If your school uses virtual coaches, you might be grappling with how to best support that relationship and spread the learning to your whole teacher team. How can you use the 3 C’s — communication, culture, and community — to support your teachers during their coaching journey and beyond?
The Coaching Challenge
Jennifer Silver*, a K-8 principal, was thrilled about this year’s partnership with BetterLesson. Six teachers in her school were matched with a coach and were on track to embrace change and innovation in their classroom. Jennifer knew that this had been the hardest year for her faculty, as they faced increased stress and anxiety while juggling remote and hybrid instruction and everything else brought on by the pandemic. Jennifer wanted to give her staff all the support she could.
As the school year progressed, Jennifer was happy to notice that four of the six teachers were fully invested in the coaching process and were able to utilize strategies and tech tools that increased student engagement and motivation. Unfortunately, she also realized that one teacher was not engaging with her coach on a regular basis and another teacher was too worried about the current situation to try to apply any changes to her instructional practice.
Jennifer sensed there was more she could do than just observe the coaching process. The administration’s goal was to improve student-centered instruction and culture in the school and support teachers through these challenging times. She realized that in order to create real transformation, it was essential for the 1:1 coaching
sessions to create a larger positive impact in the school.
As a long-time educator, school leader, and BetterLesson coach, I would encourage Jennifer to consider the following three questions related to communication, culture, and community:
1. Communication: How can you set up structures that support teachers and motivate them to value coaching?
One of the most important assets of positive school culture is the trust-based collaboration between school administrators, educators, and instructional coaches. To foster such communication, department or division heads should request regular feedback from all teachers who are being coached. This can be done in an asynchronous format using tools like Google forms, or during synchronous meetings in person or remotely. The PRO template in the Reflecting on Progress strategy can be a valuable tool for this communication. Any unusual information should be reported to the top administration. For example, it would be important to know about teachers who are making significant positive shifts or others who are experiencing extra challenges and need more support.
It is very understandable that teachers right now might be hesitant to engage with a coach. As educators are facing new and unforeseen challenges, it is important that school leaders show their full support to the coaching
process. Upper-level administrators should encourage team, department, and division leaders to help in creating a strong connection between teachers and coaches. School leaders should voice their endorsement for undertaking coaching in team meetings and frequently celebrate the progress that teachers are making. In special cases that need more support, a no-pressure, collaborative brainstorming session between the teacher, the coach, and (if needed) the administrator using the Goal Setting and Reflection strategy will lead to effective goal setting, a plan to overcome obstacles, and ultimately, a positive way forward.
2. Culture: How can you create a department culture were trying new strategies is valued and supported by the rest of the team?
Effective coaching is about identifying needs and challenges and then setting goals and measures of successful change implementation. BetterLesson coaches support teachers in implementing the Try Measure Learn cycle to make a student-centered shift in their practice. It is important that school leaders also model the process of trial, error, and reflection. Being transparent about leaders’ bumpy ride into innovation will motivate faculty to be more fearless in their experimentations.
As a coach and high school department chair, I (Meirav Kravetz), would tell this story to Jennifer as an example: I often share with teachers the story of when I started using the Marzano self-assessment strategy. I was very excited to start with student-centered instruction, but unfortunately, I found that many students assessed
themselves either too high or too low compared to their real abilities. After reflecting on this observation and discussing it with my coach, I found a positive way to fine-tune the process and include some one-on-one motivational conversations with the students who needed them.
3. Community: How can you leverage the coaching work that one teacher is doing to improve all teachers’ collaboration and bring about a positive change at school?
Building a culture of grassroots professional development in a school can increase teachers’ commitment to continuous learning. Professional Learning Communities (PLC) share a common vision, engage in inquiry into best practices, and help teachers hone their skills over time. PLCs can be the best platform to leverage the coaching work of the individual teacher into a school-wide shift. Establishing Goals and Roles for Professional Learning Communities (PLC) is essential in order to build an effective working group.
Jennifer Silver and school leaders like her can use these 3 principles to guide them in supporting their faculty’s continuous growth even during this difficult time: open communication, growth culture, and strong community. School leaders must prioritize open communication and be transparent about the goals of the coaching process. They should recognize the different needs of each educator and their challenges while supporting their development. But above all, it is the school leadership’s role to see the big picture and inspire the individual educators to contribute to the large jigsaw puzzle that the school community is.
*Name was changed