"What did you learn from this and/or how did you feel about teaching this time?"
VTS Coaching is a process that prioritizes the learner. Our goals are to:
- encourage the desire to continue facilitating image discussions
- model & practice self-reflection
- guide learner to discover something new in the role of facilitator
A Coach begins the reflection process by asking the VTS facilitator, "What did you learn from this and/or how did you feel about teaching this time?" (Alternatively: "What did you learn from teaching this time, and how did you feel about it?") The purpose of these questions (the two are asked at the same time) is to give the facilitator the chance to reflect on their teaching before anyone else comments.
Our goals here are self-awareness and individual agency. Given the emphasis on external evaluation in most environments, we feel it is particularly important to stress the role of self-reflection as an integral part of improving one’s practice. The second half of the question — how did you feel? — is to remind us that teaching involves relationships. It is a loaded exchange replete with feelings. Though we frequently ignore this aspect of education, it benefits everyone involved to spend time reflecting on it.
The facilitator is free to respond to either question or both. A typical response might be, "I felt a little intimidated by this work of art. I wondered if it would work," or "I realized I never asked the second question," or "I was really thrown off by one comment." The coach waits until the facilitator has finished speaking, then paraphrases their thoughts. You may choose to introduce topics for further exploration — at this time or later in the discussion — such as, "Let's look at what makes some comments hard to respond to." Responses from observing teachers are welcome, but, as with the facilitator, should not interrupt the demonstrator's chance to self-critique.
"What did you appreciate about _______'s teaching?" Or "What about _______'s teaching made you feel good as a student?"
The intention of the wording is to elicit supportive comments, but phrased in a way to allow the other participants to reflect on what it feels like to be in the role of a student. While prompting participants to give positive feedback to the facilitator, we also want to shed light on how this (or any) teacher's behavior creates an environment that engages students in learning.
Some common appreciations we hear are:
- "I really appreciated how you captured every idea in a paraphrase."
- "I really appreciated when you asked me the second question about my comment and then gave me time to answer."
- "I appreciated your pointing, that was hard for me."
The coach should follow up on such comments as needed for clarification or specificity. For example: "What did you appreciate about the use of the question, 'What did you see that made you say...' in this discussion?" Remember it is the coach's job to bring specificity and evidence to this time of reflection.
When working individually with a facilitator, coaches share specific choices from the image discussion that highlight strengths and successes.
"Was anyone surprised by anything that happened?" Or "What were your surprises?"
This is an opportunity for both facilitator and the group to acknowledge our assumptions. We predict certain behaviors and expect certain responses — whether we are thinking about our students, fellow teachers, a work of art, or teaching in general. We limit our ability to apprehend and appreciate the content of our discussion, our students' abilities, and the impact of our decisions as teachers.
Because most of our assumptions are unconscious, they can be hard to recall upon demand; surprises, on the other hand, are relatively easy to recognize.
Reflecting on the image discussion with a lens of surprise encourages skepticism, which is useful for processes of teaching and learning. Did what I expect actually occur? This prompt requires us to take inventory of what we think the method asks of us. The space of surprise can be a moment of adding complexity to understanding.
It also trains us to be in the habit of noticing our surprises while teaching, which is an effective tool for critical thinking. It allows us to revise our assumptions as needed, change ineffectual practices, and find new and more effective ways to reach learners.
Common surprises include: "I was surprised by how much people saw in this picture." Another might refer to the discussion: "I was surprised by how long some of the comments were." Or comment on the teaching: "I was surprised by how the open and accepting manner of the discussion got me to go beyond my first impressions."
During this part of the coaching process, it is helpful for the coach to paraphrase comments and follows up as needed. The next step in the coaching process is to zoom in on a question for the group/facilitator to consider. These surprises can be a strong lead-in to questions — for example, "What do you think it was about the image that held our attention?"
"Does anyone have any questions they would like to ask [the facilitator and/or the trainer]?"
Effective group coaching allows an opportunity for peers to help the facilitator think about their facilitation choices. Given the environment of VTS, coaching does not include "gotcha moments". Coaches are not in the business of setting up facilitators to find mistakes or missteps. Coaches are in the business of keeping the elements and expectations of VTS visible for facilitators. Coaches reinforce the rules of engagement and use questions to help the facilitator reflect on how choices landed for a group. We need to strike the delicate balance of helping facilitators see moments of growth & opportunity for improvement while not compromising the environment of authenticity & inclusion.
In order to be effective, the critical question must be genuine. That is, it must be asked sincerely in order to elicit the facilitator’s thinking on the matter, not simply disguised a criticism. One way to do this is to ask oneself, "What is the one thing this person would most benefit from bringing their attention to right now?" Our ultimate goal is to train people to use VTS correctly and effectively, but in order to support their growth, it is important to keep the individual in mind, not just the method. Do not only look for what someone did wrong, but consider what they are doing right as well — and therefore what they are ready to learn next.
Critique by way of questions is not a common practice. Declarative criticism may seem more direct and efficient, but while it may or may not result in a correction, it does not allow for consideration of why someone should want to do it "right" in the first place or examine deeper issues of teaching. "You need to work on your paraphrasing" will not produce the same level of self-reflection as the question "What are the greatest challenges in rephrasing students' comments?" Through coaching, our aim is to engender thoughtful reflection on what enables learning and what does not.
Some helpful question starters include:
- VTS as a method tells us to … [point all the time]. How did pointing support this discussion?
- I noticed you didn’t … [paraphrase every comment]. Was there a particular comment that seemed difficult to paraphrase? Let’s look together and come up with a paraphrase now.
At times, you may also want to use questions to explore successes in practicing VTS. For instance, you may wish to share a specific paraphrase you recall or have captured in your notes and then ask the facilitator, "I noticed that _____ looked really satisfied when they heard you paraphrase their comment. Could you walk us through the decisions you made when crafting that paraphrase?"
"What do you want to work on?", followed by "How do you think you can do that?" Or you may simply ask, "What are you taking away from this experience?"
The purpose of these questions should be clear: we want to allow the demonstrator to reflect on their experience, process the input from coaching, and determine for themselves what their next steps should be.
This also helps reinforce the habit of mind for future self-reflection processes. The coaching session is a model one can apply to their own practice when no one is there to help them reflect. Facilitators can develop the skills to proactively identify space for growth and determine ways to reach their goals.