Coaching Language and Techniques (Preview)

Part 1: Intro & Objectives

What should a mentor look for when coaching a new teacher? If something goes wrong in instruction, how does a mentor deliver the bad news? And how does a mentor get a teacher to become self-reflective? This lesson includes advice on how to conduct observations—from the pre-observation conference, to data collection, to delivering feedback. The “Demo” in this lesson is a “must see”–it’ll really help mentors get a feel for what a pre-observation conference looks and sounds like.

This module provides mentors with strategies that can be used to support beginning teachers as they transition from student teaching into the induction phase of their career.

After completing the lesson, you will:

  1. Understand the components of a coaching cycle
  1. Explore various stances on coaching conversations
  1. Develop a repertoire of language surrounding conferencing
  1. Explore a variety of questioning techniques
  1. Become familiar with observation models and data collection tools
  1. Observe a lesson and practice data collection techniques

Part 2: Real World Case

In this video, you’ll see what we’ll call “a coaching cycle.” It’s as easy as 1-2-3!

  1. It all starts with a pre-observation conversation between the mentor and the new teacher. During this conversation, the new teacher sets a goal for the observation.
  1. Then the mentor observes a lesson, taking notes and gathering data related to the new teacher’s goal.
  1. After the observation, the two teachers participate in a follow-up conversation to review the data and determine how the goal was reached and/or what changes can be made to reach it in the future.

In the video, notice how the mentor guides the new teacher to choose a focus for the observation. Before you watch the video, ask yourself: How might coaching conversations facilitate growth in new teachers’ instructional practices?

Now that you’ve viewed the Real World Case, consider these questions:

  • What did you notice about the coaching cycle?
  • How did the mentor, Diane, decide what data to collect?
  • What did you notice about the Elana’s biases? How did Diane address Elana’s bias?
  • Elana struggles to between “maintaining high expectations” and “looking at the data”–data which may or may not evidence exceptional learning. How can you help a new teacher achieve this balance between expectations and attending to data?
  • What did you notice about the end of the post-observation conference? What is the mentor’s role here?

Part 1

Diane (a new teacher mentor) is preparing to conduct her first classroom observation. Part of her preparation includes speaking with Tony (a veteran mentor). In their conversation, she reviews the components of a coaching cycle, discusses the pre-observation conference and the specific area of the lesson she and her mentee Alana agreed upon (ensuring she addresses/calls on students from both sides of her classroom). She also shares her data collection tool (classroom seating chart/tally marks). Tony agrees that Diane’s data collection tool is appropriate for the observation and reassures her that she is well planned.

Part 2

Diane and Alana have their post-observation conference (sitting side-by-side) where Diane allows time for her to reflect upon the lesson. Alana feels as if her lesson went well but Diane questions her about a student who was not engaged at all. Alana explains the student is new but that she’s worked with Asian students in the past so she knows he’s smart. She insists that he’s just shy and is still getting used to the class. Diane asks for data to support her assumption and helps reframe her thinking before moving on to share her observation notes. (The focus of the observation was to see if Alana was attending to/calling on all students and not favoring one side of the classroom) Diane shares her data by highlighting the number of tallies for each section of the classroom and their respective percentages. With the exception of the one student, Alana did engage students from both sides of the room. Before concluding the conference, they discuss their next steps by determining an area for the next observation. (time management)

Part 3: Building Knowledge

Due to copyright law, several readings cannot be hosted on this site. However, we encourage you to ask for assistance locating materials from your library media specialist. Many library services are freely available to educators.

Check out these articles and other resources. They’ll help build your knowledge about how to coach a new teacher.  The most important thing to remember is that you’re the COACH—that means you’ve got to guide the new teacher to see their classroom in new ways. Data collection is key here—observations, work samples, you name it! By looking closely at the data alongside a mentor, a new teacher can really begin to focus in on his or her students’ learning.

Whoops! Missed Opportunities for Mentoring

Drawing on interview and observation data collected for a national study of new teacher induction, this article explores how a mentor missed several opportunities to address difficulties faced by three new teachers. The authors raise vital questions about the professional obligations mentors have to the new teachers with whom they work.

Craver, C. & Katz, D. (2004). Teaching at the boundary of acceptable practice: What is a new teacher mentor to do? Journal of Teacher Education, 55(5), 449-462. DOI:10.1177/0022487104269524

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NOTE: Required reading.
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Stances for Mentoring

This study examines the language and techniques used in mentoring conferences to support beginning teachers’ learning and reflection. Helman describes what mentoring stances are, why they are important, and how these skills are applied when working with a beginning teacher.

Helman, L. (2006). Investigating Mentoring Conversation Using Different Mentoring Stances. In B. Achinstein & S. Athanases (Eds.), Mentors in the making (pp. 69-82). New York: Teachers College Press. [CD4]

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NOTE: Required reading.
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What Data to Collect when Observing

Sausen highlights ten data collection tools to support mentors with successful classroom observations.

Sausen, Julie (2012). Mentor and coach data gathering. Retrieved on line on May 21, 2012

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Dealing with Changes in First-Year Teachers

In the Mentoring Leadership and Resource Network website, scroll to “How do you handle difficult situations and conversations.” In this list, we particularly like the article by Gay Fawcett, titled “What’s Wrong with Kristine.” It’s about the change process for first year teachers.
Fawcett sites Fullan’s work on change, suggesting that ”
(a) change is a predictable series of stages;
(b) change is a process;
(c) change is individualized;
(d) anxiety and uncertainty are a part of change; and
(e) people involved in change need personal and technical support.
Such a mentor can help Kristine ‘find[ing] meaning and satisfaction in new ways of doing things'”
(Fullan, 1985, p. 396).

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Providing Sensitive Feedback

We also like the article in the Mentoring Leadership and Resource Network website by Michael F. Shaughnnesy and Elizabeth Self, titled, “Mentoring Emotionally Sensitive Individuals.” It tells what to do if the new teacher is particularly sensitive to feedback and critique. Some suggestions for mentoring emotionally sensitive individuals are:

a. Be patient.
b. Start with, and praise the good.
c. Be diplomatic, cordial and congenial.
d. Make global statement, then after rapport is developed, move to specifics.
e. Allow plenty of time.
f. Proceed in slow incremental steps.
g. Validate past experiences.
h. Be gentle.
i. Discuss one’s standards and how realistic they may be.
j. Look for emotional strengths- Sensitivity is a Strength that can be employed.
k. Allow the individual to proceed at their own pace.

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As you talk with new teachers about their instruction, you might need to help them understand what they’ve done that’s effective and what was not effective. Data are key here. Discussing a shared set of data offers substance to the discussion. Data can also help guide both the new teacher’s and the mentor’s attention to what matters most. Our experts offer advice for mentors as they guide new teachers’ attention to what’s working and what’s not.

Steven Athanasas

Visit Expert’s Site

Steven Athanases, Ph.D., co-authored Mentors in the Making: Developing New Leaders for New Teachers with Betty Achinstein (another expert contributor to A former high school English teacher, Dr. Athanases is a Professor at the University of California in Davis and conducts research on diversity and educational equity in literacy teaching and teacher education.

Steven Athanasas shares ways mentors can resolve differing perspectives surrounding the effectivess of a lesson.

Julie Dangel

Julie Dangel gives advice on where a mentor might begin when working with beginning teachers who may struggle with content knowledge and highlights three key things mentors should keep in mind when working with beginning teachers.

Pre-Observation Conference

This video demonstrates a pre-observation conference. Purposes for this conference are:

  • To set goals for the coaching cycle
  • Set logistics for the coaching cycle
  • Negotiate instructional content, lesson objectives, teaching strategies
  • Target instructional behaviors to be observed
  • Ask mentee for feedback focus
  • Establish trust and collaboration

Stage One:

The pre-observation conference is an important first step in the cycle and an effective way to build trust and increase collaboration between mentors and mentees. This conference provides the opportunity to ask specific questions about the lesson, the teaching strategies selected, the assessment methods, the materials chosen or developed, the classroom management techniques, and the relationship of this lesson to the previous and subsequent lessons.

Your questions should allow the novice to reflect on decision making processes made in planning the lesson in order to self-assess both the strengths of the lesson plan and the possible problem areas. Once the novice has explained the lesson design and the “whys” of decisions made, you might make suggestions about the lesson, particularly if you note unforeseen problems not easily recognized by a new teacher. The last part of the conference should center on the specific teaching behaviors you will be observing during the lesson and the selection and design of a data-collection system.

After a pre-observation conference, the coaching cycle involves four more stages:

Stage Two: Classroom Observation and Data Collection

Purpose: To record observable patterns of teaching and learning

  • Record samples of behavior that relate to effective teaching behaviors
  • Collect data systematically and objectively using descriptive language
  • Observe for specific behaviors and their impact on the learning process

Follow the preobservation conference by observing the lesson discussed, suing the observation instrument selected in the conference. Be sure to take short, objective, and descriptive notes of the performance.

If possible, incorporate videotaping: this is a strong tool for improving performance. It allows the mentor and the mentee to review the lesson and stop the video at various points to reinforce strengths and address problem areas in the lesson.

Stage Three: Analysis and Strategy

Purpose: To analyze data, identify teaching strengths and growth areas, and prepare for the feedback conference

  • Review the data collected
  • Relate to effective teaching research
  • Identify teaching strengths and professional growth targets
  • Develop the approach for the postconference session
  • Outline the conference format

Once you have collected the data, you must now analyze your notes and prepare for the feedback loop in the cycle. Your task might be tallying the number of times the novice did something, looking for patterns of behavior, noting a significant event in the performance, or assessing which performance indicators were demonstrated and which were not.

Based on specific data and concrete examples, you are now able to interpret the impact of the teaching performance. After this is done, you are better prepared to determine what stance to take in your postobservation conference.

Stage Four: Post-observation Conference

Purpose: To enable the mentee to reflect on the teaching performance by identifying effective teaching behaviors and those that need improvement

  • Establish the conference climate
  • Present data
  • Share interpretations
  • Encourage critical thinking
  • Give positive and negative feedback
  • Collaborate on alternative positive behaviors
  • Develop a plan for the next coaching cycle

You both come together after each has had an opportunity to reflect on the lesson. As the mentor, you now provide feedback that is helpful without being judgmental. Criticizing, diagnosing, and praising in an evaluative way promotes feelings of defensiveness.

Some effective ways to communicate to novices areas of needed improvements without creating communication roadblocks include:

  • Describing the behavior in specific rather than fuzzy terms
  • Limiting yourself to behavioral descriptions
  • Stating your description in objective terms, noting the impact of the behavior

Stage Five: Coaching Cycle Reflection

Purpose: To identify coaching strengths of the cycle and alternative behavior for mentor to improve mentoring skills

  • Reflect on behavior patterns for each stage of the coaching cycle
  • Ask the mentee what was helpful, what might have happened differently, and what needs to happen in the next coaching cycle
  • Summarize what needs to be reinforced and what needs to be changed

This last stage of the coaching cycle gives both the mentors and the mentees an opportunity to discuss the effectiveness of the mentoring process. When both parties share in the analysis, this brings to the surface behaviors that didn’t work as well as expected and provides a mechanism to share concerns and reinforce effort.

The ultimate goal is to increase student achievement through effective teaching performance. The coaching cycle provides a systematic way in which teacher mentors can build self-esteem while inviting novices to think and behave at higher levels of professional performance

Now is a good time to try out a coaching cycle. If you are mentoring a new teacher, go ahead and set up an observation. Don’t forget to set up time to talk before the lesson and afterward. If you haven’t started mentoring yet, consider trying out a coaching cycle with a peer.

Be sure to go through each element of the coaching cycle, from pre-observation conference to post-observation conference. As you think through what data you might collect, you should consider the wide variety of data that could be helpful. Check out this website for more detailed information about collecting good data: Mentor Coach Data Gathering Essay. It describes ten ways to collect data. Determine one or two that would best serve the goal you’re focusing on. Then talk to the teacher whom you are observing about what data collection strategy will best fit his or her goals.

Part 4: Review & Reflect

Consider the following:

  • What are the components of a coaching cycle?
  • If a new teacher lacks ideas, asks for help or doesn’t recognize the problem, which mentoring stance would you take? What are some possible actions you can take to support her?
  • During a pre-observation conference, your mentee asks you to help her with pacing her lessons. What kinds of data collection techniques might you suggest to address this goal?
  • Imagine your mentee makes the following statement about a student during your post-observation conferene: “Meghan comes from a very affluent home, so I expected her to come up with many connections to the text. My English learners, however, always have trouble with text connections and that’s really frustrating.” How would you respond? How would you support this new teacher in reframing her thinking?

Think back to your initial responses to the questions below. After working through this lesson, do you still agree with your initial thoughts? Has your perspective shifted in any way? If so, how have your responses changed?

  • What do you think are the components of a coaching cycle?
  • What in your opinion is the purpose of the pre-observation conference?
  • How would you address the teacher’s comments regarding her student?
  • How can coaching conversations facilitate new teacher growth?

Part 5: Glossary


A person who is new to the circumstances, work, etc., in which he or she is placed; beginner

Demonstrating; a particular behavior is elicited by the observation of similar behavior in others.

Guided Practice

The teacher guides and assists students as they learn how and when to apply the strategy.

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