In my post from Monday called “Coaching Changes the Culture,” I wrote about the importance of coaching and how it can create a culture of innovation and learning among teachers. But, in order to accomplish this positive culture change, the coach must be the right person who values some important coaching essentials. Below is a list of the coaching essentials that I have found to be crucial in my experience as a coach.
1. Trust-Coaches must be given time to build trust and become part of the school community. Yes, I said they must be “given” time. That means that if you are an administrator you can’t pressure your coach to get in classrooms and start changing this immediately. This is a process and without trust, everything will fall apart. Trust also means that teachers must trust that when they admit weakness, the coach will not go running to the administrator to report about them.
2. Credibility/Being a Team Player-Coaches need to show that they aren’t all talk. They need to dig in and get their hands dirty. A great way to do this is helping with beginning of the year tasks like being in the hallways to help lost students find rooms and helping with beginning of the year assessments. As the school year progresses this can look like covering duties or volunteering to cover a classroom for a little while if a teacher is sick or has to go to a meeting. This can also be helping a teacher pick apart new curriculum or modeling a new strategy or technique for a teacher.
3. Be on the Cutting Edge-The coach needs to be on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. They need to stay up on the latest professional books that have been released, the latest blog posts and articles, the latest and greatest children’s books, and the newest most innovative strategies. Coaches don’t have to be experts in all of these things, but they need to be aware of what’s going on!
4. Balance-Coaches need to be able to find just the right balance when shifting teachers out of their comfort zones. The coach can’t push so much that teachers feel pressured or forced; but instead they must find that place in which the teachers want to grow and learn and be able to help them get there.
5. Listen-A coach’s job isn't to tell everyone what is right and what they should do. Most importantly a coach’s job is to listen. Coaches need to listen to teachers’ frustrations and fears, failures and success and use this information as fuel for future coaching. Coaches should not feel like they always have to jump in and fix every problem but they must have the keen ability to know what is going on in the building and then be able to use this knowledge to support teachers.
6. A belief in data-Coaches have to be able to use data and help teachers use data to drive instruction. Sometimes the coach needs to point out the uncomfortable truths about the data and help guide teachers to make instructional changes based on these truths.
7. Deep knowledge of content-A coach must have a deep knowledge of content. This means they don’t just have a few good lessons in their bag of tricks but instead they understand their content so deeply that they can see things that others can’t see quite yet. They notice students’ misconceptions and understand these misconceptions in ways that others do not.
8. They don’t know it all-While the coach must have a deep content knowledge they must also know that they don’t know it all. They need to make sure teachers realize that as well. The coach must model the constant quest to learn and understand more about her content. The coach should frequently say, “I’m not sure but let’s find out” or “I’m not sure but let’s try”. The coach must also continue to pursue her own professional development in addition to providing professional development for others.
9. Flexibility-A coach must be flexible! Just like a teacher shouldn’t be planning several weeks of lessons in advance, a coach shouldn’t be planning coaching and PD too far in advance. A coach needs to be responsive to the needs of the teachers and students in the building. A coach needs to work with an administrator who understands how important this is and who is comfortable not knowing exactly what the coach will be doing each moment of every day.
Above all else, coaches need to inspire others to want to learn and grow. This comes from the coach’s ability to do all of the above. A coach is the person who is seen as a leader who others want to learn from and work with. A coach models best practice, life-long learning and the pursuit of excellence.
What coaching essentials have I missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
In a recent blog, Dwight Carter quoted former state superintendent Stan Heffner’s keynote presentation from the Ohio ASCD Conference at which he stated that:
“The best professional development in the world is when teachers can collaborate and share ideas.”
I couldn’t agree with this statement more. But, I’d like to add to it.
In my career I have witnessed some powerful, inspiring, game-changing professional development in which teachers not only collaborated and shared ideas but did so with a coach present.
The power of an instructional coach in a school building is unmatched. Consider yourself lucky if you work in a district that believes enough in professional development to train coaches and then have them teach and coach teachers in your buildings. But, all is not lost if you don’t. You just need to think creatively. I have witnessed the power of coaching firsthand. And, as a principal I continue to witness this power every day. I have had to get creative in order to make coaching a reality at my school. And, it is paying off.
Last year, I began to use my testing coordinator (who just so happens to have a doctorate in mathematics) as a math coach and one of my Title Reading teachers (who just so happens to be trained as a Literacy Collaborative Coach) as a literacy coach. Putting these people into key roles, giving them time to build relationships and credibility has made them indispensable to me and my staff. Their presence in the building and their knowledge of best practices associated with literacy and math raises the level of conversation in the building. Teachers may collaborate, delve into curriculum and come up with new ideas, but what I find fascinating is how often they run these new ideas by our coaches or invite the coaches to be part of these conversations.
The presence of a “more-knowledgeable-other” as I call it, isn't about saying that teachers don’t know what they’re doing; but instead says that we don’t want to assume that everything we come up with is best practice. We like to have our coaches as part of our conversations because they add a different perspective to our collaboration.
Seeing the power of the coach inspired me to look to a few others in the building to help all of us out in other areas. This year, the amazingly talented teacher in our Specialized Behavior Unit became a behavior coach. We set up a system in which teachers meet with her to discuss students who exhibit behaviors that were impeding their learning. She helps the teachers brainstorm interventions and quickly these students get back on track and feel empowered. Teachers feel empowered too, because, in essence, each time they are coached they are adding a little something to their “bag of tricks” that they can use with other students. Our behavior coach also goes into classrooms to model classroom management techniques and set up whole class systems that ensure efficient operation and higher time on task.
Notice the difference in the thickness of my discipline binders from last year and this year!
I have plans for a few other coaches for the future. I’d like to see one of my ELL teachers step into a coaching role in which he helps classroom teachers shift their practice to more appropriately meet the needs of our English Language Learners. And, I am looking for an innovation coach, someone who is willing to try new things, possibly fail, but learn from those failures and create great experience for kids. Then, I want this person to inspire other teachers to do the same.
I have seen firsthand that coaches change the culture of a school. In a short year and a half I have seen my teachers willingly open their doors to coaches, invite them in and say, “I’m not sure what to do in this situation.” I've seen teachers who have been coached begin to be coaches for others teachers. Capacity is being built from within. That’s the power of coaching.
When a school is focused on professional growth, learning from failures, and teamwork--great things can happen. When coaching is seen as the norm and not something that happens to “poor performing” teachers--even greater things happen. When everyone embraces teaching as a learning opportunity--the greatest things can happen.
Coaches change the culture but most importantly, teachers who embrace coaching change the culture.
I hope my blog posts inspire risk taking and new ways of thinking. I hope to connect with other educators on our journey to always do what's best for children.