Getting Started with Student-Centered Coaching

Written by Diane Sweeney, author of Student-Centered Coaching

Early last winter, I received an email from a director of teaching and learning in a medium sized district. Lynn explained that her district would be hiring coaches in the next school year. She wrote, “We want to be sure we do this coaching thing well. Can you help us get started?” My response to her was, “Of course!”

There is nothing better than building a coaching program from scratch. We can help districts avoid all of the unnecessary mistakes, and ensure that everyone understands the vision. We call this the Design and Pre Launch Stage, and it includes the following steps.

  1. Identify how the coaching program will be funded.
    Lynn’s district funded coaches through Title I. She was fortunate to have the resources to hire one coach for each school. Sometimes we help districts determine how coaches will be shared across schools in the most strategic way.
  2. Identify Student-Centered Coaching as the coaching model.
    While there weren’t currently coaches in Lynn’s district, there had coaches in the past. They had received training in Cognitive Coaching and had been heavily involved in developing curriculum, and providing support with interventions. Since this was a fresh start, and coaches would be newly hired, I advised Lynn that getting clear on the coaching model would be an important first step.
  3. All stakeholders (superintendent, district leaders, principals, and teacher leaders) build knowledge and understanding of the methods and practices for Student-Centered Coaching.
    Our next step was to create a unified understanding of Student-Centered Coaching. This included reading and discussing selected chapters from books focusing on the methods, practices, and philosophy that drives this coaching model.
  4. Develop a coach job description that aligns with the methods and practices for Student-Centered Coaching.
    The job description is an often overlooked feature of the design phase. We worked with Lynn and other district stakeholders to write a job description that accurately described the day-to-day work that coaches would be involved in. The process served as a powerful lever for getting everyone on the same page.
  5. Develop a rigorous process for hiring coaches.
    We designed a process that included an interview, a video analysis, and a written reflection. It was rigorous and gave us a clear understanding of the skills candidates brought, as well as the areas where we would need to provide support in the future.
  6. Hire coaches that understand the expectations set forth in the job description.
    While this part of the process was managed by the district, we reviewed the candidates and provided feedback regarding what to prioritize when selecting coaches.
  7. Identify how coaching will align with district initiatives, the school improvement plan, and the professional development plan.
    As soon as coaches were hired and assigned to schools, we guided principal and coach teams to develop a focused plan that matched the needs of their school. Each school was somewhat different, so these conversations took place at the school level, with our team supporting the dialogue.

Lynn’s timing couldn’t have been better. We used the months between February and August to work through the Design and Pre Launch stage. This provided a sense of clarity regarding what coaching would look like, and ensured that there was a clear vision for coaching throughout the system.

With the arrival of fall, we entered the Launch Stage and provided the coaches with support and training that focused on the core practices for student-centered coaching. We also continued to partner with the principals to ensure that we stayed on the same page when the busyness of the school year kicked in. Today, the coaches are thriving thanks to Lynn’s vision and support.

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