A Journey to Define Myself as a Coach by Lara Ostrander

As a third year instructional coach, I was elated to hear that the Madison Metropolitan School District would hire Diane Sweeney, to support us in establishing and refining existing coaching practices. Up until this year, school-based coaches worked in varying capacities at schools across the district. A coach’s role was often tied to several ‘busy’ tasks that included:  proctoring assessments, organizing book room materials, providing resources, and delivering student interventions. While these things needed to be done, the task-based work took away from opportunities for coaches and educators to work in partnership in order to maximize their impact on teaching and learning.

Reflecting on My Beginning as a Coach
A significant shift in my work as a coach resulted from thinking about how to meet the needs of the teachers and the students. During my first two years as a coach, I spent a great deal of my time in ‘relationship-driven’ and ‘teacher-centered’ coaching. Relationship-driven coaching felt like the right place to begin, as it allowed time for all parties develop trust and build cohesion. However, while building relationships is essential to the success of a team, this type of coaching alone did not produce the greatest results. I believe that when relationships are at the center of coaching, then teaming is done for the sake of maintaining relationships, and it becomes less likely that a team will go into deeper level conversations that require a higher level of risk-taking. Teacher-centered coaching also presented pros and cons, as feedback from the coach might be more explicit and targeted to teacher practice. In turn, the teacher has to be a ready and willing participant to truly engage and benefit from this style of coaching.

A New Way of Coaching
As I learned about student-centered coaching, I began to realize that the advantages of relationship-driven and teacher-centered coaching were attainable within the student-centered approach. By establishing a partnership around student learning, the coach uses the data to focus on and ask questions about the students. The direct benefit is that the coach is not spending time figuring out how to ‘get in’ to a classroom; rather, he/she is opening up genuine conversations with students at the center. Additionally, using data to guide a conversation leads to collaborative problem solving about how the team can work together to positively impact the student’s performance. This differs from teacher-centered coaching in that the conversation is about students and how we can help them, rather than focusing on what a teacher is or is not doing well.

I am thrilled to report that this work has provided me with a framework for coaching that allows for flexibility and responsiveness as determined by the members of the partnership. In the short time I have implemented student-centered coaching cycles, I have witnessed a change in teacher affect, engagement, and motivation when thinking about different ways to meet the needs of students. There is nothing more fulfilling than co-planning, co-teaching, and then reflecting with a sense of awe and curiosity that often occurs as a result of hard, yet meaningful work. Never before have I experienced the powerful impact that one can have when partnering with teachers to meet the needs of all learners!


Lara Ostrander is currently a 3rd-year Instructional Coach with the Madison Metropolitan School District. As a strong believer in continuous learning, Lara has completed graduate coursework in elementary education, science education, and returned to school to obtain a dual teaching license to include special education. Prior to working as an Instructional Coach, Lara spent twelve years in the classroom. She began her work in the Chicago Public Schools, teaching middle school science. Then, upon relocation to Wisconsin, she gained experience as a special education teacher before returning to the regular education classroom as a 1st and 2nd grade teacher.