Do You Coach or Do You Judge?

“When it comes to assessment, think purpose, purpose, purpose”— Caren Cameron

Coaching and teaching have always been passions of mine; however, I had previously considered coaching and teaching to be two completely different things. About 5 years ago, following some conversations with my principal as well as beginning my master’s program, I began to reflect on the techniques I used as a high school volleyball coach and how those related to teaching. My volleyball teams had greatly improved, demonstrated success, and players seemed to be very motivated. My coaching philosophy was based on focusing on process rather than result; I kept statistics but stopped sharing these with players and provided only performance feedback in the form of words. Although we never discussed winning, the more we focused on the process of skill and team development, the better we played. I was doing well enough as a teacher but I questioned that if I was experiencing such success as a coach why was I not doing more coaching in the classroom?

A year later, I had the privilege of being involved in the British Columbia Education Leadership Council (BCELC) seminar series. During this 5 weekend series, we were challenge to rethink the way we do many things, including the way we assess students.

I am embarrassed to say but prior to these events and the resulting conversations, I assessed students like I had been assessed – tests, quizzes, and assignments. As a high school teacher, I had it all figured out. I could somehow brilliantly determine a child’s learning, based on these assessments, right down to a tenth of a percent. I somehow believed that a child with 85.5% was an A student and a child with 85.4% was a B student. I was the assessor and I used grades as carrots and attempted to motivate students by assigning zeros, taking off marks, and providing bonus marks. I did provide feedback to students but I always included a grade along with the feedback. I offered re-writes but very little changed in between assessments. My focus was on summative assessment or “Assessment OF Learning”.

During the BCELC series, we were shown this slide by Caren Cameron:

slide from the BCELC and Caren Cameron

slide from the BCELC and Caren Cameron

Through looking at the above slide, taking part in some powerful dialogue, and reading important research by Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black (ie. Working Inside the Black Box – a must read for every parent and educator), I began to reflect on how much time I spent on the road on the right hand side.  As a coach I spent most of my time on the left, yet as a teacher, I spent most time on the right.

Since then, I have basically switched roads.  As a teacher, I spent the majority of time on the Assessment FOR Learning path which focused on descriptive feedback and ongoing coaching that included learners and was designed to enhance student learning.  As a principal, I continue to encourage and discuss with staff methods to which we can increase descriptive feedback and reflect upon the use of grades and marks.  Through these experiences, I have seen more and more students end their “losing streaks”, become more intrinsically motivated,  and begin to become confident learners.

So my question to you is: on which road do you spend the majority of your time?  Do you coach or do you judge?