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Moving from Reacting to Anticipating

There's this book that several schools I've worked at have purchased for teachers. You may have heard of it -- the Common Core Companion. Specifically, in the math ones each standard contains an "anticipated misconceptions" section. I love it when new teachers see this resource. Their reactions tend to repeatedly include:

"I wish I had known this before I taught that standard!",

"Oh wow, I hadn't thought of this misconception but I can see how that could be a common mistake",

"This is so helpful. I'll definitely be on the lookout for signs of this type of confusion"

New teachers are often relying on making mistakes so they can acquire hindsight. The gift that the anticipated misconceptions guidance gives them is in skipping past the part where they have to wait until they're in the middle of class and a kid is confused, and they realize that they weren't prepared to respond, and then they think of the perfect response... after the student is gone for the day.

As instructional coaches we can support teachers, regardless of their years of experience, to move out of reactivity and instead anticipate students' needs.

To do so, we have to structure our work plans and coaching meetings so that we're looking forward, and not just looking back by responding to what has already happened in observations or student work.

If you find that in your meetings you and the teacher you're supporting are in reactionary mode, consider some ways you might tweak how you work in order to make more time for anticipating student needs.

Introducing a shift

If you're proposing a change, frame it as a solution to an identified challenge.

Melissa, I've noticed that over the last three meetings we've found ourselves looking back at things that have come up in class or in student work that we hadn't anticipated, which seem like missed opportunities and a drain on your time, since you end up having to address issues after they've come up. I was wondering if you'd be willing to try some different ways of prioritizing our time to put a greater emphasis on anticipating student needs. I think this would help ensure more students are successful during the lesson, and you won't have to react to as many challenges.

Aligning it with goals

You're not going to be able to anticipate every single need. Instead, focus the work on the goals you're working towards with the teacher.

You've been refining your routines and procedures to support scholars to get started on tasks and instructional routines. What if instead of looking back at observations and talking about what could have gone better, we spent more time looking at upcoming lessons in detail with a focus on the routines and procedures of key parts of the lesson? I could then observe the lesson we've focused on.

Define the process and clarify expectations

Next, you'll want to propose any roles and responsibilities within what's feasible.

Does this mean there is new or different pre-work needed before your meetings, like sharing lesson plans in advance? Will you each internalize a shared lesson plan ahead of time? Will you dedicate time at the beginning of your meetings to review the lesson materials in more depth?

If you can send me your lesson plan and materials x days before each meeting, I can commit to reading through them carefully and coming in with ideas and questions.

Tapping into the teacher's expertise

Whether you're working with a new or experienced teacher, they can anticipate some aspect of student needs. Ask questions to help them tap into their existing knowledge, experience, and hunches. Sometimes teachers need alternate points after they've had a chance to unpack their thoughts. Sometimes they just need time, space, and some focused questions to get their thoughts in order.

When you look at this plan as a whole, where do you anticipate engagement will be high? Where might it go down? What could we do to mitigate for that? What might you do if you notice engagement going down?

As you think about supporting independence in the upcoming lab, which part of the directions do you anticipate will be trickiest for students? What might they need? How might you prep them to attend to precision / persevere / catch their mistakes?


Write the script. Practice the response. Model the possibilities. Role play.

If the teacher is working on responding to things they weren't already anticipating, we need to make time and offer structures to help them build the mental models before the lesson.

Integrating it all

Once teachers begin to get more and more into the habits of anticipating the specific needs they find themselves coming up against, you can begin to integrate looking back and looking forward with more efficiency and specificity. You might find that you can observe a class, meet, and spend the first half of your time reflecting on and providing feedback on a specific focus are of the observation, and then shifting your time and energy to anticipating needs in detail in upcoming lessons.

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