Research Paper By Wiebke Kleine
(Life Coach, GERMANY)
When I mention in Germany that I am training as a coach, I get a lot of puzzled looks. Coaching is not necessarily a well known nor is it a widely used profession in Germany. However, it has found its way into education. In this paper, I am looking at two examples, the University of Munich as well at the State of North-Rhine-Westphalia, where coaching has been introduced into teacher training.
Having gone through teacher training myself, I am curious to examine why coaching has been introduced, in what way it is practiced or used and what the benefits of coaching are to teachers in training. The aim of this paper is to find answers to these questions.
Professional Development for Teachers
I have worked in schools in two different countries – Germany, where I completed my teacher training, and Australia, where I worked as a newly trained teacher.
In both countries, teachers need to complete a certain amount of hours of Professional Development (PDs) throughout a school year. PDs are not optional, they are mandatory. Teachers engage in PDs, that help them improve their teaching practice or in order to learn something new in regards to the content that they teach.
All schools I have worked at organize PDs for all staff at the start of each school year. In addition to that, teachers attend PDs throughout the school year depending on their needs or interests.
PDs are usually delivered as seminars with a trainer or consultant.
This kind of PD by itself, which just about every teacher has experienced, rarely results in a significant change in teacher practice and rarely results in increased learning for children. According to a 2009 study on professional development, teachers need close to fifty hours of PD in a given area to improve their skills and their students’ learning (Darling-Hammond and others, 2009). While the research on the ineffectiveness of “one-shot” PD continues to pile up, a search is under way for PD that might work… (Impact Teachers Principals Students Elena Aguilar).
Teaching – a multidimensional profession
I didn’t call myself anything. I was more than a teacher. And less. In the high school classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counselor, a dress-code enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother – father – brother – sister – uncle – aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw (Frank McCourt, Teacher Man: A Memoir Chapter 2, Page 19).
As Frank McCourt sums it up, teachers are not just teaching. They have to be competent in a number of areas. Their lessons have to be effective, as they have to address a group of students with different learning styles, while also supporting each child or student individually. In a lot of schools in Germany, special needs students are integrated into the mainstream classroom. This means, teachers have to work in teams with special needs teachers and social workers.
Teachers do not only work on their content and lesson plans, but also across the school curriculum. Their job does not end when they leave the classroom or school building. They have staff meetings and attend PDs after school or during the holidays, they attend and/or lead extra curricular activities in the evenings or on weekends, they go on school trips or camps. These are just some examples of what teachers do aside from delivering lessons in the classroom.
According to an article published in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, a large German newspaper, in 2014, 30% of the employees in the education sector suffer from burnout and exhaustion. The amount of sick days that employees are taking has double since 2000.
A pool of experts in the field of education has formulated recommendations to prevent burnout and to minimize psychological burden for teachers. They agree that prevention needs to happen early – which means right from the start of teacher training (“Höllenjob Lehrer” by Martina Scherf in Süddeutsche Zeitung, 8 April 2014).
Coaching for Teachers
A lot of changes have been made in teacher training in the last few years in order to meet the demands of the changing market as well as preventing long term health problems. One of the changes that were brought in by a few States is the element of coaching in teacher training.
Coaching is an essential component of an effective professional development program. Coaching can build will, skill, knowledge, and capacity because it can go where no other professional development has gone before: into the intellect, behaviors, practices, beliefs, values, and feelings of an educator (Impact Teachers Principals Students Elena Aguilar).
Teacher Training in Germany
Education is a State affair in Germany, and therefore teacher training is organized differently in each State of Germany.
However, in every State, it is divided into two parts. The first part is done through studying at University.
Coaching for student teachers at University
Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich has introduced coaching for all student teachers from their first semester. For the duration of their studies, they regularly get the support of an experienced teacher who is also a coach. In small groups or individually, students get advice as well as coaching in regards to the organization of their studies, development of their professional
competencies and of their personality as a teacher. Together with a coach, they can reflect whether they are actually suitable as a teacher and can get support in any questions relating to teaching and schools in general. Coaching is offered for 6 hours per school year.
The aim is to
- have a job-related approach from the beginning with a contact person who is familiar with the everyday teaching practice
- raise awareness while studying, so students can actively plan their studies and take courses that they will later need for the demands of being a teacher
- train, reflect upon and optimize basic competencies as a teacher
- further develop as a teacher
- thorough analysis and reflection of the teacher students’ lessons
(Translated from: Coaching Im Lehramt)
I personally like that students have the opportunity to reflect with an experienced teacher, whether they actually think they are suitable as a teacher. I struggled with my studies and the idea of becoming a teacher a couple of years into my degree. I was questioning whether I was cut out to be a teacher. I ended up loving my practical part of my training after University, but if I had the chance to work or reflect with an experienced teacher right from the start, it would have taken a lot of struggle out of my early years at university.
5.2 Coaching in the second phase of Teacher Training
The second, more practical part of teacher training can only be completed after students have graduated from University and is necessary to be a fully qualified teacher. For 12-24 months, depending on the state, teacher trainers then teach in schools part-time and also attend seminars to expand their learning and teaching. These seminars are lead by experienced teachers. This is often a very stressful part of the teacher training, as student teachers get regularly assessed throughout this period. Their final grade determines what kind of job they can get.
In the whole State of North-Rhine-Westphalia coaching has been introduced as a mandatory part for student teachers in their second part of teacher training.
Here is it meant to be a
person orientated advice with elements of coaching (Translated from Coaching in der lehrerbildung).
While student teachers get assessed and graded by trainers continually during their second phase of training, it is important to mention that the Coach does not grade the student teacher. Therefore, the important trust can be created between the Coach and the Coachee. Coaching is seen as a very important addition to the teacher training and is interactive, individually orientated and is
the process of accompanying a person in the corresponding professional teaching context.
Topics and reasons for coaching can be:
- My role as a staff member
- My role as a teacher
- My role as an advisor for parents and students
- My role when assessing and grading
- Development of my professional goals and perspectives
- Coping in my everyday school environment
There should be at least 2 coaching sessions throughout the second phase of teacher training, each session lasting between 60 and 90 minutes.
(Translated from Coaching Vereinbarungen Anlaesse)
The aim of coaching in this second phase of teacher training is to
- determine where the individual stands
- develop personal goals and perspectives
- develop problem solving strategies and how to transfer them to a complex everyday work environment
- analyse and develop your own teacher behavior
- clarify your role as a teacher
In the case of North-Rhine-Westphalia, coaching follows the GROW model. Coaches are experienced teachers who are trained through an external organization. In their training, they are
applying standards, which are normally used in Coach Training. (Translated from Coaching in der lehrerausbildung)
Questions that can be used in a coaching session
While I have found reasons for and aims of coaching in teacher training, I have not found what questions can form the basis of a coaching session. Below, I have formulated a few questions that can help fulfill the aim of a coaching session for student teachers:
- What are your goals as a teacher
- Who do you want to be (as a teacher)
- Who is a role model for you?
- What does an ideal lesson look like for you?
- What does an ideal day/week at school look like for you?
- What strategies can you use to look after yourself in a hectic school environment?
- What do you do for fun?
- Where do you need to set boundaries so you have down time/me time/time for fun?
- What can you do, so that your work life does not rule your personal life?
- The end of a school semester/year is always frantic. What structures can you put in place, so that you feel empowered at the end a school year?
While this list is not meant to be exhaustive, it shows examples what questions can be asked when used in the context of teaching.
Coaching can be a great addition to teacher training as well as a useful tool for established teachers. It can certainly be one (of many) strategies to help prevent early burn-out and exhaustion that more and more teachers experience in their profession.
I personally cannot agree more that it is best to get an insight into the real life of a teacher right from the start.
In the examples of Munich and North-Rhine-Westphalia, the coaches are always experienced teachers who have completed extra training to fulfill the role as a coach. In Munich, the training for the coaches is not regulated. Teachers can choose from a number of training seminars, none of which are mandatory. In North-Rhine-Westphalia, however, all of the coaches are trained through an external coaching organization. While it can be an advantage to have experienced teachers as coaches, it could also be limiting. It might be more effective to have coaches that are not an expert in the field of education and in the case of Munich, who have completed an in-depth coach training. They might bring in a “fresh look” as well as insure that the coaching sessions are what they are meant to be: coaching sessions.
However, I think this is a step into the right direction and a huge improvement to teacher training; and I personally wish I would have had the chance to reflect upon my profession with an experienced mentor by my side. Especially, if this mentor would have had additional training as a coach.
Frank McCourt, Teacher Man: A Memoir (The Memoirs of Frank McCourt), Simon and Schuster, 2005