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During a recent session with a partner district, I asked a K-12 team of coaches and principals to jot down the percentage of time that they would like to see dedicated to coaching cycles. I have to admit that this wasn’t an easy question to ask…it felt a bit loaded. As if I was implying that they weren’t doing enough. But really, I just wanted to know what they hoped to achieve so that I could help them get there.
Before they were comfortable answering my question, the coaches and principals had some questions of their own. Such as; (1) how do you define a coaching cycle, (2) what about planning time for coaches, and (3) how do we account for the PD we attend each week? The secondary coaches taught one period each day and wondered how this would impact the percentage that they wrote down. It seemed that everyone was a bit nervous to commit to an actual number.
After a quick review of the components of a coaching cycle (see sidebar), we decided to take anything that wasn’t ‘coaching’ off of the table. This included; their own PD, planning, lunch, and any teaching duties they had. With this information, they felt that they had enough of a vision to determine a target for how much time they would like to spend in coaching cycles.
The coaches and principals wrote down their percentage on a post-it so I could easily walk around the room and see what they were thinking. I was surprised to see that their answers ranged from 20% to 100%. This made me wonder how we could create a consistent coaching program with such a different vision for how much time the coaches spent in cycles? After all, we know that coaching cycles are an essential practice if we hope to make an impact on student learning and instruction. Without a coaching cycle, our work becomes ‘drive by’ coaching, or single conversations that don’t lead up to a demonstrated impact. With coaching cycles we are focused, intentional, and results-based.
What’s the Right Goal?
Of course they wanted to know what I thought they should have written down on their post-it notes. I explained that coaches are defined by how they spend most of their time. If coaches mostly lead PLCs, then they are defined as the ‘person who leads PLCs’. If coaches mostly teach interventions, they are defined as an ‘interventionist’. If coaches are mostly in coaching cycles, they are defined as a ‘coach’. For this reason, I think it’s important to spend at least 50% of our time in coaching cycles. Otherwise, the coach will be defined by whatever else they are doing. In my opinion, 60% is even better. More than 60% becomes unrealistic given the fact that coaches are often responsible for things like curriculum, assessment, leading interventions, teaching classes, running PLCs, etc.
Relationships Come First
Since coaching is dependent on trusting and collegial relationships, I’d hate to imply that getting to 60% happens overnight. If a coach is new to a school, this may take some time. If the school has a history of coaching that’s evaluative or takes the approach of ‘fixing’ teachers, this may take some time. And if a coach has been doing a lot of other things, this may take some time.
Our goal should be to create conditions where teachers authentically engage in coaching cycles, and we have to be careful to avoid mandating participation. In their book, School Culture Rewired, Gruenert and Whitaker write, “To sell a new vision, it’s best to wait for respected teachers to identify with it and put it in their own words. Teachers are likelier to emulate one another than to simply abide by what the principal says” (p. 55). If the new vision is participation in coaching cycles, then the best approach is to begin with teachers who see the value and then go from there. In other words, we build to 60% one teacher at a time.
So much of our work comes down to having clear goals and then working towards making them a reality. In future posts in this three-part series, I will share strategies for how to make 60% a reality.