There are a lot of books that live in the Whetstone office. One of the most important ones is Get Better Faster by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo. It’s a bonafide staple in our workspace, as well as in the classrooms and offices of many of our partners.
And while we understand that teaching is a complex and sophisticated endeavor, we also admire the very concrete, practice-based approach from Bambrick and the leaders from the Relay Graduate School of Education. This post dives into the Get Better Faster approach. What is it? Why is it valuable? We hit the books and reached out to our partners to answer those questions and more for you.
What Does it Mean to “Get Better Faster?”
In Get Better Faster, Bambrick writes, “... teach the right skill at the right time, and the result is a steady chain reaction of success.” That sounds great, but how do you get there? First, we have to start by understanding what “Get Better Faster” actually means.
Bambrick defines “better” as: “More able to meet students’ immediate needs;” getting “faster” is about succeeding early on as a matter of immense urgency, “because the more quickly a teacher masters the most important skills of teaching, the more quickly students get to develop the skills of being students.”
The full title of the book includes, “A 90-Day Plan for Coaching New Teachers.” Though the subtitle implies this plan is targeted at developing new teachers, we know schools across the country are utilizing the GBF approach and sequence to accelerate instructional growth for all teachers, regardless of years of experience.
A case study is provided in the introduction of Get Better Faster that follows Nikki, an instructional coach, and Jackson, a new teacher. While Nikki is coaching Jackson, they have to decide how to tackle this fundamental problem:
“Imagine if Nikki had instructed Jackson simply to ‘make sure your students are following your instructions.’ That sounds like a straightforward direction, but in fact, it’s fairly abstract. What does a teacher actually have to do to ‘make sure they’re following?’ Exactly what actions - or inactions - on the part of the students constitute non-responsiveness?”
In this example, Nikki worked with Jackson to decide on what expectations he had of his students. The outcome: they were to have their fingers on the page of the book they were reading to hold their place, feet on the floor, and faces forward. These mini-actions showed Jackson that his students were responsive and ready to proceed. The culmination of these micro-actions is what was necessary for Jackson to complete the action step exemplified in the quote above.
How Do I Get Better Faster?
We should take note of these two core ideas:
“The smaller and more precise the action step, the quicker the growth. Be bite-size, not book-size.” - Leverage Leadership 2.0, 2018
“The purpose of instructional leadership is not to evaluate teachers but to develop them.” - Get Better Faster, 2016
In Leverage Leadership 2.0, Bambrick makes it easy to understand what is needed to make up a great action-step that helps educators like Jackson:
Highest Leverage: Will this help the teacher develop most quickly and effectively? Is it connected to a larger PD goal?
Measurable: The action step is what the teacher can practice: it names the “what” (e.g., use economy of language) and the “how” (e.g., give crisp instructions with as few words as possible).
Bite-size: If your teacher can’t make the change in a week, the action step isn’t small enough!”
The Get Better Faster approach answers the question of WHICH action steps will be most effective WHEN, in order to advance teacher practice. Bambrick outlines specific sequences along two strands of classroom management and instructional rigor. Notably, Bambrick recommends action for both concurrently, since management must be rooted in a community of learning.
The steps are deliberately scaffolded so that the most essential teaching skills are addressed first. They are then further broken down, “into even more specific actions a teacher needs to take to perform each skill effectively.”
What’s it Like to Follow the Get Better Faster Approach?
When we reached out to our partner Ted Johnson at Pueblo City Schools in Colorado, the goal was to understand the reality of working within the sequence. We wanted to hear it straight from a district source - in this case, the Executive Director of Continuous Improvement and Innovation. Here’s what Ted had to say:
How did you implement GBF in your network? or How is GBF implemented in your network?
“Implementation of the GBF scope & sequence began in our district with schools that participated in the Colorado Department of Education's Turnaround Network. Leaders of those schools attended the Relay GSE National Principal's Academy Fellowship (NPAF) and began using the tool as part of the Observation/ Feedback Cycle. The district expanded the use of this tool by holding "learning labs" where leaders would participate in collaborative walkthroughs at a school to calibrate and discuss action steps in the classrooms that they visited.”
- Ted Johnson, Executive Director of Continuous Improvement and Innovation at Pueblo City Schools
What is the best tip or trick you’ve learned in using the GBF process?
“The keys to the GBF process are:
Start with the action step first. Identify the bite-sized, high leverage step, and then build your feedback protocol around this component.
Spend the majority of your time on the "Do It" allowing time for planning and practicing.
Be consistent and follow the cycle to include multiple touch points with a teacher.”
What do you find most valuable about GBF as a coaching tool?
“It provides a clear and actionable road map to help leaders and teachers communicate about instruction in a practical and impactful way.”
How has GBF made a difference in your school with regard to coaching culture?
“Getting Better Faster has changed the dialog that our leaders have with regard to instruction. It has made them more effective in providing targeted and meaningful feedback to teachers.”
Get Better Faster With Whetstone
So. We’ve covered the basics, looked at the core ideas, and heard from a district leader who practices GBF. What’s next? Whetstone has been a valuable tool for our partners who understand the value of having one digital home for their coaching data, making it easy to utilize and act upon. In schools who use the Get Better Faster sequence, Whetstone makes it easy to assign and manage action-steps, conduct See It Name It Do It observations, generate Get Better Faster reports, and track weekly data meetings.
Whetstone can be customized to fit your school or district’s coaching needs, whether you prescribe to Get Better Faster, other coaching models, or haven’t quite decided on a plan yet. Our number one goal is to help students by helping teachers, so there is no hurdle too high, or action-step too challenging.