Precise actions: what are they, and why do they matter?

Chris Peacock, our ECF Lead, explains the benefits of using precise actions during instructional coaching, and offers three tips for getting the detail right.

Instructional Coaching has five stages: praise, probe, precise actions, plan and deliberate practise. All stages connect carefully together, each underpinning the subsequent step. The third stage – setting precise actions – is essential, and too often these can be too vague to be effective. Let’s take a closer look at these key principles.

1. Don’t just use lesson observations as your source of evidence

Using a reliable source of evidence is crucial before determining these precise next steps. We know that solely relying on weekly observations/drop-ins can be unrealistic for Mentors in terms of having the time out of the classroom to complete them. Therefore, evidence could be derived from wider sources such as SLT learning walks, pupil discussions, work scrutinies or lesson planning.

2. Ensure actions are achievable

The rationale for setting precise actions as part of weekly meetings sits a little differently to targets set, for example, after each half termly formal observation. Quite often, in this sort of schedule, targets are set and then reviewed again the following half term. In this case, those next steps can be larger and take longer to secure. When setting precise actions as part of weekly interactions, the expectation is that ECTs will achieve them over the course of a week. As such, they need to be granular and achievable. Mentors need to ask themselves, ‘Can my ECT realistically achieve these precise actions before our next meeting?’. If not, then they need to be refined rather than simply allowed to rollover several weeks.

For example, a Mentor might identify, through a valid source of evidence, that pupils in their ECT’s classroom are not fully understanding what they are meant to be doing in tasks. The Mentor might set a key action for the following week to ‘make sure your explanations are clear’. This explains what the ECT must do but only when it is broken down into how it must be done can we see if this is actually achievable in a single week.

The precise actions or steps for this example might be:

1. Identify what you want the pupils to remember

2. Break your instructions into two or three small steps that focus on this

3. Check for understanding across the whole class

4. Script this out within your lesson plan

A simple way to ensure granularity in actions set, which can then lead to feasibility of development over a week, is to add the word ‘by’ after setting an action. This helps Mentors to think about the ‘how’ in this process which can then lead to checking if this can be manageable.

Instructional Coaching has five stages: praise, probe, precise actions, plan and deliberate practise.

3. Focus on what matters most

By this, we mean setting actions that are the ‘highest leverage’ and, therefore, will have the biggest impact on your ECT’s practice. It is tempting, as a Mentor, to encourage your ECT to address many aspects of their practice at once, especially when they are struggling. The danger here is that we risk cognitive overload by focusing on extraneous, yet seemingly quite important, aspects of their pedagogy at the expense of what will land really well in their daily classroom delivery.

If we encourage ECTs to adopt a ‘mentoring mindset’, they can be expected to check that precise actions are sufficiently relevant, achievable and never more than three different foci in a given week.

Precise actions are often the difference between poor and excellent instructional coaching. By applying these three tips, you will be on the path to excellence.