What is the best approach for coaching teachers? Is it better to coach a group or individuals? Is there a difference between virtual coaching and meeting in person?
These questions and others have come up in the past years as I had the unique opportunity to coach teachers and receive coaching from BetterLesson.
After many years of teaching, I have come to the conclusion that I can impact students by improving instruction, and sharing my expertise and experience with other teachers.
Here are some insights I gain from my work as a coach and from being coached:
Trust & Norms
Start your coaching relationship by building trust. Talk about your expectations and goals and define your roles. During subsequent meetings emphasize successes and adjust goals.
A Road Map
It’s important to know before you start where you are going and what is the best way to guide the teacher there. One model my coach taught me is the GROW Model (Goals, Reality, Options, Way forward).
Long term one-on-one coaching is a rare gift. The teacher gets the coach’s full attention and sessions are focused on the teacher’s needs. It has immense value for new teachers but even I, a seasoned and experienced teacher, was able to gain a great deal from it. When I coach individual teachers, I make sure that we are both focused and I try to minimize interruptions. However, I always start with five minutes of conversation and show real interest in their personal lives.
Group coaching can be energizing and fun. During guided sessions, teachers are able to brainstorm and collaborate. They can give each other feedback that is non-judgmental because it is coming from a peer and not a supervisor. When coaching a group of teachers, the coach must be careful to treat everyone equally while setting high standards for all to achieve. I usually end a group coaching session by showing the teachers involved how significant their contribution was to the group.
Remote vs. In Person
Virtual coaching can be as effective as meeting face-to-face if there is a visual interaction during most meetings. If possible, one of the first meetings should be face-to-face in order to establish the relationship. From my experience, using a video conferencing app such as Zoom, Webex, GoToMeeting or others give the participants flexibility while letting them share content and see each other’s reactions in real time.
The coach should plan some form of communication between sessions. It could be done by sending a written summary of the coaching conversation, reminders of future meeting, or even just checking on progress toward agreed goals. This check in will show teachers that their coach is invested in helping them achieve their goals.
In order to move forward and evaluate progress, you want to agree upon concrete measurable goals. Encourage teachers to collect data and artifacts between meetings so that you can offer concrete feedback and advice. I recommend using the SMART Goal Framework (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound).
Reflection is the most powerful coaching tool. Remind yourself to concentrate on listening and do not jump to trying to fix every problem presented. Try to paraphrase what you hear before rushing to find solutions. Here are sample phrases I use: “I understand now that…,” “Let me just review this for myself…,” “Before we move forward I want to organize this for both of us….” This is usually a great opportunity for the teachers to clarify things for the coach and for themselves as well.
Relax and enjoy the human connection! I try to share positive examples and real anecdotes about students that can illustrate the long lasting effect that one teacher or coach can have.
Just like dancing, coaching is a balancing act. Skilled dancing partners offer subtle guidance and support, while encouraging their counterparts to relax but perform to the best of their abilities. In the same way good coaches fall in step with their teachers, and lead when necessary until everyone falls into rhythm.