“Paper Plate” Coaching

Much like hosting a meal, coaching requires some planning, organization, and most importantly, flexibility! Although a prepared coach always enters a session with certain outcomes in mind, one never knows which direction the experience might go. Being able to stay focused and think quickly is vital; and if there are paper plates around, even better!

While much of the work of coaching centers around instructional practice, there are times we have to step back and think about culture as it relates to teaching and learning. Recently, when coaching teachers at Innovation Tech, one of our New Tech Network schools, I had the opportunity to facilitate thinking around the relationships between teachers and students throughout the instructional day. The community had developed norms to frame how they should interact with each other, yet staff and students had not yet had the opportunity to discuss how living norms helps shape the community. They also had not really dug into what those norms looked like and sounded like when in action. I knew that this discussion needed to happen, and I wanted to help teachers gain clarification before entering into the next stage of norm development with students. I joined a few of the facilitators in the teachers’ room, or “bullpen” as it is called. This is when the magic happened. Having left my notebook in another room, I saw a stack of paper plates on the table and grabbed three. On the first, I wrote, “Here’s What!” On the second, I scribbled, “So What?” Finally, on the third, I jotted “Now What?” With the teachers looking on, I wrote the word “NORMS” on the first plate. Moving the plate to center of our table, I stated, “You have norms, So What?” As I pointed to the second plate, the teachers began to talk. Yes, they had norms, but realized that what they didn’t have was clarity around them. So I jotted “clarity” on the 2nd plate. We talked about that, and as the teachers pondered and discussed how they might facilitate the students in an activity that would lead to clarity, I jotted their thoughts on the third, the “Now What” plate—These became action steps. And so went our coaching conversation. The plates served as organizers for some heavy thoughts around school culture, while also supporting an interactive conversation.

Teachers soon realized that although norms were listed, kids didn’t seem to act like they were a part of them. One teacher noted that because the norms existed only in classrooms, it seemed like they were more like rules, owned by the teacher. Ideas about how they might get the norms out of the classroom and into the school environment were listed on the third plate. The session went on until the plates were filled, ideas were shared, and next steps were planned. As a coach, I liked the movement and coordination of thinking that the plates offered. The teachers seemed to enjoy the safe, even if unconventional opportunity for community thoughts and ideas to be parceled and passed, much like happens during a meal. As the “host”, I appreciated the opportunity to set the table with hopes for the future as it relates to the culture at Innovation Tech High School. After the session, the teachers shared how “Here’s What-So What-Now What” helped organize and analyze thinking as they support their community. They plan to give the same strategy a try as they continue to facilitate learning.

Bon appetite!

Downs_Randi_WEB_1409Randi Downs
OCM BOCES PBL Trainer and Instructional Coach

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