Teacher training institutions across Australia are constantly striving to improve the way they educate our future teachers. As teacher educators we know how important it is to give our teachers an effective launch into their careers.
This means helping our students develop a wide range of teaching skills and knowledge but also a resilient disposition. We want our graduate teachers to be able to reflect on their practices and have the enthusiasm for ongoing learning that is required for long-term professional success.
Significantly, teacher educators today understand that pre-service teachers who see themselves as effective teachers are more likely to be committed to teaching and to respond positively to change. They are less likely to become stressed or burnt out.
With all of this in mind we decided to have a closer look at the role of real-time coaching in the education of our student teachers.
What is Real-Time Coaching?
Real-Time Coaching is where an experienced mentor teacher, skilled in giving immediate feedback, sits in with a student (pre-service teacher) while they are giving a lesson. The teacher educator (or coach) gives the student live, real-time feedback about their teaching via an earpiece during the lesson.
The difference with this coaching model compared to customary coaching practices is that the feedback is immediate, rather than being given after the lesson. As John Hattie famously showed us feedback is particularly effective when provided immediately, during task acquisition, rather than deferred.
We view coaching, generally, as a non-evaluative process in which two or more educators collaborate using planning, observation and feedback to develop productive teaching behaviours and dispositions.
Real-Time Coaching methods at the University of South Australia
We studied pre-service teacher’s experience of Real-Time Coaching (RTC) undertaken as part of a teacher education programme at the University of South Australia.
This RTC model provides direct instruction and feedback via an inner-ear coaching device (a Motorola CP476 CB Radio). As the pre-service teacher teaches their lesson, the mentor provides guided reflective practice in ‘real-time’ with the aims of promoting pre-service teacher’s self-assessment and reflective practice in order to foster a disposition toward continuous improvement.
Blending theory and practice through opportunities for active learning, the first phase involves the pre-service teacher reacting to the teacher-educator’s feedback and adjusting their behaviours in real-time during their micro-lesson.
Coaching typically highlights skills such as volume, tone of voice, positive narration, body posture and movement around the room, all skills determined to be key to effective teaching. The responsibility of the coach is to highlight, model and cultivate such skills.
To study the influence of Real-Time Coaching, two rounds of semi-structured interviews were conducted with pre-service teachers following their RTC sessions on campus. Interviews, which were around an hour in length, took place at a time and place of the pre-service teachers’ choosing.
We found RTC to be effective and productive in three main areas. It encouraged: 1) personal goal development 2) reflective practice and 3) was seen as supportive.
Encouraged personal goal development
Through the process of drawing attention to skill gaps, pre-service teachers found that RTC encouraged explicit goal development. For example RTC enabled Aaron to identify his tendency to notice negative student behavior. He determined to do things differently by setting goals with respect to key skills, like positive narration.
Ben and Samantha had not thought of the potential benefits of managing the classroom by continuing to scan the room while speaking with individual students; Samantha said this simply had “never occurred to me”.
Lucy, also, had not been aware that her delivery was largely monotonal, making it difficult for students to differentiate between her instructions, commands and feedback.
The RTC drew attention to the “simple things that you overlook” (Aaron) or, more specifically, the “things that an experienced teacher looks for” (Ben).
Through RTC, Ben developed the goal of building a positive classroom environment using techniques like ‘with- it-ness’, which he thought of as “the Eye of Sauron,” (as in Lord of the Rings) combined with the skill of positive narration.
Encouraged a reflective practice
Pre-service teachers reported that Real-Time Coaching was effective in encouraging reflective practices. More resilient teacher identities develop when teachers are encouraged to reflect on their practice in ways that challenge their beliefs and values and enable them to accommodate new ideas and thinking. Engaging with others in professional conversations that include talking with, questioning and, sometimes, confrontation, in a supportive environment fosters reflective practice.
RTC’s skill-based model, which is concerned with developing teacher’s mindsets around effective teaching practice, worked to develop a pre-service teachers critical eye. They cast this ‘eye’ over their own practice, as well as the practice of their fellow students and the teachers they encountered during their practicums, identifying skills and skill gaps.
For example, as mentioned before, Lucy had not been aware that her delivery was largely monotonal, making it difficult for students to differentiate between her instructions, commands and feedback.
Lucy: I think [Real-Time Coaching] really highlighted what aspects of our teaching that we could improve on so you were able to see maybe things that you weren’t so strong in and then, cause you knew about them, you could work on them. You start to think, well, this is who I am, my mannerisms, my gestures, my … and that’s something you can look at and think, oh perhaps when [the coach] was talking about tone and it varying and all that kind of stuff. Whether some things that we’re doing is actually a deterrent …you know like you’ve got to kind of fine tune it so that’s something I’ve learnt is that it’s good to kind of look at your delivery, look at your whole personality and see whether you can round off some things or work on some things.
The RTC drew attention to the “simple things that you overlook” or, more specifically, the “things that an experienced teacher looks for”.
Students experienced RTC as supportive
The pre-service teachers, though they cited stress and anxiety, universally experienced Real-Time Coaching as a supportive process.
It helped increase their positivity. It became, for them, a process of rapid development where resilience, confidence and efficacy were all working in tandem:
Velma: Like, I think I have a much more positive mindset after doing this because in the past you don’t really get that much time to like reflect on your teaching. It’s way after you’ve done it and you feel sort of powerless cause you can’t really change anything ‘cause it’s already happened but when you’re up there and if he says ‘why don’t you try it this way’ you know you’re improving on the spot, as you’re going, and I think that’s something you know. You feel like you’ve really achieved something and you’re constantly evolving.
Emotional support is needed
Coaching and mentoring strategies come with certain cautions. To be effective, coaching and mentoring must be done within a safe and professional environment where the needs of the learner are central and with feedback that is both layered and precise.
Early career teachers, in particular, require emotional support. In the RTC process, emotional support was heavily accounted for from the onset and founded on mutual respect between the coach and the pre-service teachers.
The university classroom was an enthusiastic environment with a lot of movement around the room, positivity and frequent ‘checking in’ to make sure pre-service teachers felt safe and secure. Rather than feeling judged by the process, pre-service teachers felt supported in their role as learners in both the university- and school-based sessions, enabling them to fully engage with the RTC process.
Sylvia: So if you kind of get stuck on what you’re saying or whatever, it wasn’t like you felt embarrassed because it was a supportive environment.
Real-Time Coaching has a role to play in teacher-training programs
To adequately prepare teachers for success in real classrooms, teacher-training programs must provide pre-service teachers with practice-based approaches. Furthermore, pre-service teachers themselves can contribute significantly to our understanding of the experience and effectiveness of teaching training methods, as evidenced with this case study.
Our research supports the position that RTC accelerates the development of the skills necessary for teaching such as growth mindset, orienting student teachers toward continuous improvement and promoting resilience.
We do not consider RTC to be a magic bullet and we believe it should be used with caution. Teacher preparation should never be reduced to learning a suite of skills with the educator’s role limited to that of a technician.
Our research, however, clearly supports the view that RTC can improve the delivery of curriculum within teacher training programs.
Garth Stahl, Ph.D. is a Lecturer in Literacy and Sociology at the School of Education at the University of South Australia. As a sociologist, his research interests lie on the nexus of neoliberalism and socio-cultural studies of education, identity, equity/inequality, and social change. Currently, his research projects and publications encompass theoretical and empirical studies of learner identities, gender and youth, sociology of schooling in a neoliberal age, gendered subjectivities, equity and difference, and educational reform. He is interested in innovative methods and improving the quality of pre-service teacher training.
Erica Sharplin is in the final stages of her PhD in education at the University of South Australia. She has extensive experience in qualitative research, having worked as a Research Assistant on several qualitative research projects over the course of her studies. Her PhD research is an examination of how middle school students in low SES context perceive their recreational spaces at school and the impacts on their behaviour. Prior to entering the field of education, Erica worked as a project manager and editor on several large scale publishing projects, primarily in legal education. In 2009, Erica was the recipient of the University of South Australia’s Satisfac Credit Union Merit Award in recognition of outstanding performance in a B.Ed.
Benjamin Kehrwald, Ph.D. is an online learning and education technology expert. As a researcher, designer and online facilitator, he is passionate about understanding and improving learners’ experiences with technology and technology-mediated social processes. His past work included educational development projects in the USA, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. In 2010, he was the recipient of the Distance Education Association of New Zealand’s Award for Excellence in Distance Education. He is currently a member of the Teaching Innovation Unit at the University of South Australia and is leading design and development of dedicated online programs in UniSA Online.
Further reading on Real-Time Coaching
Stahl, G., Kehrwald, B.A., & Sharplin, E. (2016) ‘Developing Pre-Service Teachers’ Confidence: Real-Time Coaching in Teacher Education’. Reflective Practice. (accepted)
Sharplin, E., Stahl, G., & Kehrwald, B.A. (2016) ‘It’s about improving my practice’: Learner experience of Real-Time Coaching. Australian Journal of Teacher Education. Vol. 41. Issue 5, 119-135.
And, in 2017, we’ll have a book out with Springer:
Stahl, G., Sharplin, E. & Kehrwald, B.A. (2017) Real-Time Coaching and Pre-Service Teacher Education. Springer, New York.