmes of activities for groups and/or individuals Ø Planning your own work schedule No doubt there is some room here for improvement and clarification. Nonetheless, this first attempt offers a reasonable starting point to meet the premise test for “Edushift teacher/coach”. This is a job description that offers a multitude of opportunities for the personalized educational needs of students. The responsibilities from this job description are a reversal from industrial era knowledge transfer. This job description is about addressing the behavioural change required from both teachers and students to meet the new world order. And structure drives behaviour - Edushift Premise 3. It’s worth noting that there has been some effort in the past decade or so from educational systems attempting to introduce a coaching role. However, a closer inspection of these job descriptions, which tend to follow variations of the title “Learning Coach”, is that they generally act as a support for traditional teaching roles. As one example, here is some text from a Government of Alberta web site offering an overview of a Learning Coach position. “Overall, the job of the learning coach is to work collaboratively to build the capacity of the school and its teachers for creating and sustaining inclusive learning environments that meet the diverse learning needs of all students. Interaction with classroom teachers is crucial to a learning coach’s ability to foster change. To be most effective, the learning coach is highly skilled at building relationships and spends the majority of his/her time working collaboratively with teachers (e.g., identifying instructional needs, promoting reflection, joint problem-solving, modelling, observing, co-planning, and demonstrating instructional strategies through co-teaching). For learning coaches to be successful and make a difference in building teacher capacity, it is essential that there be dedicated time for this role.” There are some appealing ideas here and, certainly, a key aspect of educational systems involves alternative support roles. But these types of positions can’t reasonably be expected to replace or lead the change in role required from teachers themselves. That’s why the above-noted learning coach role, increasingly common to educational systems, is not aligned with Edushift Premise three. It is, for all intents and purposes, a progressive support to the status quo. We need words that can clearly define the new role changes that will help our educational systems to move forward. With respect to the “Edushift teacher/coach” this is a work in progress. It will be helpful to use the Edushift “Projects” page as a collaborative tool in this respect - to complete a functional job description for the “Edushift teacher/coach”, including an agreeable title. But the concept is clear. "To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.” Winston Churchill

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