WalkThrus parent workshop – Tom Sherrington

I attended a parent workshop this morning by Tom Sherrington, co-author of the WalkThrus series. Sherrington is working with Bangkok Patana School to help embed an instructional coaching programme in the primary school. The workshop was good timing for me, having spent a bit of time going through (thru) the WalkThrus 1 resource recently (see this review).

The workshop was more of a talk on how the school are focusing professional development for teachers on certain strategies in the WalkThrus series (they call these the Patana Core 7). These are:

⁃ Positive Relationships

⁃ Establish Expectations

⁃ Signal, Pause, Insist

⁃ Positive Framing

⁃ Think, Pair, Share

⁃ Say It Again Better

⁃ Check for Understanding

The first four strategies relate to ‘Behaviour and Relationships’, while the other three fall into the category in Walkthrus of ‘Questioning and Feedback’. I’d guess the school are working with Sherrington in other ways too, like curriculum planning, although I can’t say that for sure.

Sherrington began by orientating parents to the strategies outlined in his resource. He explained how building teacher development around a set of strategies that represent ‘good practice’ does not mean the teachers at the school weren’t already highly-skilled practitioners. He related the situation to professional tennis – even the world’s best players have coaches to help them identify areas for development – and they all still have things they can improve on.

He demonstrated one strategy at random – cold-calling. The Chartered College of Teaching describe this as ‘a technique that creates an expectation that all students are ready to answer every question’ which encourages attention and engagement. He then mentioned the seven strategies which are a focus of development for all Primary teachers at the school, and demonstrated some of these – in particular a Think-Pair-Share routine (the choice of topic for this task, giving opinions on a member of the Royal household in the UK, could have been better thought through in the context for various reasons).

Sherrington gave an overview of the instructional coaching approach, mentioning the importance of dialogue between coach and participant, and the peer observation process. He went on to explain each of the core strategies, modeling some of those during the session.

The talk showcased the instructional manual well, and as a ‘Patana parent’ it gave me an insight into their whole primary approach to CPD. Sherrington didn’t go too much into how these particular strategies had been identified as areas for development across the primary school. That would have been interesting to know – like whether there was some kind of needs analysis undertaken for example.

The session was also slightly different to what I’d imagined – I assumed this would be a workshop on linking the strategies to parenting (not all of them 100% relevant perhaps). Or some kind of ‘onboarding’ for parents, so learners were getting a consistent message at school and home. Someone else raised this ‘What can parents do…?’ point at the end, which I’d imagine would feed into future sessions. Even so, the talk was still engaging and informative – especially for me as a teacher!

Bangkok Patana School host some really useful parent workshops. I’ve attended two this year and both have been great. A session by Eoin Bevan on explaining approaches to EAL provision was really useful in shaping some of my own thoughts as I move into an EAL lead role. Communication with parents is a major strength of this school IMO, and add ons like this are always welcome.

Thoughts as an EAL specialist

Having Sherrington explain some of the WalkThrus strategies in person is kinda strange – it feels like he’s everywhere in podcasts, books, blogs, etc, and the WalkThrus are so familiar now (visually, I mean, what a brand they’ve become!). It’s quite a luxury to have this ‘wraparound’ take, where he is addressing (potentially) non-teachers.

I found the way Sherrington modeled some activities during the session was based on using the WalkThrus strategies more in their context-free form, they weren’t adapted to offer the audience more support/better access. A bit more attention to detail, perhaps elements of the type of support modeled by the likes of Adrienn Szlapak recently, would have enhanced the message that these questioning strategies can work well in most contexts provided they are appropriately staged and scaffolded.

Sherrington’s demonstration of cold-calling did exactly what cold-calling has always done to me in any learning context anywhere ever: made me feel foggy, made me seize up so much that I forget or block the (very basic) question, made me so anxious that I start staring through the speaker and begin running through my panic visualizations (what if my voice breaks when he asks me? What if I stutter? What if everyone sees how much I’m shaking? What if I just start crying uncontrollably out of fear? What if he laughs? Cold-calling is very rarely the way to go for me – I wouldn’t inflict it on my learners too often! And there are other ways for learners to demonstrate understanding and thinking anyway.

‘Check for understanding’ was addressed more at the level of task set up (ICQs), not delving into concept checking. That’s a bit of an ask given this was just an overview, but still would have been nice to hear more about it.

These aren’t so much criticisms of Sherrington’s session – they are learning points for me moving forward: the importance of providing content and language support in my parent workshops, the importance of adapting strategies for context, the importance of viewing classroom strategies through a more empathetic lens, etc.

When Sherrington talked through the instructional coaching process, I thought back to my time at the British Council and the PMPD cycle there.

I had some great coaches at the BC – Sarah Smith of ELTonix being one of them. Instructional coaching in the way Sherrington described was such a big part of teaching and learning at the BC that I assumed this type of thing was in place elsewhere – especially in international school settings. It’s easy to forget though that at the BC we were offered plenty of scheduled time to dedicate to professional development – such time is not always available to mainstream teachers.

Anyhow, a worthwhile hour, some useful points to consider. Sherrington comes across well – I like the way he does these in-the-moment mini reflections on his own input during the sessions – coaching himself! Haha

I’m looking forward to discussing WalkThrus more in my next teaching context – I wonder what strategies will be the priorities there and how they will be identified.

Categories: General, teacher development

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