An Opening for Coaching

New instructional coaches or coaches newly assigned to a school seek to find a starting point for building coaching relationships. My guidance is to begin with finding the teacher’s agenda ….changes the teacher wants to make with learners…. and establishing that as a coaching goal.

A backwards planning approach can generally be applied here:

What is the student outcome the teacher wants to reach?

What would students need to do or experience to reach that learning goal?

What teacher behavior or actions are most likely to generate the needed student behaviors?

What role can a coach play to support a teacher in making necessary changes in practice?

Example: A teacher shares with the coach, perhaps in a PLC conversation that she wants greater student performance in math problem-solving. Perhaps following some observations and conferencing with the coach an identification of needed changes in student behavior is made. (Students need: to explain word problems in their own words, to make visual representations of problems, to persist in trying another approach when their initial attempt doesn’t work.) The coach and teacher then identify teacher strategies that are geared to have students practice and develop the learning/problem-solving behaviors. Now the coach and teacher identify roles that the coach can play to support the teacher (arrange for modeling of a strategy that is new to the teacher, observe the teacher as she implements desired changes to reinforce the behavior, observe students to record that teacher changes are generating student changes).


The teacher opening her teaching to a coach’s observation and feedback is taking some risk…. making herself vulnerable. The reason that risk makes sense is that the teacher understands the coach is focused on the teacher’s goal… student success.

Here is a great strategy for establishing an agenda from which to build coaching activities. It’s taken from Janice Bradley’s article, From ‘Gotcha’ to Growth: How Principals Promote Learning in the Context of Teacher Evaluation,   JSD Learningforward (Dec 2014). This process would work well when looking to create increased peer coaching. Teachers would be observing and giving each other feedback in agreed upon areas of importance:

Teachers individually respond on sticky notes to this question:

 What are five practices that should be in every classroom every day to support student learning?


Working in small groups teachers cluster their notes into themes and agree upon five practices. Small groups present to the whole staff and consensus is reached on five that represent the staff.

 Bradley shared this example, selected by one school staff:

 * High levels of student engagement

* Language-rich environment including content vocabulary

* Use of high-level questioning by both students and teachers to elicit evidence of  understanding

*Development of problem-solving and critical thinking skills

*A collaborative learning environment where students are respectful and have ownership  of their learning

With areas established instructional coaches and teachers could assist each other in identifying the current level of these practices in their classrooms, selecting areas where increased presence is desired, and developing teacher strategies to bring about the changes.

What five practices do you believe would emerge from conducting this activity with your staff? At the secondary level, how common would the strategies be across departments? At the elementary level, how common would primary and intermediate list be? If you do the activity first with your leadership team, will the list developed by the staff match?

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