When we coach teachers we are hoping to create change in their practices that will make them more successful, but are we coaching for long term effect? New coaches often face barriers of trust and perception. As a new coach several years ago, my first objective was to get to know the teachers in my school and build relationships. I talked with teachers about their personal lives to find common ground. I visited their classrooms and let them talk to me about their practices and areas where they wanted to improve. Teachers are territorial and they have to know you before they will let you “touch” their classroom willingly.
Many times coaches also struggle with perception of the coaching role. When the coach walks in it’s bad news and there must be something wrong. I tried to distribute my time among all teachers to keep that at bay. I observed their classrooms, met with them to reflect, and essentially crossed them off my list until I came around to them again. I can honestly say I probably confused teachers more than anything because there was no follow-up. Observe, reflect, check!
My first two years as a coach were spent what I now call “Coaching Light” and that is ok as a first step. I probably was not ready to do much more at that point and the foundation for coaching work must be laid before anything more can happen. At the beginning of my third year I began to sense a need to take my coaching a step further and do something more meaningful with teachers. I had been working on my own agenda and I needed a way to better meet the needs of the teachers I served. I was introduced to Diane Sweeney’s Student Centered Coaching and the idea of a coaching cycle. Coaching cycles are when the coach and teacher partner together and work over a period of four to six weeks toward a common goal. I was eager to try this but also hesitant at the response. I created a coaching invitation, placed it in all the teacher’s boxes, held my breath, and crossed my fingers. I got a few responses from teachers I had helped before. I knew that in order to break the perception of teachers I needed to get “that” teacher on board. You know her. The one everybody looks to. The go to. The superstar. Luckily for me I found my gamechanger during that first round. We worked together closely for six weeks planning, co-teaching, reflecting, problem-solving, and celebrating. What I found is that she was my best advertisement. She told her team about our work. The word was out and the perception of my role had changed. Suddenly, when I sent out invitations again, I got many more responses.
The coaching cycle approach is what I call “Coaching Heavy.” The time spent with teachers in the classroom, planning, and reflecting allows for a shift in practice and learning on all sides. I think this model of coaching is successful for several reasons. First, and most importantly, it is the teacher’s choice. Teachers choose to engage in work with the coach. They set goals for themselves and their students. It’s their agenda not mine. I’m just an extra set of hands and a sounding board. Second, it is organized. With the teacher, you create a schedule: a time to plan weekly and days in the classroom to model, co-teach, and observe. Third, you prove yourself as a teacher. You show the teacher you’ll get in there with them and actually teach. No more just talking about teaching. I’ve even had model lessons in cycles flop in front of teachers. Despite being cringeworthy moments, the teachers see that it happens to you too and that strengthens your relationship. Finally, you have time. As a coach you devote a large portion of your days to working intensely with those two to three teachers and it pays off. There is time for reflection, gathering resources, and planning for long term success.
My next layer of coaching in 2016-2017 is starting the year with cycles. I already have teachers booked for the beginning of school. I also introduced a coaching menu in the spring of last year. I plan on sharing this again to increase my range of who I can reach in short term experiences while still in coaching cycles with others. I never want teachers to think that just because I can’t take on another cycle at the moment, I don’t have time for them. So in a sense I’ll be doing a mixture of Heavy and Light Coaching and I think there is a place for both. Some teachers only need or want a little while others want more. It’s all about what they need
Take a moment and reflect where you are in your coaching. Are you Coaching Heavy or Coaching Light? What steps are needed to take your coaching to the next level?
About our guest author: Briana Wright is a Reading Instructional Coach at Holly Springs-Motlow Elementary School in Campobello, SC. She spent 8 years as a self-contained special education teacher before shifting into a coaching role. This will be her fourth year as a coach. She hold a Bachelors in Comprehensive Special Education, a Masters in Elementary Education, and is on track to graduate in May 2017 with an Ed.S in Administration and Supervision. Briana is passionate about reading instruction and has a special interest in RTI for struggling readers at the primary level. Follow Briana @WrightBrianaJ or her blog http://learnasyoucoach.blogspot.com/ .