Mentoring and Coaching to Support Colleagues

By Vicki Collet, CCIRA Past President

As lifelong learners, teachers are always working to improve instruction.  In addition to focusing on your own classroom, are you also supporting other teachers in improving their practice?

Whether you are a student-teaching supervisor, a mentor for an early-career teacher, a team leader or department head, or an administrator or instructional coach working with veteran teachers, you offer support to improve instruction, and you are taking a coaching role. Even if you don’t have an officially-assigned role as a coach, you probably offer up your own teaching ideas from time to time in an effort to help someone else. The Gradually Increase of Responsibility (GIR) Model can make you more intentional about this work. 

The GIR Model for Mentoring & Coaching is a research-developed approach to differentiate the support we offer our colleagues. Just like our students, teachers are at different places in their learning, and they grow in different ways. They’ll benefit most from coaching that meets them where they are, addressing their unique needs. 

Five Moves

The five coaching moves in the GIR model are: modeling, recommending, asking questions, affirming, and praising. Being purposeful about how you choose and change these moves while working with a colleague will make your support more effective. I’ve listed the moves in order from most-supportive to least supportive, as illustrated in the model below:

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Changing Support

The GIR Model flips the popular Gradual Release of Responsibility Model* on its head, looking at support from the learner’s point of view. But, just like our students don’t all need a model for every new concept, the teacher we are supporting may not need the most supportive move. We choose and use the move that matches the need, and we change our support over time, because teachers grow as they go. 

Think of a teacher you are working with. Think of a challenge they are facing. Now think of which of the 5 coaching moves might be most helpful. Here’s a quick list of those 5 moves and when they might be called for:

MoveWhen to Use
ModelTeacher lacks experience with a particular content or practice
RecommendTeacher has requests or questions, or a limited teaching repertoire
QuestionTo prompt planning, problem-solving, and reflection
AffirmGood things are happening, but teacher is looking for confirmation
PraiseTeacher no longer looks to coach for confirmation

Tools for the Work

The 5 coaching moves are tools you can use; you choose based on the current context – the teacher and the situation. 

When I was meeting with a group of coaches, one of them, who was new to the position, felt a bit shaky about her skills. We’d talked about the GIR Model, and she said, “I want to make sure I’m doing this right! Can you tell me what I should be doing right now?”

Coaches from the group who were experienced with the Model chimed in. “The thing about it,” one said, “is that every teacher is different.” Another said, “What you do for one may not be what another teacher needs. It’s different every time!” I nodded my head and emphasized, “When we meet as coaches, I make suggestions about what coaching move you might consider based on where you are in the coaching cycle, but it’s always about what your teachers need.” I went on to describe how they might consider each of the 5 coaching moves and think about which could be most effective at that time. That would be the move they’d emphasize…but not to the complete exclusion of the others. 

Although your coaching will generally move from more supportive to less supportive, the path is not a linear one. Your insight, observation, and careful listening will help you choose your move. 

A Continuum of Support

The 5 coaching moves are useful for supporting teachers at any point along the continuum of experience and expertise. The need for these moves differs among teachers and across time. For example, modeling (the most supportive move) occurs when a preservice teacher has her first practicum experience, visiting a school to observe a teacher in action. Even a very experienced teacher, however, may benefit from modeling; for example, a new technology application could be demonstrated, or an approach to whole-class discussion might be modeled if that is a focus area. If you are mentoring a first-year teacher into the profession, recommendations about available resources might be warranted. For some, asking questions to support reflection about potential changes will provide enough support. An elementary school teacher might request recommendations for improving her math instruction but benefit from simply hearing affirmations about her already-solid instruction during guided reading.

When I talked to a mentor who was working with a student-teaching intern, she described how the GIR model guided her. “She really needed the modeling,” she said, “and at first even that wasn’t working. She didn’t know what to pay attention to. Modeling started working better once I gave her very specific things to watch for.” Then they moved into recommending – a phase that lasted a long, long time! Questioning became the dominant move (even though recommending lingered) much later. And the mentor felt they never made it to praising when she commended the intern’s work; it still felt more like affirming, because the intern seemed to be looking for validation.

A coach who was working with an experienced teacher to implement close reading said, “She really didn’t need the modeling, or the recommending, either. I jumped right in with questioning. That helped support her thinking and reflection.”  But later, when the same teacher was working on differentiation – a complex teaching skill – modeling and recommending were included before moving to less-supportive coaching approaches. 

Successful coaches and mentors adjust based on the complexity and difficulty of the task, as well as teachers’ experience. The 5 coaching moves in the GIR model can be selected, as appropriate, as tools for the work. 

The Right Tool for the Task

The GIR coaching model can serve as a guide no matter who you are working with.  But where you begin and the way you move through it will change every time. Even though coaching conversations will include a healthy mix of recommending, questioning, and affirming, you can be intentional about which one you lean on most as you work with a teacher, focusing on the “bang-for-your-buck” coaching move.

My husband has a garage full of tools, so it amazes me when he “needs” to buy a new one. He explains, however, that having the right tool for the job means it gets done more efficiently and effectively. Similarly, using the right tool at the right time makes coaching more productive. As you think about how to support your colleagues in their efforts to improve instruction, having these 5 moves in your toolbelt will strengthen your work.

* Pearson, P. D., & Gallagher, M. C. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8(3), 317-344.

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Vicki Collet is a past-president of CCIRA who has been attending and presenting at the conference for over 20 years. She is currently an associate professor in Teacher Education at the University of Arkansas. Read more about mentoring and coaching in her book, Differentiated Mentoring & Coaching in Education: From Preservice Teacher to Expert Practitioner, or on her blog: mycoachcescouch.blogspot.com. Follow Vicki on Facebook at facebook.com/mycoachescouch and Twitter and Instagram @vscollet. You can also find her at VickiCollet.com.

Author: CCIRAblog

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