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.