When I became an instructional coach, I asked every colleague I knew what I should be doing. What kinds of questions should I be asking teachers? What do I do when I unintentionally made my colleagues defensive? How do I get into my fellow teachers’ classrooms to begin working with them? Luckily, I had a mentor who guided me and taught me invaluable lessons about the purpose of coaching, and what methods and strategies to use.
Because of what I learned from my mentor, I have found myself, years later, giving similar advice to instructional coaches in the field. Many of the coaches I meet have the same questions that I had, but they may not have a mentor or any guidance on how to develop their expertise in their new position.
All too often, teachers become coaches simply because they were successful classroom teachers. Teachers have an invaluable set of skills: content knowledge, classroom management, instructional pedagogy. However, coaching is its own job with its own set of criteria and expertise. When this transition happens without support, coaches are left to their own devices to figure out what to do.
I have had the great luck, as a project director at the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership, to work with instructional coaches in several districts to develop their methods and strategies as they transition into their role. In the last few years, I have been able to add Teaching Channel Teams as a support. I already saw the benefit of using Teams to collaborate around classroom practice, so I imagined it could be just as helpful using the platform for the development of coaching practice.
To get started, I enlisted one of my colleagues who was in her 3rd year of instructional coaching at a middle school. I asked her if we could use Teams as one of our primary ways of supporting her coaching. As I knew she would be, she was ready to try it out. Together, we created a way to work together using the idea of a coaching cycle to set clear goals. I asked her what her goals were for developing as a coach, and she gave me a list: working more efficiently, working with more teachers, seeing a student result at the end of a coaching cycle, creating more teacher ownership within the coaching cycle. Based on these goals, we developed a plan.
The coach uploaded videos of her coaching conversations with teachers. Based on her goals, I gave her immediate feedback using the notes feature on Teams. I pointed out when the coaching moves she made supported or didn’t support her goals. I suggested ways to reword questions or statements. I shared what I noticed about the impact of the coaching on teachers. She was able to take this feedback and make immediate changes to her coaching for her next session with a teacher.
I immediately saw the benefit of working with this coach using Teams. Shortly after using Teams to give feedback on her coaching conversations, I saw her in person. I asked her if the way we were working with one another via Teams supported her. Her responses were effusive. She felt that she was able to apply the feedback to her coaching immediately, and that the feedback I gave was far more targeted than when I gave her feedback in person. She noticed improvements in her coaching right away, and so did her teachers.
After our pilot, I was hooked. By using Teams and having very clear goals and agreements regarding feedback, it became even more evident to me what methods and strategies were effective in coaching coaches and teachers.
What makes coaching coaches effective?
- The instructional coach sets clear goals for improving his/her practice in relation to teacher learning.
- The mentor confirms the coaching practice that supports the goals by sharing specific evidence.
- The mentor shares revisions to questions or statements made by the instructional coach that helps the coach develop a coaching practice that aligns to their goals.
Using Teams to coach coaches was an enlightening experience. I think we both learned how we could be far more strategic and effective in our work together. I experienced, once again, that when we work together to create the process for improving our practice, we are more effective. Our work together gave me more confidence in how I create coaching relationships that result in clear improvements for students.