Cheryl Belknap

BetterLesson Instructional Coach and Senior Manager, Solution Design

In-school coaching is the closest thing to job-embedded professional learning schools can use. It is timely, actionable, and an investment in making continuous improvement a reality in your building.

1. Be deliberate in choosing student-centered coaching as the best model for your school or district.

There are different types of coaching: content-based and instructional. However, whether coaching is teacher-centered, student-centered, or relationship driven is important to know and understand before you select the best model for your district. Student-centered coaching is an effective coaching model for a number of reasons, but one of the reasons it works is often overlooked by administrators. By shifting the focus from teachers to students, student-centered coaching defuses the potential for a defensive stance in the recipients of the coaching. That defensiveness is often the most significant barrier to effective instructional coaching.

2. Support coaching explicitly but not authoritatively.

Explicit support entails setting aside professional learning time for coaching, rather than adding it to a teachers’ list of demands. It includes teachers in norming the realistic and clear expectations for what coaching looks like in their building. It means asking teachers how they would like to be supported in their coaching experience, showing an interest in what they are trying and why, and most of all demonstrating respect for willingness to try new strategies, models, and/or practices.

3. Celebrate risk-taking and small wins.

Recognize that continuous change demands that teachers try new strategies, models, or practices. That’s risk-taking. In return for asking teachers to try new things, administrators need to celebrate “trying.” Teachers’ stories of what occurs as a result of a “try” need an administrator’s help to reframe results realistically and positively. Turn “not all of the students did …” into “some of the students did … and my next steps are to try …”

4. Keep coaching “sacred.”

Coaches are not test administrators. Coaches are not spies. Coaching is not a reward for teaching for 20+ years. Coaches are your most effective tool to make positive, continuous change so they need to be selected carefully, trained, supported, and celebrated. Once a coach becomes a hybrid administrator or testing manager, the message communicated to the teaching community is that coaching is not important. Why would a teacher, potentially overwhelmed or defensive, view the coaching experience as valuable time when the school leadership doesn’t?

5. Don’t be afraid of technology support.

If you want coaching to support teachers to personalize student learning, to move to a blended or flipped model, and to improve differentiation, attend to building the technology first. This includes strong wireless internet throughout the building, and reliable devices (i.e., toss the tablets, confine iPads to kindergarten and first grade). If the wireless connection isn’t capable of simultaneous building-wide live streaming, or the tech devices are buggy, out-of-date, or too expensive to provide students with their own, hold-off on those blended/personalized, highly differentiated expectations. If you feel some urgency to get started, use a small budget to purchase a limited selection of high-quality tools and supporting hardware, identify this as an opportunity for an experiment where teachers have to apply to “try” blended/personalized strategies, and support them with that coaching focus. You’ll benefit from their learnings in numerous ways, including data/outcomes to justify expenditures in next year’s budget, and a PLC team that can join coaches in supporting roll out.

6. School-wide web access with coaching and teacher decision making as to what tools are best.

There are far more tools available now than anyone can track, but if you are headed on a tech supported track then coaches need to be given time and access to consider all of these high quality resources and tools. In our coaching community, learnings about new tech tools and resources are driven by collaboration and communication between the coaches, not an IT department. We use a web-based chat room to share what we know or just discovered, and to ask one another for help. If there is one major frustration for coaches supporting a blended/personalized learning shift, it is the IT department. When the IT department isn’t reminded, and held to, a supportive attitude it can (and often is) replaced by an authoritative role. We don’t give IT authority over our curriculum, so we need to remember that now that curriculum is web based, IT shouldn’t be making the call as to what can be accessed in the classroom. As an administrator, keep in mind that the most solid and reliable tech tools already have built in all of the student privacy safeguards.

7. Get out of the way.

Consider the impact of your decisions on the climate for coaching. The following questions can serve as a starting point:

  • Have you a shared vision for teaching and learning?
  • Are you undercutting coaches in remarks to teachers?
  • Do you demonstrate your support of coaching, seeking to collaborate in meetings, planning for meetings, and professional initiatives?
  • Are you asking coaches to take on tasks to get them off your plate?
  • Are you meeting regularly with coaches, and taking a learning stance in those meetings?
  • Do you ask, “How can I support you?” rather than tell coaches what to do?

Following these tips will ensure that you approach your decision to support your teachers’ growth through instructional coaching with thought, care and confidence. Rather than solving problems as they come up, you will have already taken the steps necessary to make your teachers’ coaching experience transformative.

If you’re ready to explore instructional coaching for your teachers, contact BetterLesson and learn more.

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