Coaching Tip of the Month, May 2019
Peter DeWitt says it best… “If you’re coaching and not learning, you’re not coaching” (EducationWeek, April 15, 2019, Finding COMMON Ground blog). In his blog, he captures the very essence of instructional coaching… everyone is a member in a community of learning and practice. He recognizes the power of learning on all levels and reinforces the notion that learning is not just from bell to bell; learning occurs in a variety of places and situations. Remember, instructional coaches are not experts; they are thought partners who learn from their teaching colleagues just as their colleagues learn from them. It really is a collaborative coaching experience that shapes the learning of students, their teachers, and the instructional coaches.
Instructional coaches honor the voice and expertise of the teachers with whom they work and together, they explore and experience multiple learning encounters. They reflect in, on, and about after the conversations they have and the learnings they share, recognizing that not every teaching colleague needs the same level of support. That’s why instructional coaching is a personalized approach to a job-embedded professional learning model. Many need similar structures of support and many others need specific areas of support. Regardless, an instructional coach understands the levels of intensity that are needed and together, the teacher and coach co-design a plan of action that meets many needs. While the coach is helping to build teacher capacity and agency, the coach’s skill set, and knowledge base are also growing. Everyone is a learner.
DeWitt also talks about the blended approach of instructional coaching, i.e., face to face (F2F) and virtual, depending on the content, topic, needs, and environment. There are benefits to using technology to economize and enhance the work. Technology complements the real-time, F2F process; it does not supplant it. Coaches need to work with their teaching colleagues to assess their needs and identify ways to support and cultivate skills in conditions that are conducive to learning.
To start the coaching process, coaches often find resources and disseminate them to their teaching colleagues. If the support ends there, the coach is coaching “light” and is merely a resource provider (Killion). The goal is to move past that point… those resources have a string attached… that string is the scheduled conversation to talk about those resources. So, a “before the before” e-conversation can be a virtual check-in to identify the needs and interest levels; the actual “before” conversation is a F2F interaction where the goals are co-created, the roles are identified, the data collection tool is co-designed, and the date for the after conversation is scheduled; the “during” is the F2F data collection visit; and the “after” is a feedback session that occurs a few days later and can be either F2F or Zoom/Skype conversation to discuss how effectively the goals were met as evidenced by the data collection. This is a hybrid approach that can help make the planning and communication easier to manage while acknowledging the limitations of time.
Instructional coaching is not a cookie cutter model. There are, however, what I call “non-negotiables” that must be present in any instructional coaching model. It’s what we’ve learned from our educator-centered instructional coaching model and helps create an effective instructional coaching and mentoring model.
- There must be a shared understanding of the goals and purpose of implementing an effective instructional coaching model;
- Coaching is not a deficit or “fixit” model… every teacher wants to get better at his/her craft, but many don’t know how or are afraid of trying something new because they don’t want a negative evaluation;
- A blended approach helps coaches with limited coaching time support their teaching colleagues who also have minimal time to meet; the key here is to use the time wisely and deliberately;
- Learning is social… coaches and their teaching colleagues must have multiple opportunities to learn, practice, and grow together so the entire school community becomes a learning school;
- Small group coaching led by coaches and one-on-one conversations with coaches are ways to involve the entire faculty in understanding, implementing, and supporting effective instructional coaching;
At the end of the day, instructional coaches need to ask 3 questions to shape their practice: 1) What am I doing to help teachers improve their practice; 2) How am I helping teachers increase student engagement and improve student outcomes; and 3) How am I nourishing my own professional growth?