Coaching in a Climate of Change

I was invited in May to present at the Reading First Technical Assistance Center’s conference in Philadelphia, Coaching in a Climate of Change. The conference focused on the most effective components of coaching and what is known about the benefits of coaching, the potential losses if there is no coaching, the expanded role for coaches, successful principal-coach partnerships, a continuum of coaching services, strategies for working with resistance to change, and ways to facilitate teamwork and communications.

The conference was based on 10 coaching axioms they called, “What We Know For Sure”.

Here are the ten…(comments after each are all mine.)

Coaches need to:

Know that their most important work happens in teachers’ classrooms.

I’ll stand up and salute on this one! Biggest reason…that’s where the kids are! Coaches can multiply the impact of their effort if they go into teachers’ classrooms with other teachers in tow. If modeling for a teacher it’s great if she can watch the lesson while conversing with another teacher or two about what they are seeing. Similarly, the coach discussing an observation of a lesson with another visiting teacher provides increased return on observation time. This also promotes the teachers doing observations of each other without the coach.

Focus on Content.

Content is important. I’d expand this one to say focus on learning. What does the teacher need to get the students to do to master the content? There can be items that prevent the teacher and students from getting to the content that the coach may need to address. Classroom procedures and expectations are critical to have guided reading and centers.

Spend the time and effort necessary to build solid relationships.

Relationships are critical to build the trust that produces vulnerability during coaching which promotes teacher growth. To build trust one of the parties has to take risks. Coaches should go first. Ask teachers to observe your work with students and collect and provide you with specific feedback. Ask the principal to coach you when you are doing a workshop session for the staff. Be careful not to focus on building relationships through the avoidance of difficult situations. Providing teachers with resources is nice and valuable, but not what you want the relationship based upon.

Receive continuous professional development and support.

Coaches should be model professional learners. Coaches who study and learn with their teachers and administrators illustrate that finding the answers to student success is what we are about…not knowing the answers. I’ve had coaches ask me if they should work themselves out of a job. I’ve always said,” Only if you don’t learn something new.”

Be good teachers of adults as well as children.

Coaches need to create the climate and structures for job embedded professional development. An April 2010 Issue brief, Job-embedded Professional Development: What it is, Who is Responsible, and How to Get It Done Well suggests that “Adults learn best when they are self-directed, building new knowledge upon preexisting knowledge, and aware of the relevance and personal significance of what they are learning—grounding theoretical knowledge in actual events.”(pg8)1

Balance two key roles- that of trusted peer and instructional leader

I believe that coaching verbal skills are critical in helping coaches communicate the link between these two roles. Trusted peer communicates that the coach is working for the teacher. Instructional leader keeps the focus on student achievement. Fortunately these two themes are interwoven.

Discuss data frequently with teachers to maximize the impact on student achievement.

Data provides the opportunity for trusted peer to raise the instructional leader questions or better yet, the teacher raises the tough points to explore after examining the data. Coaches can set the stage early with the view that we examine data for a source of “discomfort”… that’s what motivates the continuous improvement process. It is also critical that data discussions move to action.

Cultivate a partnership with the school principal to achieve success.

I suggest that the coach makes the principal look good! And, the principal makes the coach look good. That kind of partnership supports teachers to best serve students. Too many coaching programs were implemented with insufficient preparation for principals on how to effectively use the resource of a coach in the building. Coaches should be members of the school leadership team. Time for principal/coach conversations should be scheduled.

Work with the principal to make coaching an integral part of the school culture.

Coaching should almost become unrecognized as it blends into a “It’s how we do business here” part the professional culture. Coaching is a daily practice rather than a separate activity. Mentoring connects to coaching. Curriculum changes rely on coaching. Professional Learning Communities use coaching. Teachers’ growth plans include coaching. RTI has coaching observations to assist students.

Make building the capacity of other people a priority.

In effect teachers’ growth should be part of the coach’s and principal’s evaluation. When I sign on to be your coach or your instructional leader. I am accepting that part of my evaluation is your evaluation. Teacher capacity impacts student learning.

Job- Embedded Professional Development: What It Is, Who Is Responsible, and How to Get It Done Well, Issue Brief April 2010 [Andre Croft, Jane G Goggshall, Megan Dolan, Elizabeth Powers, Joellen Killion] National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality/Mid Atlantic Comprehensive Center/National Staff Development Council

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2 Responses to “ Coaching in a Climate of Change ”

  1. Lisa Japan Says:

    Great ideas. Finding that balance between the coach as an instructional leader, data analysis expert and peer is critical. Often times I see well established partnerships between principals and building literacy coaches. The respect that they have for each other is rewarding and benefits both the staff and students. As a Special Education Literacy Resource Coach, it is more difficult to change the culture and belief systems about classified students and having high expectations for their instruction. Servicing ten buildings can be difficult as you manuever between all the district expectations, building dynamics and work ethic levels. Continue to provide support for what I know to be sound and proven ideas.

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Thanks Lisa…

    Working with 10 buildings …makes creating the relationships difficult yet no less important. You really need a team at each school supporting your efforts.

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