States of Mind





(This scenario is based on a real situation of coaching a student teacher.)


Flexibility: Knowing one has and can develop options to consider and being willing to acknowledge and demonstrate respect for empathy for diverse perspectives. (Abrams, 2001)

Abrams tells us that a coach uses what a novice teacher says as a guide to the ways of thinking that need "shifting" before that teacher can address other problems with instructional practice. Consider this example of a student teacher's problematic thinking. Notice how the coach responds in order to shift the teacher's thinking and foster flexibility. The coach's role here is to help new teachers try alternative approaches to solve instructional problems.

Teachers are expected to have goals and objectives and plans for achieving them. It can be easy to get stuck on those plans to the point that other perspectives are ignored. This can be especially true with novice and student teachers who may not yet have a large repertoire of strategies and may not have gained experience with thinking on their feet as challenges and opportunities arise.

Abrams gives the example of a teacher who is frustrated with a Special Education accommodation and wonders why extra time is needed on every assignment. She mentions teachers who don’t see why assemblies and field trips are supported since they take students away from classroom instruction. While she cautions against coaches only bringing in their own perspective, the idea with flexibility is to help the other person think outside their own box.

For instance, asking the teacher to pretend to be the student, “How do you think Paul was feeling when you found he didn’t have his homework?” even going to role playing, with the teacher pretending to be Paul. Other questions to encourage flexible thinking include, “What might happen if you did it the other way?”  or “How is this idea different from what you had in mind?”

clipScenario: “You have to read.”

The students were taking turns reading out loud in the special education resource room. One student, Beth, who struggled with reading, didn't want to read out loud. As the classroom teacher, I wanted students to read, but allowed them to opt out of reading out loud publicly as long as they continued to participate in the conversation and the writing activity.

The student teacher insisted that Beth read. Beth refused.

The student teacher eventually sent all of the other students back to the general education class, but told Beth that she had to read out loud before she could leave. It was the end of the day. Beth tried to leave the room but was blocked by the student teacher who was very red in the face. Beth just stood in front of the student teacher holding the book crying and saying "I can't read. I can't read.” I approached them and the preservice teacher said in a deep, raspy, exorcist voice, "Stay out of it." Even though all the hair on the back of my neck stood up, I left the pair for two minutes---watching through the classroom door window.

When the situation had not changed, I went into the room and whispered in the student teacher's ear--"You are in a lose-lose situation. Beth has to catch the bus.”  She told Beth to leave. I went with Beth to her other room, she packed up and went to catch her bus.”

Upon returning to the room, I could see that the student teacher was still angry. “Beth needs to read out loud to improve her reading fluency score,” she said. “That can’t happen if I don’t make her read out loud.”

“I understand that your goal is to help Beth improve her reading,” I replied. “I know that she needs to practice reading out loud. Today was a public round robin. Can you think of another way to have students read out loud?”

Funding for this website came from the Virginia Department of Education Award # 879-SY08 CFG to Dr.Sandi Cohen and Dr. Ruth Ferree at the Curry School of Education. Questions should be sent to Dr. Ferree at