Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Educational Research and Coaching - any connections worth noting?

My world has changed alot over the last year and a half.  One of the biggest shifts has been moving into an administration position at an elementary school.  It has been a full on transformation in time and focus.  I'm loving it, and yet I miss the day to day immersion in the world of ski coaching.  Nonetheless, I reflect often as I learn and grow in my new role as an Assistant Principal on how so much of what drives good teaching and learning also relates deeply to what is effective in working with children in cross country ski youth development.

My Director is a brilliant woman who thinks about, talks about, reads about, writes about improvement in student achievement.  She has introduced us to a researcher out of New Zealand, Helen Timperley, who has researched and written extensively on improving student achievement.  Her book, Realizing the Power of Professional Learning has become the major piece of professional literature driving improvement in learning and academic success.  She has created a model she calls the Knowledge Building Inquiry Cycle that describes both what teachers ( and I think it applies equally to coaches) need to do bring about the largest impact on learning possible.

Timperley says that as coaches (teachers) we need to start with having a clear idea of what the intended learning outcomes are.  The next part of her model is identifying the gap between what children know and what we want them to know.  Next, Timperley's model asks what do we need to know as coaches (teachers) to close the gap.  This is followed by designing some instruction that addresses that gap and doing some assessment to measure the impact of the instruction.

Not rocket science - and yet one thing I have come to know over time is that the more you know about something, the more realize that you don't know.

The reality is that most coaches and teachers enter into coaching or teaching using the methodology that is most familiar to them.  This often means coaching or teaching that replicates a coach's own experience as a child or youth.  The problem with this is that I don't think it is really possible to fully replicate another adult's methodology; we bring too much of ourselves to the creative work of designing instruction and assessing the impact.  So when we replicate someone else's way of doing things, we end of often missing  some of the key parts that made it so effective.  In addition, if all we do is replicate what has been done before, we miss out on the possibility of taking advantage of what has been learned by others through best practice research or experience.

As a coach, I was lucky to have attended lots of workshops and conferences where I had the chance to listen to someone speak and have conversations with others.  My experience was often that the learning was often shallow and not very impactful on my own coaching practice.  So we end up in a loop of doing things that is mostly informed by our own experience as children or youth.

This is why a model like Timperley's Knowledge Building Inquiry Cycle is so valuable.  It gives us an important starting point and recognizes that we don't always have the answer or the expertise to close the gap that is present in the learning of one or a group of children that we are working with.

- start with what you want kids to learn
- identify the gap that exists between where you want kids to be and where they currently are
- learn what you need to do to close this gap
- design some instruction aimed at closing the gap
- assess the impact of your instruction
- move on to the next learning objective

The key piece for me is taking the time to learn what is most impactful to bring about a change.

Where do we access that kind of expert knowledge in our sport?

I'm interested to hear where you access expert knowledge...  Please respond here so we can share out the learning.


Roy Strum
Canmore, AB