Ambitious Instruction

In the 5th installment of this blog series, we share contributions by alumni of the Curry School’s Mentor Teacher Training Program, funded by a grant through the Virginia Department of Education. The Curry School partners with local school divisions to deliver a graduate course at no cost to their highly recommended teachers. The course focuses on ambitious, evidence-based coaching and mentoring practices that facilitate high-quality teaching practice. While enrolled in the course, these mentors refine their practices while developing the skills of future teachers’ in their classrooms. In this post, mentor teacher Laura Zimmerman shares her perspectives about the course and about the importance feedback in transformational coaching.

The art of coaching a teaching candidate can be quite complex when we look through the different perspectives of the stakeholders they impact. These stakeholders include students, parents, and administrators, but there are inevitably additional individuals with whom they interact in the larger school community. How we choose to provide feedback and when to provide it can be challenging; Not only do we want to ensure our candidates are prepared for the field they are about to enter but we want them to have been an active part of the reflection process.  Our choices as coaches need to facilitate thoughtful discussions as well as guide them to a higher level of inquiry as they are thinking about their own professional work.

A critical piece of information before beginning a coaching relationship is to determine a candidiate’s “way of knowing.” Knowing where they are developmentally helps us determine the type of feedback and support we provide.  Depending on their primary ways of understanding themselves within a school and their concerns or challenges, our feedback as mentor teachers and coaches can be quite different. If we provide feedback they are not ready to hear in their current construction of their professional self, our role as a coach is not going to be very effective. Recognizing this in each teacher candidate and planning our course of action according to their developmental needs should be a priority. As we work with our candidate, their way of knowing will grow and evolve as should the type of feedback and challenges we provide them.

Elena Aguilar talks about transformational coaching. This type of coaching is directed at three domains and affects three areas or stakeholders. The first and most impacted in our teacher education program is the teacher-in-training.  Aguilar says that transformational coaching will change their behaviors, beliefs and even their being. The next area she discusses is the institutions and systems in which we work. The final area that is impacted by this type of coaching is the broader educational and social systems in which we live. All of these moving parts need to be closely examined while a planning our mentoring sessions and creating the goals we will work on with our teacher candidate.  As we, mentor teachers who work in these institutions and schooling systems, have grown through the mentor teacher training course, we gained new understandings of coaching, mentoring, and the impact we can have. By working with future teachers, I feel like we have learned more information than can be experienced solely in a class or by reading books. As future teachers learned to impact preK-12 students in their placements, we concurrently learned to enact the “art of coaching” in our direct work with Curry teacher candidates.

Guest Author

Laura Zimmerman

Teachers in the Movement: Maggie Walker’s Legacy

Teachers in the Movement – Stumbling Upon History

Third year Curry YSI student and Teachers in the Movement researcher Annie Weinberg discusses education, history, and memorialization. Check out her blog post.

Stumbling Upon History




Guest Author

Annie Weinberg

3rd Year YSI Student

Ways to Praise

When you attend to and acknowledge your child for their efforts and accomplishments, your child will feel good about him or herself because you are focusing on their strengths. Using praise improves relationships between adults and children and increases children’s self-esteem. There are effective ways to this, and based on the psychological effects of how praise is received by children, here are 3 tips on the best ways to praise your child:

1) Be specific

Praise works best when you specifically describe the thing for which your child is being acknowledged. For example, it’s better to say “Great job – you worked hard picking up the toys!”  than saying “Great job!”

It is best to praise children by focusing on the behavior rather than the person. For example, saying “I’m proud of you for tasting those carrots” puts the emphasis on the behavior (tasting a new food) whereas saying “you are a good girl for tasting those carrots” puts the emphasis on the child (being a good person). This may seem subtle, but we do not want children to think they are “good” or “bad” because of the behavior they display. We do want children to know what behaviors we expect from them and praising their positive actions accomplishes that. READ THE REMAINDER OF THIS POST ON THE PLEASE AND CARROTS BLOG

Guest Author

Amanda Williford

Amanda Williford

Research Assistant Professor, Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning

Mentoring Novice Teachers

Participating in the Curry School Mentor Teacher Training Program began a reflective process for me during the last four months.  I mentored two graduate students prior to the class and felt the partnership went well. I knew I did not want new student teachers to feel as lost as I did when I first started teaching and I thought this class could help guide me as a coach and mentor.

The class taught me a lot about myself, and the kind of teacher I want to be for my students and teacher candidates. My colleagues and I discussed various strategies for school transformation through coaching. We read work by Elena Aguilar in which she states that those of us who facilitate professional growth must “cultivate a particular way of being”. This means we must practice to convey a sense of calm and reflective space that is open and allows our practicum students and teacher interns to slow down and learn. To do so, we must be confident, compassionate, grounded, and present.

Teachers and coaches are ask to do many things each day and fulfill many roles. These skills must come with confidence and compassion. I notice that teacher candidates are excited to learn and experience everything. The mentor teacher training taught me to narrow my focus and discuss key dimensions of teaching to help teacher candidates grow. An example would be looking at the dimension of Positive Climate. By looking at one dimension, we enable future teachers to learn and focus.  We then can ask probing questions to identify key understanding and to facilitate genuine problem solving.

I work with students with disabilities and when we focus on too many things at one time, my students can become overwhelmed trying to process too much information. Yet, when we introduce one item at a time and build upon that foundation, the outcome seems so much easier to achieve. Just like my students, teacher candidates need to focus on one or two components of teaching at a time.  We need to be grounded and present as we help our teacher candidates focus on specific teaching practices to build relationships, problem solve, and enable themselves to learn more deeply.

Watching and listening are skills that most resonate with me every time I am with a student, a colleague, and especially a teacher candidate. I wait, I listen, I pause, and I make my brain turn off everything else that is going on so I can be present when someone is talking.  This is a life lesson for all teachers.

My daughter, a freshman in high school, said to me, “mom I cannot hear what the teacher is saying when I am trying to take notes.” She did not mean she could not physically hear the words the teacher was saying.  She meant my brain is working so hard to take notes, I am missing all this other important information that makes what I am writing down make sense. We all need to be present in the task we are trying to accomplish whether we are the student, the teacher, or the mentor.   I know this is the best action I can take for a person is to be present and as a “way of being” when mentoring others. As Elena Aguilar said, we must be confident, compassionate, grounded, and present. This is what I aspire to be each day.


Guest Author

Karen Warlick

Special Education Teacher, Albemarle County for five years