When participants leave Coaching 101 Foundations Training, they leave with a series of reflection questions to help them to guide their work. Questions might include: What might support look like? When do I transition to an expert and support the content,? How do I coach within the structures of the building? How do I network with the other coaches in the building? What will success look like for me? How do I foster continuous improvement of my skills? How does my coaching increase student achievement? How do I build a relationship with the teacher so that we see each other as partners in the work? The goal is to move from reflection to action to provide professional support.
The focus for the coach is to think deeply about their practice, listen actively and pose powerful questions as they mediate thinking of the teachers to help improve performance. The driving force is the instructional core, the day-to-day interaction between the student and teacher in the presence of content. It is the skillful conversations that the coach initiates around the instructional core that creates the impact on teachers' practice that results in increased student achievement. The activation and implementation of coaching as a professional support offers the greatest opportunity for continuous improvement.
Let's eavesdrop on a coaching conversation with Robert and Sarah...
Robert Jones is a proficient coach at Stellar Middle School and has been assigned to coach four language arts teachers. He is looking forward to it, and has planned a brief meeting with all of them to establish initial rapport (role clarification, schedule, and purpose). He is concerned about one teacher, Sarah Smith, who has been teaching a number of years but not getting results. Sarah expressed in a staff meeting "I don't know why we have coaches. They are not very helpful." Sarah reluctantly agrees to being coached and invites Robert in for an initial coaching conversation. During the conversation, Robert quickly becomes aware that he may have to spend some time establishing a relationship due to Sarah curtly telling him she has 25 years of teaching experience and often mentors new teachers. Robert acknowledges and honors her expertise by paraphrasing, "So, you value supporting new teachers and your years of experience has assisted you in doing that." Robert understands that in order to move Sarah to action for her students, he will need to use his coaching skills to affirm her expertise and build capacity.
This will be done by mediating her thinking; clarifying goals, highlighting key ideas, and making thinking transparent. After rapport has been established through a five minute conversation and Sarah appears to have become comfortable with his presence, Robert asks the question, "As you think about your students' performance, what are you noticing?" This question uses a positive presupposition to show that the coach believes the teacher is thinking deeply about her students' performance and provides the coach with insight into the teacher's perception about her students' performance. After a long pause, Sarah shares, "None of my students are performing well with the writing process and I'm struggling teaching them the steps." Robert pauses, paraphrases and asks, "How many students are not performing well?" By asking this question, the coach challenges the assessment that "none" of the students are performing well. In doing so, the coach is seeking more accurate data and assists the teacher in being more precise in her thinking. Sarah replies, "Well as I look at my seating chart it's really about twelve of them." The coach asks the follow up question, "What strategies have you used in the past?" By asking this question, the coach acknowledges her expertise and also seeks to gather more data. Sarah shares the strategies she has used but acknowledges that they are not working for many of the students. At this point, Robert shares his content expertise and invites her to explore some specific strategies he has provided to support her instruction. She selects one of the strategies to teach and agrees that he will observe the lesson to provide feedback at their next meeting. Here the coach has provided the teacher with his content expertise and with choice. After the observation, Robert gives Sarah feedback using a structured feedback model, Situation, Behavior, Impact (SBI Model), which highlights the impact of the teacher's instruction on the student engagement. He observed six out of the twelve using the strategies. He reenters the coaching conversation mediating her thinking with an inquiry question, "As you reflect on your lesson, what might be some reasons why those six students used the strategy." Later in the conversation, Robert asks another inquiry question, "How might continuous use of this strategy impact the other six students' writing?" Robert's use of inquiry questions helps Sarah to think deeply and consider possibilities for future instruction.
This short scenario provides an example of how a skillful educational coach, mediates thinking, clarifies goals, and builds capacity to support a teacher in thinking deeper about his/her practice. Coaching is most effective when it is used on a continuous basis. In schools where there is more than one coach, a team can be formed. Their collective efforts create an excellent opportunity for a community of practice to be shaped where professional support is normalized throughout the building.