Interview by Mia O'Suji
With an increasing awareness on the impact of teacher preparation, an emphasis on the quality and development of teacher educators has emerged. Makhala Hurst, Manager of Coaching and Learning at Teaching Excellence, has set out to transform the support of teacher educators.
Makhala’s experience in the classroom and as a multi-district instructional coach has influenced her approach to increasing teacher educators’ competence as practitioners through one-on-one support, self-reflection, and data analysis. In a recent conversation with Makhala, she described her support of teacher educators’ coaching and facilitation of coursework to novice teachers.
MIA O’SUJI: You’ve witnessed the scope of teacher preparation through the lens of a teacher, an instructional coach, and a manager of teacher educators. How has your experience inspired your current work as a manager of teacher educators?
MAKHALA: As a new teacher, I received coaching from the alternative certification program for whom I currently work. As a result, I’ve seen the trajectory of my work through multiple lenses. My experience has led me to always keep the work of teachers and students at the forefront of any decision and to consider the implications of teacher and student learning. A couple of ways that I go about doing this is by visiting district campuses more often and engaging with teachers and students more frequently – even virtually.
MIA O’SUJI: Can you describe what it has been like to adjust your managerial support to accommodate a more robust training for teacher educators?
MAKHALA: My current role is a manager of coaching and learning. When considering the learning aspect of my role, or professional development, I find it most important for teacher educators to continuously engage in opportunities that allow them to learn and develop how to best meet the needs of teachers. With the changing landscape of education, it’s important to learn the best coaching and professional development techniques and incorporate them frequently, in every interaction. Additionally, I currently manage 5 teacher educators, who are all coaching 18 – 20 novice teachers. It’s equally important that I have several touchpoints with my teacher educators and their teachers throughout the school year to better respond to their individual needs.
MIA O’SUJI: Your teacher educators work across several districts within the Houston-region. How does your training and development of teacher educators address varying district demands?
MAKHALA: This is always a challenge because you want to provide the most strategic support possible. However, supporting teachers at varying districts is met with a wide array of systems, rubrics, and curricula. To confront this, we rely heavily on our collaboration and partnerships with districts. This looks like attending district professional development, engaging in governance meetings with administrators, learning new curriculum initiatives, and even seeking feedback from teachers who have been successful within the district. We compile all of this information to make in-the-moment adjustments to our programming. Each year, we assess the incoming cohort and also make adjustments based on grade level and content areas. In our work, flexibility is crucial. It’s so important to take a minute to pause and reflect on the current state of candidates and what they need to succeed for their students.
MIA O’SUJI: With teacher educators coming in at various levels of experience, how do you differentiate your support?
MAKHALA: I start off with a foundational way of coaching that provides teacher educators with a base line approach for coaching teachers to accelerate teacher effectiveness. This includes a template on building relationships, giving direct feedback, and facilitating practice-based coursework and coaching interactions. I like to think of the initial support as the science of coaching – a standardized approach. For teacher educators with more experience, it’s all about finding their authentic self as a coach through coaching responsiveness – the art.
MIA O’SUJI: What training or development opportunities might your teacher educators believe to be the most impactful in supporting novice teachers?
MAKHALA: We are constantly collecting data, so my teacher educators usually receive a monthly survey to share what they enjoy and/or would like to improve. Based on those surveys and our one-on-one meetings, they appreciate attending professional development that is specific to a particular district, which might include curriculum adjustments or district-wide initiatives. We also did a series on coaching for equity and one on problem-solving that received positive feedback. Most of our teacher educators have the science of coaching down, so when they’re confronted with new problems and/or content areas, we provide them with the tools to approach those situations effectively.
MIA O’SUJI: None of us could have predicted COVID-19. How have you had to shift your support to adapt to the virtual environment?
MAKHALA: It has been difficult to navigate from a managerial perspective because I was never required to teach or coach using a virtual platform. Honestly, the teachers are ahead of us because they are tasked with engaging with virtual learning, daily. To adapt my support, I have had to throw myself in the work as much as possible by providing support to my own cohort of novice teachers, shadowing my teacher educators and their teachers regularly, and utilizing the resources offered by The Center for Transforming Alternative Preparation Pathways (CTAPP) on coaching in a virtual setting. Although the education field is currently in a state of reactivity, I have tried to be as proactive as possible by increasing my understanding and making adjustments to my professional development. For instance, I use trainings for my teacher educators to model best practices for coaching virtually. I try to find ways in which our roles overlap to better understand and address the challenges that they are facing given these unprecedented times.
MIA O’SUJI: As you consider opportunities to promote principles of equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice, how do you ensure that your teacher educators remain reflective practitioners as a means to unpack implicit and explicit biases in their support of novice teachers?
MAKHALA: We take a two-pronged approach through individual reflection and group professional development. Our individual reflection focuses on learning and unlearning. We do text protocols and engage in discussion within affinity groups on our team to unpack and process our takeaways. We also engage in a series of development opportunities on engaging with teachers through an inward and outward approach. We focus on topics such as suspending status, confronting biases, talking about race and equity, understanding equity, and empowering teachers to establish their own enduring understandings and its implications on their students.
MIA O’SUJI: What advice might you give to educator preparation programs looking to adjust their support of teacher educators?
MAKHALA: My advice would be to consider multiple data sources and lenses to make strategic programming adjustments. Particularly, we’ve been thinking through a lens of equity and bringing teachers’ voices to the forefront to hear their needs and acknowledge their experiences. We want to cultivate a safe space for teachers to share and talk with us, aside from their usual surveys. It’s also important to have a lot of data points to make the right decision and to ensure a diverse group is represented in the data before making any adjustments.
Makhala has identified the following resources from Elena Aguilar as helpful in her efforts to incorporate the art of coaching through a lens of equity:
· The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation
· Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators
· Coaching for Equity: Conversations that Change Practice
Mia O'Suji serves as the Director of Content Development and Programming at CTAPP. She leads organizational efforts related to teacher preparation programming and strategic project planning.