Moving Coaching from Light to Heavy

A recent blog by Kim Cofino, a 21st Century Literacy Specialist at the International School in Bangkok, whom I’ve met through Twitter and online, triggered this week’s post.

Kim, learning with a coaching team was studying Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives edited by Jim Knight, focusing on a chapter written by Joellen Killion, Coaching Heavy and Coaching Light. (I am personally looking forward to working with Jim and Joellen in Oct at the Instructional Coaches’ Conference in Kansas.)
Joellen writes…

…that there are two kinds of coaching – coaching light and coaching heavy. The difference essentially is the coaches’ perspective, beliefs, role decisions, and goals, rather than what coaches do. Coaching light occurs when coaches want to build and maintain relationships more than they want to improve teaching and learning. From this perspective, coaches act to increase their perceived value to teachers by providing resources and avoiding challenging conversations. (p.22)

Coaching heavy, on the other hand, includes high-stakes interactions between coaches and teachers, such as curriculum analysis, data analysis, instruction, assessment, and personal and professional beliefs and how they influence practice. Coaching heavy requires coaches to say “no” to trivial requests for support and to turn their attention to those high-leverage services that have the greatest potential for teaching and learning. Coaching heavy requires coaches to work with all teachers in a school, not just those who volunteer for coaching services. Coaching heavy requires coaches to seek and use data about their work and regularly analyze their decisions about time allocation, services and impact. (p.23 -24)

Coaches will want to read Kim’s blog as she reflects on how she consciously or unconsciously decides to work light or heavy.

In my training with coaches, I suggest that the role of coach is to see that teachers continually have some degree of discomfort. It is that discomfort (consciousness) that motivates growth. The reason to study data is to find discomfort…something they’d like to change. If a teacher is overwhelmed with discomfort, a coach offers support, empathy, and ideas (options) to reduce the stress to a manageable level. If the teacher is comfortable, the coach helps identify data or an observation that raises discomfort and suggest the need for change (growth).

Questioning is often the skill that coaches use to enter the heavy coaching arena…

Where during the lesson did you find yourself feeling discomfort with the student performance? Why?
What student responses surprised you?

Sometimes I ask teachers to predict individual student scores, prior to an assessment. Then, compare their predictions to the results.

Which students’ achievement falls under your expectations for that learner?

To a grade level team, department, or for whole faculty-Which students are we serving well? Which students are we “hit and miss”? Which students must we honestly say we are not serving?

Coaches, supervisors, leaders, and teaching colleagues in professional learning communities need to become comfortable bringing discomfort to colleagues. In other words, we need to create environments, communities, and relationships where we are comfortable with discomfort.

That environment requires trust and respect. I suggest that the trust and respect is built from a shared commitment to students. “I know the reason you are asking me a heavy question is that you care about my students’ learning and you know that I care about their learning.”

I just finished spending three days with teacher leadership teams in 5 schools within a district-3 elementary, a junior high, and a high school. These teams are tasked with deciding the professional development program for their building. I pushed the teacher leaders to agree to do observations in colleague’s classrooms focusing on observing students’ behaviors. Our goal was to see if students are doing what they need to be doing to reach the schools desired student achievement goals. If not, what changes would teachers need to make to get the desired student behaviors and what PD would support teachers in making those changes.

These teacher leaders were VERY uncomfortable doing the observations. Many teachers were uncomfortable having the observations occur.

Discovery…five out of the five teacher leadership teams decide to create a plan for their colleagues to do observations and discussions similar to the ones they had done. They are planning to spread more discomfort. Why? They found it generates learning for teachers and they agreed that their students’ learning outcomes are too important for them to stay light…..they are going HEAVY! Congratulations to these brave, proud, committed leaders!

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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