This is Part 2 of a two part article about my rejection (ha!). If you want to read the first part, check this out!

Email I just got regarding an article I submitted…

Hi Jill, 

Thank you for submitting your article to The Learning Professional – we appreciate your interest in publishing with Learning Forward.

I am sorry to say we won’t be able to publish your article in an upcoming issue of our magazine. Reviewers read your article, “The most expensive instructional coaching mistake,” and appreciated reading your article. However, we’re afraid we don’t have a place for your article at this time.     

Thanks for sharing your story and best wishes in your work on behalf of kids.


Here’s Part 2 of the article that got DENIED!  

So, I have tried to get really practical in working around the coaching slip and here are 3 coaching questions I ask before, during and after a coaching cycle. They have really helped me button down the next step and get it into regular teaching rotation:

Question 1: Is the coaching correction/feedback linked to something that matters to the teacher?

One of the toughest parts of coaching for me is finding the exact starting point for each teacher. We know we can’t just do a one-size-fits-all approach and start everything in the same spot. I constantly ask myself is how is the teacher’s attitude toward coaching? Is the teacher open to it? I she hesitant? Depending on how the teacher is feeling about coaching, I might start slowly by going together to observe a master teacher for 10-15 minutes or we might be ready to just jump in to observation or side-by-side coaching.

Once I determine the approach for coaching a teacher, I have to get down to business and start figuring out what the content for that coaching cycle should be. I think about whether the teacher is struggling with foundational teaching skills like classroom management or engagement or simple lesson planning. If so, then starting off with a focus on high-level questioning techniques during teaching isn’t going to hit the spot.

When we coach with a carefully crafted mix of approach and content focus, we create a right-fit coaching cycle that allows for whatever support the teacher truly needs at that moment to be the thing they’re left with in the debriefing. This increases the odds that they’ll follow through on our coaching notes because it solved a real problem and hit the spot completely.

I often tell the coaches that I have the opportunity to coach that they need to “go for the immediate win” with a teacher. What does this mean and why does it matter? Well, the immediate win is something small but powerful.

For example, I recently helped a coach support one of her teachers in just working on how to start a lesson with authority (all eyes on the teacher, the teacher waits until everyone has quieted down, etc.). They worked on this for a few weeks together until the teacher felt like she really had a much stronger sense of authority in the classroom…and it was obvious in the students, too. This was something so tiny in theory, but a powerful improvement in her teaching that affected every single moment of her teaching day. This was such a simple coaching win, but grew the teacher’s confidence by miles in just a few weeks. After the teacher sees that the coach is offering next steps that really transform teaching, she is much more excited about coaching again.

The immediate, small win on something that matters to the teacher initially builds a great foundation for future coaching. And the teacher has already seen how impactful carrying through on the coach’s suggestions is, so the follow-through is a priority.

Question 2: Did I break the steps of the skill down to the –nth degree?

If I am seeing that a teacher isn’t implementing the coaching work long-term I need to determine if I was too broad in my feedback. When I was first coaching I remember saying to a teacher, “Let’s work really hard on increasing your student engagement.” Um…not helpful at all. And I bet the teacher was thinking, “If I knew how to do that, I wouldn’t need a genius like you!” To say that I had given the broadest coaching advice was an understatement! (And broad support isn’t helpful…and it certainly doesn’t stick.)

So, I have learned to walk through this little checklist in my head when I am debriefing a teacher:
• Does this thing I am asking the teacher to do give almost immediate results? (This will ensure that they want to keep doing it over and over again.)
• Is this thing that I am asking the teacher to do easily understandable given the teacher’s current professional development on the topic? (This will ensure that they can get started right away.)
• Did I have the teacher put this action in his or her own words? (This will ensure that you do any clean-up or refocusing on the spot and avoid wasting the teacher’s time.)

So, instead of giving broad advice like “let’s work on improving student engagement,” I provide very specific coaching next steps like this: I know that you’re really frustrated by the fact that half of your class is paying attention and half of your class seems to be checked out, so let’s get really practical about how we can train your entire class to engage in your lessons in a really upbeat way. I’d like to start by looking at making sure that understand what an engaged student looks like. How about I model a little 10 minute introduction I give at the beginning of every school year that outlines what I expect of a fully engaged student. I’ll teach them how I want them to act when I give directions, when I am having them take notes, when I am having them turn and talk during a lesson and, finally, how they should engage when they are working independently. While I demonstrate that, let’s have you take notes and then we’ll review the notes and determine which of the expectations you want to start with and we’ll get that one in place right away so that you see how it works wonders!

I try to remind myself that simple compliance or a nod of the head isn’t a confirmation that the teachers understand what I am talking about. I need to be talking openly with the teacher around the next steps in order for it to stick long term.

Question 3: Do I need to create a simple remind with the teacher so that the most important coaching next steps don’t get lost in the shuffle?

Throughout all of my years of coaching, I realize that sometimes the simplest solutions to big problems (like a lack of coaching that sticks) are super simple and practical. In the case of a lack of follow-through in the coaching work, sometimes I need to build-in a very tangible reminder system. (And I use the term “system” very loosely, as these are hardly sophisticated…but they work!)

So…what does a simple reminder system for your coaching next steps look like?
• It could look like a series of sticky notes that are placed in the upcoming weeks in the lesson plan book
• It could look like an Outlook calendar reminder that pops up on the day the teacher typically lesson plans
• It could even be something programmed into the teacher’s phone as a reminder to include the technique you shared as a next step during your coaching
• It could be an email reminder that you program into your email system to auto-send to the teacher each Monday for 4 weeks
• It could be a simple lesson planning checklist that you add the most important coaching information to so that the teacher can check his lesson plans to see that nothing has been dropped inadvertently

When I began to take responsibility for making my coaching stick longer than the debriefing, I saw that I was able to double down on my coaching impact. Instead of waiting for the already-overloaded teacher to follow-through flawlessly, I realized that I could increase the odds for implementation after a coaching cycle by purposely focusing on things that mattered and then giving them very specific ways to remember those things that mattered.

When we help our teachers prioritize the simple things that transform their teaching through our coaching relationships, we help secure and reinforce all of the professional development and coaching work we have done. Coaching feels like an absolute necessity to teachers when we are using their time well and they are seeing our coaching work as an essential part of their professional development. Once teachers see and feel the effects of our coaching on their long-term teaching, they are so open and ready for more. That is the sweet spot for any instructional coach.

What do you think?


If you like what you read so far, then I’m pretty sure you’ll like this and this, too!