The Power of a Good Idea, Engaged Teachers and a Skillful Coach

Bena Kallick

Bena Kallick is a private consultant providing services to school districts, state departments of education, professional organizations, and public agencies throughout the United States and internationally.

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How do we grow good ideas to make them more powerful for both teachers and students? I wanted to capture a wonderful coaching session I had this past week with the South Florida Collaborative. I opened with a keynote that focused on our new book, Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind that introduced educators to the four attributes of personalized learning and the distinctions we make between personalized learning and differentiated and individualized instruction.

Two third grade teachers from Palm Beach Day Academy, Sarah Evans and George Yeager, presented a very interesting project in which their students read the novel The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and study Uganda as a part of their focus on developing global competencies. A part of this project is to write a story in which they imagine an innovation they might suggest to solve a problem for the people of Uganda. They usually have this project presented to parents as their authentic audience. These two teachers have been using Habits of Mind in their classroom for the past 5 years.

Since the coaching was in front of a group of teachers who had just learned about the four attributes for personalized learning that we feature in the book, we started the coaching with George asking the question:

“We differentiate and individualize a lot in our classroom. However, after reading the book, I was wondering whether we are really personalizing in the way that you describe the 4 attributes?”

This coaching response is significant because it does not give advice. Rather, it assumes that the teachers will be able to answer their own question if they are coached to think about it rather than turn to someone else for the answer. (This is based on the work of Art Costa and Bob Garmston, Cognitive Coaching.)

So, I answered:

“As you think about what you do with differentiation and individualization, what about the attributes makes you question your practice?”

George and Sarah proceeded to ask specifically about self-discovery. They were wondering whether the students actually are discovering something more about themselves as a result of this study. When asked what they hoped for the students to learn, they focused on empathy. We then talked about what sorts of prompts in their reflections might put attention to that aspect of the project.

We started to uncover the idea that, while the students were creatively working on solving problems, perhaps they need to go back to the character in the book, examine their problem solving on behalf of the people of Uganda, and then reflect on where that sort of problem solving might be possible in their own community or in neighboring communities. This would bring them to a place where they can think of themselves as empathic to the conditions and problems of others and also give them a local place for action.

By the time we got to this place, I noticed that people’s heads were bobbing up and down. Hands were going up. We turned to the audience and there were many more amazing ideas and possibilities about what George and Sarah might do as they strengthen the voice, co-creation, social construction and self-discovery in the project. It was apparent to all that paying attention to personalizing learning, using the lens of the four attributes, brought a finer focus on authenticity of the project, the pedagogical decisions for process, and the sense of wonderment and awe and what this would mean for the students’ self-discovery.

It was a testimony to the magic of bringing all of these pieces together holistically. When asked if this might be something that could be done back at the individual schools, there was a resounding response of wanting to use this coaching protocol in a variety of ways. It all happened in 30 minutes!

Here is the protocol we used:


If you want to take this out for a test drive, let us know how it worked out!


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