To what extent can teachers Dutch as a Second Language (DSL) work on the quality of their lessons autonomously, with support from coaching? This question was examined last spring by the Amsterdam centre for adult education SIPI. They launched a pilot project for a teacher coaching programme, together with Annemarie Nuwenhoud, a teacher trainer and coach. In this article, Nuwenhoud describes some of the outcomes. The pilot was partly inspired by the Erasmus+ project Autonomous Literacy Learners: Sustainable Results (ALL-SR).
‘I thought it was a refreshing way to look at yourself, also because all the questions were asked in such a way that you can come up with your own solutions. The nice thing is that there's no judgement. The session is approached in a positive way, so that you also get the idea to openly try things out in the lessons,’ one of the teachers wrote in her reflection report on the coaching for teachers pilot.
Coaching for participants in the course
Coaching for DSL learners is currently the focus of a great deal of attention. For example, the ITTA (a Dutch knowledge centre on language development from the University of Amsterdam) is working together with Stichting Melkweg Plus (expertise on low literacy) and European partners on the ALL-SR project. This project researches and assesses how adults can work on their literacy and language skills autonomously with support from coaching. This was also extensively discussed at the last symposium of our professional association BV NT2 (the association of the Dutch as a second language teachers).
Coaching for teachers
But what about teachers? Can they also work on the quality of their lessons autonomously? Is coaching a good supplement to the existing methods of the professional development of teachers?
At SIPI, this quality is monitored through peer review, in-class observations, professional development and KET-KIT (the language education quality group's quality instrument for language education) evaluations. Coaching was added from March through May of 2016. Fifteen teachers volunteered to participate in the pilot programme, including freelancers as well as teachers working under a contract. Seven teachers had one coaching session and eight teachers had two meetings with the coach Annemarie Nuwenhoud. A total of 23 coaching sessions were held.
The goal of the coaching was to encourage teachers to be more self-directed in working on the quality of their lessons. In this way, quality monitoring of DSL education is no longer imposed and monitored top down, but also becomes the teacher's own desire and responsibility.
The coaching approach in this pilot programme was based on a number of basic coaching principles: First, it is assumed that every person has more potential than is shown in his or her work activities. Through coaching, employees discover this potential on their own and learn to make active use of it.
Second, awareness, accountability and freedom of choice are crucial: the coaching sessions help teachers to see their qualities and areas for improvement and to take responsibility for them. Teachers set their own goals and make a plan to work towards them; the coach is not involved in this step. The rationale behind this is, that a teacher can only take full responsibility for goals and results when the teacher is the one who has chosen them.
The coach's task is to ask the right questions, questions that lead the teachers to greater awareness. The teachers are made to think about their goal, their current performance, their possibilities and their plan. The goals are then re-examined in a follow-up meeting and new goals are set if necessary. To do so, the coach uses coaching founder John Whitmore's GROW model (Whitmore, 2009). Although the coach in this pilot programme did have knowledge of the field, she explicitly did not act as a consultant during the coaching sessions. It is possible for teachers to use the coach's knowledge as a resource, but mainly on their own initiative.
Results and conclusion
What were the results of SIPI's pilot teacher coaching programme? All fifteen participating teachers completed a reflection report in which they described their experiences with the coaching sessions, the goals they set and what they got out of the coaching programme. The content of these reports together with the coach's report served as the basis for the evaluation.
The majority of the teachers were positive about the coaching programme. Three teachers indicated that individual coaching was not the ideal way for them to work on quality, and instead expressed their preference for peer review or in-class observation.
The majority of the teachers reported increased awareness about their needs to work successfully and about their values in DSL education. Nearly all of the teachers also felt more aware of their own qualities and points for improvement. As one teacher wrote: 'this session allowed me to reflect upon my performance as a teacher. I had the opportunity to explore that in more depth and discover new learning goals.' Several teachers said they were surprised by their own potential. 'The funny thing was that the questioning process itself led me to a number of surprising insights and solutions,' one teacher wrote. Another explained: 'I realised what I could do differently. I've applied new behaviour in unpleasant situations. I feel much better and I'm actually surprised at how quick and easy it was to turn these situations around.'
Some of the more commonly named goals of the teachers included:
- Motivating learners, particularly those in mandatory civic integration classes;
- Dealing with learners who arrive late in class;
- Dealing with different levels within the group;
- Improving lesson management;
- Dealing with the personal problems of learners;
- Increasing assertiveness towards learners, colleagues or employers;
- Dealing with a heavy workload.
The coaching programme provided a fascinating insight into how complex and personal the job of a DSL teacher is. The question of what constitutes quality in DSL education is far-reaching, and each teacher emphasizes different aspects. Various elements overlap in practice, including issues related to personal matters, lesson organisation and didactics. The advantage of coaching is that it provides a space to address everything a teacher is dealing with at that moment. The goal of the coaching programme is quality improvement, but it is up to the teacher to determine what is needed in order to achieve such improvement.
Coaching is not for everyone and it likely works best when teachers themselves opt to take part in it. In addition, the teacher must feel safe and at ease with the coach to be able to speak freely. It is therefore recommended that the coach assumes a neutral position between the teacher and the employer.
It is still too early to tell whether the teachers at SIPI will work more autonomously on the quality of their lessons in the long term as a result of the coaching programme. Based on what the teachers themselves have said, we can conclude that coaching is in any case a welcome addition to the instruments currently used for improving teacher quality. SIPI's teachers greatly appreciated the fact that their employer wanted to invest in them in this way.
Annemarie Nuwenhoud is an independent advisor, program developer and teacher Dutch as a Second Language. This article originally appeared online in the Dutch magazine Les 198 from June 2016.
- Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for Performance. Growing human potential and purpose. The principles and practice of coaching and leadership (Fourth Edition). London and Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
More information on the Erasmus+ project Autonomous Literacy Learners: Sustainable Results, An innovative approach for 1st and 2nd language literacy development: http://www.itta.uva.nl/learnerautonomy