This year Darryl Williams, Team TLAC’s Senior Fellow for School Leadership, has been providing in-depth support to Freedom Prep, a network of schools in Memphis. During a recent visit, Darryl and John Costello, video ace at team TLAC, supported leaders by visiting classrooms and studying student work.
One of the moments John captured was this two-minute interaction between Tashanae Francis, Dean of Curriculum and Instruction at Freedom Prep’s elementary campus and first grade teacher Serina Bowlin.
During this interaction, Tashanae provides “live coaching” to Serina helping her in her goal of building the most positive classroom culture and fostering the greatest degree of learning. The idea of live coaching is compelling but it’s very hard to do well so this clip was a bit of a road map for us. Here’s a sampling of some of the aspects of Tashanae and Serina’s work together that members of our team found compelling:
- Darryl Williams: “Real-time feedback can be perceived as invasive and judgmental by teachers when the dynamics are wrong. Yet Tashanae is careful to make this moment feel collaborative. She models engagement, participating fully in the class and actively supporting the lesson before she jumps in. When she sees an important opportunity to ensure students who didn’t fully know the blend (‘ch’), she raises her hand to request entry into the discussion at Serina’s discretion and, only after Serina calls on her, provides feedback that the teacher clearly feels is useful. This is so important; she lets Serina retain control.”
- Jen Rugani: “Tashanae sees the need for a No Opt Out—two students incorrectly named “S-h” as the spelling of the blend at the beginning of the word “chicken.” The teacher went to another student who correctly said “C-h” and was about to move on before cycling back to the first two students. But rather than saying, “You should use No Opt Out here” Tashanae couches her feedback to the teacher in kid-friendly language: “A friend just gave a great answer, the answer you were looking for. Can we have the last two friends repeat the answer so that they remember it for next time?” She doesn’t just give her rationale to the teacher, she shares it with the students. It’s a beautiful moment of leading with the why and modeling language that creates a safe culture of error in the classroom.”
- Emily Badillo commented on Serina’s beautiful response to the in-the-moment feedback: “She excited to have it and names the technique that Tashanae offers—“Yes!…That’s No Opt Out, of course!” then immediately executes. She’s glad to have the opportunity to apply something she’s learned in PD. Her calmness in calling on Dean Francis and her immediate execution of No Opt Out demonstrates that she’s used to receiving live coaching and appreciates it.” To echo our colleague Katie Yezzi, the message from Tashanae is “I’m not out to get you; I’m out to get you better.” Serina receives that message with grace and openness and in a spirit of mutual endeavor they’ve both worked to create
Finally, two thoughts about what the clip illustrates more broadly:
- PD alone is insufficient. Learning a technique well (TLAC or otherwise) requires that teachers receive on-going feedback from a coach who understands the technique deeply—what excellence looks and sounds like and when to best use it.
- For the feedback to be used, a collaborative culture needs to exist. As Jen summed up, “This is what it looks like to be a team of adults working collaboratively, doing work that’s really hard.” Thanks to Tashanae and Serina (and John) for this postcard of a skillful instructional leader in action and her excited-to-improve colleague. It illustrates the core responsibility of a coach: Making everyone all a little better every day while making that struggle feel safe and supportive to teachers.