We are going to start with a couple of mantras…close your eyes…take a deep breath…think of yourself sitting on a relaxing beach with the waves lapping against the white sand…and follow me…
Repeat after me: Just because we have a coach, doesn’t mean coaching is happening.
Repeat after me: Just because I am a coach, doesn’t mean I’m supporting teachers.
And open your eyes.
So, you’ve just repeated what are probably the most important statements when it comes to building a killer instructional coaching model in a school. We start by setting ourselves up with this idea: coaching is done WITH teachers, IN the classrooms, in the trenches ALONGSIDE those who are going to carry out the work in the classrooms.
I’m often asked, “Okay, how do I mentor teachers?” or “How do we set up a successful coaching model?”
I’ve worked with so many schools and districts who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars bringing coaches or teachers on special assignment out of the classrooms and into the coaching role. Some have done this very successfully and the results are evident in the student performance – teachers are teaching better because of the coach’s support.
I’ve also seen coaching efforts fall flat. There was a lot of hype and fanfare around implementing a coaching model, but when it came down to it, the principals weren’t on board or the coaching failed to have a purpose or the teachers weren’t prepped on a school coaching model and so it fell flat and folks saw the coaching model as just “another flash in the pan effort to get better scores”.
The problem with failed coaching models goes beyond the obvious…the worst effect of a poor mentoring or coaching program is that teachers just lose faith in the ability of a coach to help refine their coaching practice. And so in the future, even when a great coach comes along, teachers can be resistant. And really….do you blame them? I certainly don’t!
So, starting with what the coaches DO is the most important step in setting up an instructional coaching or mentoring program in any school. Use these 4 quick steps to help guide you as you implement coaching for the first time or are trying to inject some OOMPH into your current coaching/mentor program.
Well, here’s where we’ll start – it might look simple, but these four steps are POWERFUL and RESULTS-BASED!
Step 1: Start with a focus
Every solid coaching model or school coaching program has a focus or a reason for coaching. Some examples might be: We are going to focus on bringing all classes to a tighter classroom management system so that we have more instructional time each day. Or you might have a mentor focus on implementing a particular curriculum or technique that a staff is using across the school.
The focus will be the “in” that the coach has with the teachers – the place to start. Without it, we are into inviting teachers to engage with us. The problem with invitation only coaching? Most of the folks who need coaching will not invite the coach in!
Step 2: Know your content
Coaches – hear me on this if you hear me on anything. You will not only have bigger, better confidence in your instructional coaching if you have a very firm and solid mastery of the materials that your teachers are implementing, but it will also build your CREDIBILITY.
Credibility leads to relationship. And relationship leads to trust. And trust leads to openness. And openness is necessary as we support teachers through mentoring and instructional coaching.
Build study time into your weekly calendar! It’ll pay off in spades. (I don’t really know what that means, but you get the idea!)
Step 3: Go for the win
Coaches – start where you can have success! So many coaches obsess over the folks who are obviously resistant to coaching and these coaches have it all wrong!
One of the attributes of very successful coaches is that they are confident in themselves! This doesn’t mean that they know everything. I joke during my trainings with coaches that we’re going to have a test at the end of the day and test them like this, “Everyone, what does the third paragraph on Grade 3, Theme 4, Week 1, pg 76 say?”. Not!
Going for the win means that you assess who is closest to reaching mastery on the focus area and you start there. You might even have a conversation with a teacher that goes something like this, “Can I borrow your kids for 30 minutes so that I can try out some techniques?” That’s confidence AND relationship building right there! And that’s a good thing.
Step 4: Measure your work in the conversations
Setting up a SUCCESSFUL coaching model means embracing the idea that the coaching happens with the teachers as coaches are supporting teachers in doing two things
The ONLY way that you can reflect with teachers about how their lessons went or refine practices is in community with them or in conversation. So, instructional coaching should be measured, therefore, in the time spent with teachers talking about and musing on the instruction that’s going on in the classroom.
Don’t get me wrong – lots of coaches are busy each day, but the big question is, are they busy on the RIGHT STUFF that’s going to have major impact?
So, when you’re asking how to mentor in a school coaching model, start with these 4 simple, but very powerful steps. As I say often, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to have purpose!
Would you do me a favor? Would you leave a comment below and tell me what’s going well with your coaching model and what your specific struggles are? I’d really love to help!
This is so helpful. I will be starting a new part-time tech coach position during the upcoming school year.
Great! Go, Sheila, go!!!
I wanted to know how to be a successful coach. This is what I am very interested in doing. You gave me a lot of good things to work on and a good place to start.
Great Felicia!!! Do your thing!!
this is great. its a new thing here in Tanzania but i will try it using your idea after finishing my masters program here at University of Dodoma
I have been coaching in a building that held a lot of resistant staff. I think I have been focusing too much on them and not enough on those that are open to coaching. I have to report to my district leaders every month about who, and how often, I have 1:1 coaching sessions. I think I’m so worried about the district seeing that I may never have those 1:1’s with some teachers. I feel like if I’m not coaching everyone I will be seen as a failure to my leaders. So, I invest a lot of energy trying to make those opportunities happen instead of spending more of my time with those few that want coaching.
I think you’re right on, Karen. It’s important for us to think about the long-term big picture, but we have to deal with things in the here and now. (I try to remember this is in my own life, too!) Yes – focus on the teachers that you can make movement with. You’ll become more and more confident in coaching while you’re helping people who really want it. As you build confidence (even if you’re already confident, we can always learn more tricks of the coaching trade!), you’ll be even better at dealing with those who are more unwilling. I often tell coaches I am coaches “Go for the joy!” – go for the win, build some excitement and then tackle the tough stuff!
I had the wonderful opportunity to meet you this summer. You presented to our district’s principals and instructional coaches. I LOVE the new book! I have adapted the Note Taking sheet to reflect TDQs and student response. I added a space for standard, DOK, and then on the student side, ALD (Achievement Level Descriptor… I live in Florida). This form has changed the way my coaching cycles impact instruction. It has allowed teachers to see the direct line between the DOK and how the students shows their proficiency with the standard. I can’t wait to share this with other coaches in my district. Your forms have helped me to focus in on teaching practices and refine to see better student achievement!
I’m in my fifth year of coaching. Of course I face many resistors who do not see the benefits of participating in a mentoring process. In the last 3 years we’ve always had funding for roving subs to release teachers during the work day so that they can meet with me. As funding has faded away, my challenge is to find time to meet with teachers outside their contractual planning times. With roving subs I was able to plan and debrief for at least 45 minutes with teachers. Now, it’s more like 15 minutes here or 20 minutes there. Very difficult to plan or have reflective conversations in short spurts. What do you suggest?