4 Simple Steps to Your Successful Instructional Coaching Model

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

  • Reflecting
  • Refining

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!

Observing the Domino Effect

In my work with principals and coaches I have found one area that is the most common struggle: teacher observations.

It’s the most important part of our instructional leadership job and we struggle the most with it! I’ve worked to deconstruct the myth of “having to know everything before you can give a teacher feedback” – that myth has held many a coach and principal back from the classrooms.

Here is the
very essence of observing in a classroom: To recognize a cause-and-effect relationship between what we observe teachers and students doing and what students actually know and are able to do as a consequence.

Basically, the role of the observer is to:

  • Search for the cause-and-effect relationship and if it’s there
  • Point it out to the teacher and give encouragement for the teacher to do it again or if it’s not there
  • Coach the teacher to prepare and plan to make it happen in future lessons.

So a conversation with a teacher might sound something like this:
“Tori, when I was in your classroom this morning to watch your math lesson, I noticed that you were very clear in your model of the step to solve the equation. I recognize that you’ve been working very hard to include as many models as possible and this was a great improvement – nice job!

One concern I have is that when you asked the students to work to solve the #3 and #4 following your model, I noticed that Thomas, Jenny, Heather and Thad struggled to complete the problem and you did not monitor their work, therefore they received no feedback. Essentially, the effect of your model on the students was nil.

I would like you to make sure that you monitor targeted kids who struggle even more than the others so that you make sure that the students are truly benefiting from the excellent modeling that you were doing.”

In the above conversation with Tori, I drew a very straight line from what she was doing and what the students, in turn, were able to do – this is how we have a “cause and effect” conversation.

When we are clear about what we are looking for and that what we are looking for is attainable by all staff members, then we take most of the mystery of observations away!

Observations are about what the teacher did and what the students are able to do because of the teacher’s teaching. In fact, that pretty much sums up the whole goal of our profession!