Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Virtual Coaching for Novice Teachers: Technology Enables University Professors to Observe and Literally Whisper in the Ear of a Teacher during Instruction

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Virtual Coaching for Novice Teachers: Technology Enables University Professors to Observe and Literally Whisper in the Ear of a Teacher during Instruction

Article excerpt

  Meet Katie ...

  The end of the school year was fast approaching. Katie couldn't wait.
  As far as she was concerned, it had been a dreadful year. She was
  beginning to think she wasn't cut out to be a teacher. She had
  graduated from her teachers' college with a 3.9 GPA. She had always
  wanted to be a teacher. But after three years, in three different
  classrooms, she still hasn't found her niche. She had taught 1st
  grade, 3rd grade, and 6th grade, but her students were always unruly
  and seemed uninterested in her lessons. Maybe it was the school--her
  fellow teachers were all experienced, and it seemed as if everything
  came so easily to them. She didn't know teaching was going to be so
  hard.

Across the country, school district personnel are struggling to attract and retain high-quality teachers who can meet the unique academic and behavioral needs of an increasingly diverse student population. Teachers of math, science, English as a second language (ESL), computer science, bilingual education, and special education are particularly hard to find. Although this isn't a new problem, we're only beginning to develop effective and innovative approaches to combat it. Mentoring programs, financial incentives, and reward/recognition plans represent a few of the more popular responses to the recruitment and retention dilemma.

In certain content areas, such as ESL or special education, some states experience greater difficulty in attracting, preparing, and retaining high-quality teachers. One such state is Alabama. When compared with national statistics, Alabama public school students are more likely to be poor, a member of a racial minority, and disabled. Alabama has experienced depressed academic performance, increased dropout rates, and heightened suspension and expulsion rates. Despite the many challenges confronting the state's schools and its students, preservice teachers are often ill prepared for the diversity they face. Elementary and secondary education majors in Alabama are required to take only one course related to exceptional learners (that is, Introduction to Special Education). And the opportunities for and quality of professional development experiences once they enter the profession are very uneven. Yet nationally, and in Alabama as well, the most up-to-date statistics confirm that over 80% of students with disabilities receive all or part of their instruction in the general education classroom (American Institutes for Research 2007). Is it any wonder new teachers like Katie are floundering?

Project TEEACH--which stands for Transforming Elementary Educators into Advocates, Change Agents, and Highly Qualified Special Educators--was developed to address these issues. Project TEEACH enables university-based educators to provide virtual coaching for inservice teachers using bug-in-the-ear technology. We call our technology VBIE.

In our virtual coaching sessions, a professor observes a teacher using a high-definition web cam and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, such as Skype. The teacher being observed wears a Bluetooth-enabled bug in her ear. As the teacher works with students, the professor coaches her. The coach may literally suggest words that the teacher can use with students. The coach may alert the teacher to watch for certain student behaviors. The coach may identify teacher behaviors that are either appropriate or less than ideal in the given instructional situation. Students typically know that someone is observing the instruction, but they are not able to hear what the teacher is hearing.

We've used VBIE to work with 16 practicing teachers in 555 virtual coaching sessions over three years. Another 15 are enrolled as a second cohort. Four of the 16 program finishers moved to positions as special education teachers.

  Recruiting Katie ...

  Katie had the motivation to be a high-quality teacher, but something
  was lacking. … 
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