Coaching a colleague

I coach teachers at an elementary school. One teacher is trying to improve his science instruction (one of the school goals), but he’s struggling with classroom management and organization during class activities. I’ve shared some ideas, but I’m looking for more. —S., Pennsylvania

Many teachers did not experience hands-on science as students and may be unsure how to create planned and purposeful opportunities for their own students. If science is the only time in which students are expected to work in groups, with hands-on materials, or with less structure, they may think of science as free time or not as important as teacher-directed lessons.

In addition to observing the teacher, notice what the students are (or are not) doing and how the classroom is arranged. Ask the teacher questions like: What went well—and why? What were the greatest challenges? What do you think about…? Did you notice today when…? What would happen if…? What works well for you in other subjects? His responses and your observations could lead to an action plan that could include strategies such as (and these were among those suggested to me by a mentor when I was struggling!):

  • Begin the activity or investigation by stating the purpose, outcomes (e.g., report, graph, drawing, summary, notebook entry), and how it connects with the learning goals or expectations of the unit.
  • Establish routines so students know what kinds of behaviors are expected and acceptable.
  • Prepare and label materials in advance and have designated places for them to be accessed and returned.
  • Assign and explain group roles before starting the activity.
  • Stop an activity when students engage in unsafe behaviors.

Above all, encourage the teacher to give himself time to persevere and to reflect on each activity as part of a continuous effort to improve.



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