Protect Learning with Better Teacher Coaching
Teacher leaders, mentor teachers, content leaders, and instructional coaches have a special place in our schools. They’re the glue between passion and practice, helping teachers with unique strengths make a measurable impact on student learning. But what distinguishes the most impactful coaching?
Strong coaching comes down to finding that special connection between passion and strategy. I’m a career educator, and I’ve been a coach to coaches; I know how difficult it can be to know which strategies are best for a specific goal or context. Instruction-focused coaching in particular requires deep and broad knowledge of many considerations including content, instructional practice, equity, and learning science. To that end, our team at Leading Educators (LE) has reflected on our coaching experiences with thousands of educators across the country to outline the most useful, research-based approaches and practices for coaching sessions focused on instructional growth.
We’ve identified four key approaches that also easily adapt to a virtual setting (P.S. hit play on the recordings for more detail):
- Co-Planning: collaborating side-by-side with a teacher to identify key lesson content and to develop the specific instructional skills that they can practice immediately.
- Modeling: experienced teachers or coaches demonstrate or narrate effective instructional strategies followed by a debrief and opportunity to practice.
- Observation & Debrief: observing and debriefing the way a teacher implements a mutually-defined instructional focus area; the coach and coachee celebrate effective practices and unpack the challenges of the focus area.
- Artifact Analysis: examining evidence (e.g. student work, video of instruction, classroom transcript) together to build a shared understanding of student or teacher growth.
We describe each of these in our new Coaching Approaches for Building Knowledge tool, which I encourage to explore and try after you read this piece.
How to Choose Your Approach
What is an approach? An approach is the structure of the coaching session that best meets the context and purpose of the time.
For example, one of the most common coaching approaches for building content knowledge is content-focused co-planning. It refers to side-by-side collaboration with a teacher aimed at identifying key lesson content and developing the discrete instructional skills that are critical to high-quality instruction.
A coach might try this approach if a coachee asks for support with incorporating instructional look-fors and social-emotional learning (SEL) into their lesson plans or in preparation for leading the school team to do the same.
Content-focused co-planning adapts to a virtual setting with any video chat platform that allows for screen and document sharing to support collaboration and virtual content practice. LE Coaches have used the Zoom platform for video and Jamboard for collaboration during coaching sessions, but the free Whiteboard feature on Zoom could also be used. Here’s a short model:
While the co-planning approach is the most common, it may not be the most impactful approach for every coaching session. The Coaching Approaches tool can be used to support decision-making based on the context and purpose of the time. It also includes a list of promising practices to keep in mind and opportunities to use each approach.
There are some principles that make for effective content-focused coaching regardless of the approach or focus of the session. Experienced coaches may use the principles so naturally that they go unnamed in coach development.
One example of a universal coaching principle is ask, don’t tell. This practice encourages the coach to pose questions to teachers instead of leading with the answers: “How would you respond if…?”; “What are this lesson’s key concepts?”; “What would you ask students here?”
We’ve outlined six “principles in common” in the tool for you to explore. While the list of principles in the Coaching Approaches tool is not an exhaustive list, it is an attempt to begin to make explicit what may have become “hidden” principles in coaching.
Because no single coaching approach can be fully effective in isolation, coaches should sequence the approaches to maximize the time towards teachers’ growth and development.
A suggestion when sequencing is to diagnose before taking action. Coaching should start with an initial observation, artifact analysis, or conversation to understand teachers’ current practice, their strengths, growth areas, and potential goals. Recognizing that time and circumstances may impact decision-making about sequencing coaching approaches, this suggestion stands out as the primary consideration.
In the tool, you can find five suggestions to consider when sequencing the approaches.
Using these approaches and principles in instructional coaching can drastically shift the practice of the teachers and teacher leaders a coach supports. By making coaching more strategic, especially in a virtual setting, you open the door for more effective teaching and deeper student learning. Try them out and let us know how they work for you at @leadingeds.