Recently my wife proposed the idea of putting a bee hive in our backyard. I liked the idea of fresh honey, so I was on board. However, once I lived with these bees in my yard and learned a little more I realized that bees not only produced honey, but they directly contribute to strengthening the ecosystem within our backyard and wider neighborhood. Not only do we get fresh honey, but through pollination the bees cause our fruit trees, plants, flowers and whole garden to flourish. When I became an Instructional Coach six years ago, it was a little like getting bees. Just like I understood that bees equal honey, I instantly grasped the idea that coaching leads to teacher growth which impacts student learning. What it took me longer to realize was that instructional coaching also impacts the wider school culture. As I worked with teachers over a number of years I saw that coaching done well contributes to a strong school culture of deep intentional collaboration.
As teachers and coaches engage in a coaching cycle they work through similar steps each time. They begin with identifying an area to explore, setting a goal to achieve or dreaming about a shift in learning they want for students. They then lay out a plan to work toward the goal and finally they reflect upon the evidence/data and celebrate the growth and change they have made. Regardless of the number of steps and the qualifying terms used to define the process, coaches simultaneously model and guide the coaching conversations through a cycle ensuring that the dialogue is rich, respectful and collaborative. After a number of years of working with this model and having these conversations with teachers, I have noticed this cycle and language embed itself in the culture of the school. I see an increase in teachers who are meeting collaboratively to have intentional conversations about student learning. Together, they are setting goals, gathering data and reflecting on the work they are doing. This is not to say that teachers never collaborated before the advent of instructional coaching. Teachers have always shared ideas, swapped resources and supported each other in their teaching. Where instructional coaching makes an impact on school culture is in that it is intentional, goal-oriented, data driven collaboration that includes elements of reflection, documenting the learning and sharing it with the wider educational community. My work over multiple years in one school has opened my eyes to this correlation between continually engaging in a strong coaching model and a school culture of teacher collaboration. So as coaches, we need to know that while we support teacher growth that impacts student learning, we are also sowing the seeds of deep collaboration that is changing the culture of schools. Just like bees who make honey AND strengthen the ecosystem so to do we foster teacher growth AND strengthen the collaborative cultures of our schools.
Cory Roffey is a school based Instructional Coach in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He has coached in a variety of educational settings from Kindergarten to Grade Nine. He holds a MEd in Elementary Education from the University of Alberta and has a particular interest in supporting teachers as they explore educational technology and constructivist practices. You can follow Cory on twitter @coryroffey