Juan Lara, a math and science teacher with five years of experience, was part of the first cohort of Kansas City teachers in 2017-18 and again in 2018-19 to focus on growing and improving their teaching practice through 1:1 weekly sessions with an experienced BetterLesson Instructional Coach. We checked in with Juan to find out what it was like working virtually with his BetterLesson coach, Chris DeWald, for the past two years, thanks to this unique partnership between the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and BetterLesson.
Q. Why did you decide to pursue virtual coaching through Kauffman’s partnership with BetterLesson?
A. I know that in order to be a better educator, one can always use a coach. I think of this in terms of sports: if players have a coach, teachers should also have one. As teachers, we should always look forward to growing and learning new strategies and techniques in order to move our students forward, and my BetterLesson coach helped me with that. I also liked that my BetterLesson coach could help me look at student data with a different set of eyes. She knew my subject area, and was also knowledgeable about different strategies I could try in my classroom to achieve my goals.
Q. What are the top three things you’ve learned through your work with Chris? How have these elements improved your teaching practice and impacted students?
A. 1.) We spent some time looking at techniques like Cold Calling, Teacher Movement, and Holding High Expectations from Teach Like a Champion. Then, Chris and I worked to expand the Teach Like a Champion techniques and align them to strategies that I wanted to try within BetterLesson’s Student-Centered Classroom Culture and Design learning domain. This helped me to build a classroom environment in which my students more fully understood my high expectations of them and felt ownership for their learning.
2.) We looked at student data and talked about different ways to review questions and/or items the students needed to know in order to have a higher percentage of mastery on a standard. While looking at the data, we explored different ways that I could divide my class into strategic groups focused on their abilities and then engage in Small Group Sessions in order to differentiate the review or skill-building sections of my lessons. Through this close analysis of data with Chris, I made great progress with some of my classes in meeting students’ individual needs.
3.) Chris and I also frequently engaged in reflection on my teaching practices. Chris was great at asking me questions that I did not always think of as a teacher. I learned that sometimes spending a few minutes after each lesson or at the end of a week breaking down my lesson using a strategy like Weekly Goal Setting and Reflection helped me to reflect on my teaching and make revisions to my lesson for other classes.
Q. What has been most helpful about engaging in virtual coaching?
A. In working with Chris, I was able to learn strategies for having students share their work with other students. We explored a strategy called Rally Coach, where two students work together to review a problem. Chris also supported me to set up a system to track my students’ data, engagement, and talk time. Overall, I have become more aware of the ways I use student engagement and student talk as tools for learning.
Q. What surprised you about virtual coaching?
A. It was great to have my own personal coach off of whom I could bounce teaching ideas and reflect on best practices. I was surprised to see the impact my student-centered lessons had on my students’ learning when I made small changes to my teaching. It was also valuable to have someone outside of my school hear my ideas and provide me with resources to improve my math and science lessons in order to make them more student-centered. At first, I was worried that working with my BetterLesson Instructional Coach would take a lot of work or extra time, but in the end, I found that the time spent reflecting on my teaching with Chris and making small instructional shifts to meet my goals was very valuable. Overall, I think the positive experience of working with Chris at BetterLesson has been a wonderful growth opportunity for me.
Interested in finding out more about BetterLesson coaching? Contact BetterLesson today.