Is there a book you wish you had read years ago? A deeply inspirational book that changed your outlook? Get Better Faster by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo is that book for me and I don’t use the word ‘inspirational’ lightly.
Bambrick-Santoyo is the managing director of Uncommon Schools, co-founded by another big name in education, Doug Lemov. It is easy to guess then why Get Better Faster draws heavily on strategies from Teach Like a Champion. The author advocates for initial teacher training to resemble that of medical training with coaches watching over the trainee in action, role playing the required strategies before the lesson and stepping in, when and as necessary, during live teaching to model what excellence looks like. Bambrick-Santoyo states that ‘the intellectual life of a child is sacred’ and therefore we cannot afford to teach anything badly. We need to get things right from the start. This statement resonated with me deeply.
Get Better Faster is aimed at those who coach and mentor trainee teachers and practitioners at the early stages of their careers, however, with a bit of an open mind and adaptation, the guide can be used for effective instructional coaching with staff who are more experienced too. The training plan presented in the book is organised into the different phases of teacher training with the aim of getting the teacher to master their practice within their first 90 days. An ambitious undertaking I am sure you will agree.
The training programme set out in Get Better Faster is split into two strands and four phases. The management strand focuses on classroom management and effective routines while rigour focuses on the quality of the teaching. Furthermore, the phases are split into pre-teaching, first 30 days, days 31 to 60 and 61 to 91. The order in which issues are addressed is also purposeful. Having reviewed the order of skills in which most effective coaches develop trainee teachers, the author found that most follow a similar pattern. It begins with class routines that can be practised in the days before school starts and if you have read Teach Like a Champion, you will already be familiar with the strategies themselves.
The strategies proposed can also be eye-opening even for those experienced among us. Take aggressive monitoring, for example. I have been teaching for over 25 years and not once has anyone suggested that I should start monitoring the work of my students by going to the fastest student first. I have seen the opposite idea modelled over and over. When I queried my equally experienced peers, I found that they too directed their first steps to those who may struggle most or stepped back to watch before starting to make their way around the classroom. But once I read and reflected on the strategy, it did seem like a no brainer. Plan your path and go to those who will have most for you to mark first. This way you can establish any misconceptions early and identify how widespread these are. It makes sense. The key aspect of the text is that the Get Better Faster reference guide identifies the key microskills that constitute great teaching. The microskills listed are presented in an explicit manner and are therefore easy to follow for those who lack the expertise to know what they look like in practice. As an experienced mentor, you may know what scanning a classroom looks like but can someone who is standing in front of a busy class full of children who are moving, talking and learning distinguish easily between off-task or on task behaviour? How often have you told your mentee to improve their classroom awareness without explaining what it looks like? Too many times is my honest answer.
Now I cannot claim that I agree or would use all the strategies practised in the coaching scenarios and videos but then that’s where adaptation comes in. Whether you are an Exit Ticket at the end of every lesson person or not, you will find that the issues identified allow you to propose solutions that work in your own school context. The book comes with a quick reference guide to take around with you when observing, coaching templates and videos modelling coaching conversations. I found the reference guide with the cascade of microskills and the order in which they should be tackled incredibly helpful. All you need to do is run your finger down the list as you watch the lesson in front of you to identify the first microskill to address. You then use the reference guide and the template to prepare for your coaching conversation. The process is simple and supportive leaving nothing to chance. The book also helpfully comes with a presentation you can use with staff. It really comes along as a ready to launch package.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone working with trainee teachers, NQTs or looking to implement instructional coaching. I will most certainly be putting it to good use when launching our coaching initiative next academic year.