5 things elite instructional coaches should be doing
I’ve been in hundreds of schools and coached thousands of teachers. Let’s be real. There is a right way and a wrong way to do instructional coaching. While most districts across the country lay claim to coaching programs, very few actually embody and execute on the original intention of instructional coaching. We started calling it “coaching” for a reason. We wanted our instructional coaching to resemble athletic models of coaching. In these models there are experts, there are learners, and there is a clear picture of what elite performance looks like.
Unfortunately, what many schools have developed looks less like instructional coaching and more like instructional reflection. Is reflection an essential behavior for any great teacher? Yes. Is reflection coaching? Absolutely not. Here’s how I know. I was fortunate enough to be a student athlete through college. There were many times (and I mean many) when I didn’t execute in the way my coach would have preferred. In those moments he would yell from the sideline to correct my behaviour. I can tell you with 100% certainty, there was never a time when I fouled up on the field and my coach addressed the misstep by yelling, “Weston...tell me how you felt about that last play.” And yet, if we sit in on much of the instructional coaching post-observation conferences happening in our schools, we discover the majority of the conversation is centered around questions very similar to that one. “Tell me how you felt about that lesson.” “Tell me what you think went well?” “Tell me where you think you can improve?” Uggh. Tell me when this “coaching” session is going to be over.
If we are serious about creating a culture of excellence in our schools we have to start getting serious about excellent instructional coaching. Here are five things instructional coaches should be doing in schools to have the greatest impact on student achievement:
1. Double Down on Teacher Talent
Great coaches don’t try to turn all of their teachers into flipped learning or station rotation drones because those are the buzzwords du jour. They know their teachers and they know instruction well enough to match talent with high effect size strategies. If a teacher is a master story-teller, an elite coach will cultivate their skills in direct instruction because they know it has a .6 effect size. If a teacher loves Socratic Seminar, an effective coach will match them with tools and strategies that help them question at an effect size of nearly .5. Think about it this way. We wouldn’t try to turn a 5’6” runner with blazing speed into an offensive lineman. We’d leverage his speed to make him an exceptional running back. The same is true for teaching. See talent. Nurture talent.
2. Encourage Teachers to Grow and Participate in a PLN
One of the hallmarks of an effective coach is the ability to access knowledge across a variety of sources. If a coach is only offering themselves as a resource, they aren’t stretching their teachers enough. Encourage educators to leverage Professional Learning Networks on social media as a means to follow exceptional practitioners in our field. Read early and often to discover the solutions others are finding to the common problems we all share in the classroom. But don’t stop at consumption. Push teachers to share what they are doing as a means of not simply consuming the content of others, but also to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way. Not only is it a great opportunity to reflect, it is a non-selfish approach to social media that benefits us all.
3. Make Coaching Synchronous and Asynchronous
The synchronous part of coaching is easy. It’s the live, face-to-face conversation we have with teachers in the midst of, or following a lesson. The great part of synchronous coaching are the conversations, collaboration, and relationships that come as a result. The downside of synchronous coaching is often it’s limiting impact. It’s a conversation between two people that will benefit (professionally) at most...two people. However, elite instructional coaches capitalize on the insight they get into a multitude of classrooms. When they do all those observations and all of that modeling and team teaching, they observe trends. I encourage all instructional coaches to identify trends, record videos offering solutions to those problems that seem to show up time and time again, and send them to the larger population of teachers to view at a time of their choosing. In doing so, your post observation discussions can remain confidential, but the advice can reach a larger audience who may be able to benefit immediately.
“What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking about practice, man.”
Yup. We’re talking about practice. There’s this thing that most teachers never do even though we understand it makes us profoundly better educators. Are you ready? It’s practice. We almost never do it. If you’ve never heard of microteaching, you need to stop what you’re doing and go here. The best instructional coaches utilize microteaching early and often to ensure teachers develop skills in environments that promote optimum growth and development. In every district where I work, microteaching is a critical piece of the puzzle in creating world class educators. Why? Because microteaching has an effect size of .88 and can grow student achievement by more than two academic years over a single calendar year of time.
5. Nurture a Culture of Positivity
I have not found a single initiative, not one, that can thrive in a culture of negativity. Elite coaches know this and they cultivate positive school culture wherever they go. That doesn’t mean they avoid difficult conversations. It means they clearly define their desires to support teachers at all costs. Furthermore, they work daily to build relationships on a foundation of mutual respect, while committing their efforts to the growth and development of children. In doing so, when difficult conversations arise, all parties understand that the discourse is grounded in a desire to achieve results, as opposed to one person’s desire to assert expertise over another. Teachers are cut from the same cloth. We entered this profession to help others. If coaches come to the table with this belief about every teacher they work with, and they enter into conversations believing that we all care about kids, we can grow coaching programs that are both joyful and effective. I’m Positive.
I've been so privileged to work with educators from every single state in the US and more than 30 countries around the world. I've learned a lot about which tools the world's most innovative blended teachers use to create 21st century learning experiences for kids. As such, based on all my travel, all my coaching, and the thousands of classroom teachers I've observed, here are what I believe to be the most frequently used and most impactful tools available for teachers in the digital learning space today.