Coaching cycles are our best chance for creating authentic partnerships that increase student outcomes. In a coaching cycle, the teacher and coach are both in the mix, reflecting on their decision-making, problem solving, and figuring out how to adjust instruction in the moment. It is a dynamic process that weaves its way through and across lessons. Sometimes this is easier said than done. In some schools it is easy to make coaching cycles happen, in others it can take a bit of time and effort. The following barriers are what we hear from coaches who are working hard to get to 60%.
Common Barriers to Establishing Coaching Cycles
A Coaching Role That Lacks Definition
When a coach’s role is poorly defined, than anything goes. And when anything goes, it is hard to get traction with coaching cycles. In the article, Pave the Way for Coaches, Heineke and Polnick argue that defining the coach’s role is the first step towards seeing student growth. They write, “The coaches who had been assigned the widest array of responsibilities did the least amount of instructional coaching. The top priority of instructional coaches should be to facilitate teacher learning that will translate into greater student learning” (p.50). If we define our work as being ongoing and about student outcomes, than we are more likely to create and sustain coaching cycles.
Scheduling Like a Dentist versus a Physical Therapist
When we schedule like dentists, we pull out our calendar and schedule meetings one at a time. This structure doesn’t add up to increased student learning because we don’t give the partnership enough time to see the fruit of our labor. Scheduling like a physical therapist implies that reaching the goal is going to take some time. We arrange a series of connected conversations across four to six weeks that include planning sessions and co-teaching.
Coaching that Lacks a Goal
There are a lot of reasons to get smart about goal setting. A well-crafted goal goes a long way in surfacing what we value. Creating a shared vision around ‘what we want our students to know’ is what we are after when we identify goals with teachers. When a goal is missing, we are unfocused and unable to recognize progress. With a goal, we are more prepared to identify growth among our students. I’d dare say that goal setting is so much a part of coaching, that without a goal, it is no longer coaching.
Uncertainty about Co-Teaching
Classrooms can feel like private spaces that are off limits to outsiders. As coaches, we may find ourselves lingering on the threshold of classroom doors, unsure about how to proceed. We know that coaching ought to be rigorous and meaningful because teachers are investing their precious time to work with us. Yet we don’t always feel sure about how to work in the classrooms of others. Should I observe and take notes from the back of the classroom? Should I stay quiet throughout the lesson (even though I might have insights about how the students are doing)? Would it bother the teacher if I spoke up? This uncertainty creates an obvious barrier to getting started with coaching cycles. Yet when a true partnership has been established, teachers rarely balk at co-teaching…in fact they usually jump at the chance of having a coach working alongside them to move student learning forward.
Finding the Time to Co-Plan
Being intentional about when we will co-plan helps us avoid the awkward moment that comes when we pop into the classroom when a lesson is taking place. If our goal is to think with teachers about which instructional moves will have the greatest effect on student learning, then we need to sit down together and co-plan lessons. In this way we develop clarity around how instruction will progress, and how the teacher and coach will share the responsibility for the lesson. This may sound time intensive to a busy teacher, so we keep it simple. We only co-plan the lessons that we will share, and rather than using an elaborate lesson-planning template, we approach these conversations through the following reflective questions.
Questions for Co-Planning
- What are the learning targets for the lesson?
- How do we think the students will demonstrate their learning (in writing, verbally)?
- How will new content be delivered and by who?
- How will we formatively assess students?
- What resources, materials, or technology will we need to get ready?
- How will we work together to manage student behavior?
The last post in this series will focus on the nuts and bolts for getting to 60%. This will include engaging teachers and creating a schedule that doesn’t drive you nuts. Stay tuned and thanks for reading.
© Diane Sweeney