Deciding Upon Instructional Leadership Behaviors

I had several requests recently to explore “what instructional coaches should spend their time doing”.  One district, where coaching is in its fourth year, asked me to facilitate a reflection conversation among coaches to help assess “what we have accomplished” and “what we have  learned”.  Another system in its second year wanted to examine, “How do administrators guide instructional coaches’ use of time?”.

I suggested in each case that a starting point would be an agreement around the following goal statement:

We want to have the greatest number of students spending the maximum amount of time engaged in the most valuable student behaviors that will produce the desired student achievement.

Using my backwards planning structure,


I explained that changes most likely would occur in the following sequence:

Leaders’ and coaches’ conversations change

Teachers’ conversations change

Teachers’ behaviors and actions change

Students’ experiences change

Students’ attitudes, beliefs, and learning behaviors change

Results…student achievement!

We examined what strategies leaders could use to accomplish a step and move to the next.

Leaders’ and coaches’ conversations change– Here is where the coach/principal partnership is important.  What plan has the leadership team created to increase the number of students spending maximum time in ideal learning activities and behaviors?  Do we all agree what the desired student behaviors would look like?

Teachers’ conversations change– PLCs are an ideal spot to be looking for this indicator that the desired change is in process. Minutes from PLC meetings can show that a focus on learning behaviors has appeared in the teachers’ conversations. Teachers are discussing what student behaviors are needed to generate the desired learning outcomes before planning instruction.

Teachers’ behaviors and actions change– Teacher conversations identifying the needed student behaviors now lead to teacher experimentation with alternative teacher behaviors to produce the selected student behaviors. I just heard from a science department head about teachers deciding they wanted students to take more initiative and show problem solving in understanding how to set up labs. Teachers are experimenting with giving less initial direction and being “less helpful” during early student confusion.

Students’ experiences change– The teacher change now leads to students having a new experience. When the teacher’s response to my confusion is to walk away or to tell me to check the text, I have a decision to make. Hopefully, that decision will be to try a new or different behavior. When that new behavior produces a success or insight a new student attitude or habit can be formed.

Students’ attitudes, beliefs, and learning behaviors change– this is the key to gaining our ultimate results… student achievement.

I just finished facilitating several coach/principal planning meeting around school goals. Several teams were working on a new writing initiative. Using this change model they identified this year’s goal would be to change teacher behaviors and student experiences. The projected next year’s plan would be focusing on changing students’ learning behaviors and gaining a resulting change in student writing performance. Principals and coaches then identified their short and longer term behaviors that would encourage and support the teacher changes. Coaches would be providing professional development and modeling of the process in the next few months. Principals would be observing writing lessons and providing feedback with coaches guiding “look fors” in the early and then developing stages. Principals and coaches observing teachers would be assessing progress at implementation, comparing notes along the way and developing support strategies.

Stating the goal clearly for staff helps build a team focus. By May, all teachers will be scheduling and conducting student writing workshops implementing the program’s guidelines. Working in grade level teams, all teachers will be able to score student writing on the district rubric. During the 2014-15 school year, all students will advance at least one standard level from beginning to end of the year on the district’s writing scale.

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One Response to “ Deciding Upon Instructional Leadership Behaviors ”

  1. Bridgette Muhammad Says:

    This is a good overview of what the process looks like. I was hoping from the title of this article to take away more specific coaching behaviors. I think an article specific to elementary, middle, and high schools would be more beneficial. What type of behaviors should coaches focus on in the elementary schools? What are the most overlooked practices for K-1 teachers, for instance? How can coaches help teachers began to focus on actual teacher behavior change versus student behavior change? How can coaches help teachers make the connection that what they do or do not do affects student behavior?

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