In part 1 of this 4-part interview, Center for School Transformation CAO & Professor Megan Tschannen-Moran talks about the difference between evaluating teachers and coaching teachers.

Watch the interview video on coaching teachers above, or read the interview transcript below.

Are you coaching teachers or evaluating them?

– Welcome to another PLtogether “Lounge Talk”. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, the video coaching platform for streamlining feedback to teachers. Today we’re talking with Megan Tschannen-Moran. She is a professor at William & Mary, and also the chief academic officer at the Center for School Transformation. Megan, thanks so much for joining us.

– I’m so glad to be here. Thanks for this invitation.

– Well, let’s start first with something that you’ve written about before, which is in some ways the labels, but also what it means, which is the difference between a coach and an evaluator. So I guess maybe let’s start by kinda clarifying, why is it so important to create a distinction between these two modes of interacting with teachers in schools?

– Well, these are both really critically important functions for school leaders or instructional leaders, those who would support the work of teachers, but they’re distinct, and when we’re not clear about the distinctions, it muddies the water, because they have a different emotional impact on teachers. And so being aware of that, we prepare teachers. We’re sensitive in different ways for different parts of the process. And there’s just a long history of the tension between evaluative functions of leaders, and of the support functions, and at various points in history, those rules have been separated as two separate people recognizing that it’s really challenging to have one person do both of those roles. But then, other times, but that’s an expensive model, and so budgets get tight and there’s a sort of a streamlining. And so those get put back into a single person, which is, in fact, challenging, but not impossible, at least that’s been our premise and our contention. And I think if it’s going to be, whether it’s one person doing it or it’s two separate people, I think it’s just important to be clear with teachers or educators, whether we’re coaching educational leaders or teachers or anybody in the school, when are they being evaluated? And be clear about the purpose that serves. And we, in education, we do our work on somebody else’s nickel. We are not paying our own way, and so when the people who are paying the bills say, “Are the people you’re paying with my money doing “what they’re supposed to be doing?” we need to be able to say, “Well, yes, they are.” And when they say, “Well, how do you know?” we wanna be able to say, ” Well, we checked,” that we have a thorough, rigorous process in which we know that people are doing what they’re supposed to do. And if they’re not, we’re gonna support them to get better, to meet the objectives that we have for them.

– You talked about that challenge of switching between modes, of being the coach and being the evaluator, and it sounds like you’re saying, very clearly, it is possible. And I think maybe it’s easier to define when we’re in the evaluation mode. So do you have any tips for someone to help them define for the educators that they’re supporting how they are in coach mode? How do they convey that? How do they signal that so that they create a dividing line between those two experiences?

– Right, right. Well, I think we just say we’ve created a dividing line. I’m taking off my evaluator hat. Now I’m here, I’m all-in, on wanting to support you to be the best educator you can. And that’s challenging when it’s a single person because there may be some residual hurt feelings or might have been left stinging a little bit from a less-than-stellar evaluation, but really if our attitude is, that just gives us a project to work on, but you, the teacher, are at choice. What’s the project? So if you wanna work on something that came out of your evaluation, I’m all-in. I’m here to help. If you wanna have a different starting point, I’m there for that, too. But at the end of this all, I wanna be able to renew your contract. I wanna be able to have you come back. I want you to be successful and I want you to have a good year. I want you and your students both, or you and your faculty both, to really find joy in the work that you’re doing, and that’s not gonna happen if we’ve got some stumbling blocks, if we’ve got some things that we need to work on. So I’m here to help.

– So let’s maybe define, in the ways that you advocate, what are the hallmarks of the coaching conversation? I mean I’ve heard you say before that it is teacher-centered and focused on what the teacher wants in those moments. But what are some of the other characteristics that you advocate are critical to those coaching conversations, for them truly to be in the realm of coaching?

– Yes, well I just wanna piggyback on that, being teacher-centered, ’cause that is so important, that a hallmark of coaching is that we want to keep the responsibility for professional learning with the teacher. And if we’re too directive, we are keeping the responsibility ourselves. And so that diminishes their sense of responsibility, their autonomy, and really their professionalism. If the only professional growth projects that they are engaged in are when we show up and shake our fingers at them, then we’re depriving them of really that sense of ownership over their profession and how a hallmark of the professional is that they are always striving to get better. So if we make them too complacent, too passive, in the choice of projects and how to go about improving professionally, then we’re really de-professionalizing them and we’re gonna interfere with their motivation to be engaged in that ongoing learning. Some other hallmarks is that it needs to be safe. So we call that phase of our coaching model the no-fault process, the no-fault principle, in coaching, which is that we’re not here to wag our fingers at people, which, it can be challenging. If you’re a coach and you are working with a teacher that, when you, observing in their classroom, you see things that just make you cringe, it’s difficult to stay out of that judgmental space sometimes, and yet, to recognize that our ultimate goal is to help them to get better, that if we make them defensive, we put up those walls of defense, that as soon as they feel that we’re shaking our finger at them and telling them they’re wrong or inadequate or not doing the right thing, then job one just becomes defending their honor, feeling a sense of dignity, and maybe their sense of autonomy, as well. So we stir up all of these needs for them that then supersede the growth project. So we wanna be constantly aware, what is our ultimate goal? What is the outcome we’re hoping for and what’s gonna be the best way to get there? And if we put them into this defensive posture, it’s gonna be much harder to get to that end goal. And then the third principle in our model is that we take a strengths-based orientation. And so that’s similar in its rationale, but that we can dramatically increase people’s motivation for moving forward when our projects and our feedback is grounded in, what are they doing well? What are their strengths? Because now we’re not starting from scratch. We’re not starting from unknown territory. We’re saying, “Here are some things “that you are really good at, “and let’s use those, let’s build on those, “in order to engage in these other areas of growth, “the goals that you have for improving.”

– Well, thank you for that reminder of the centering around the teacher, but also the importance of the ownership of the professional learning. And really, I think for me, it was just reminding me of that kind of stark difference of when the learner owns the learning versus when the learner does it because you told them to do it. And so those have parallels, of course, to the types of lessons teachers are planning, but also the types of learning that we’re facilitating for the adults and the educators. Megan, we need to take a break, but for those of you watching this, interested to learn more about Megan’s work, head to schooltransformation.com, and if you’re wondering what we’re going to talk about next or what else we may have talked about before this or who else I’ve talked to, make sure to head to pltogether.org for the rest of this conversation and many more. Megan, thanks so much for being part of PLtogether.

– So glad to be here. Thanks, Adam.

For more interviews with education leaders about coaching teachers and other insights, check out all of our PLtogether Lounge Talks

Share the learning