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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Traditionally, instructional coaches have played a rather narrow role in schools, usually working primarily one-on-one with another teacher. This work is important and coaches can be instrumental in developing the skills of teachers. But, if the conditions are right, coaches can work in several additional ways to support the transformation of a site.

Coaches can bring teams together in healthy ways, they can support teachers to increase their emotional resiliency, and they can facilitate systems change. As sites make their annual decisions about professional development for next year, I thought I'd chime in with another plug for coaching.

Healthy Teams

We all know it's important to work in teams. We know we can't figure out how to solve the crisis in public schools without collaboration. But how many of us have been a part of a team that has felt useless, dysfunctional, leaderless, or that just didn't fulfill its potential? Working in teams is hard and teams need strong facilitators, people who have been trained specifically on supporting a group of adults to collaborate. This is the role that a coach can play.

In order to effectively support teams, coaches need knowledge about team development, they need to know how to design and facilitate meetings, and they needs skills to manage group dynamics and deal with conflict. The coach also needs to know how to develop the capacity of team members so that at some point they'll be able to take over the facilitation of their work together and the coach can leave. These are not skills that most coaches acquire on their journey into coaching, which usually is a leap straight from the classroom to the coach-hood. But they are extremely high leverage skills to develop and use when working in a coaching capacity.

Coaching for Emotional Resilience

Here's a fact I'm sure no one will argue with: being a teacher or principal is extremely emotionally taxing. It seems like the response to this has always been: go deal with it. Get a therapist. Exercise and sleep more. In other words -- schools (administrators, school boards, policy makers) have felt no responsibility to support those working in the trenches to release some of the emotions that arise in our work; they have allocated no time or structures to allow this to happen. We all know the results of neglecting the emotional health of teachers and principals.

Coaches working with teachers and principals can support this need for emotional release. In my coaching work, I find that a solid chunk of time is always spent giving clients space to process emotions. Until they have had time to talk and sometimes cry, we can't get to the lesson planning, leadership team agenda, or data analysis. That's just the way it is. And yes, sometimes I feel like a therapist, and coaching is not therapy, but it's the reality of how things are in our schools and what educators need. My job as a coach is to meet people where they are and help them move forward. And the road forward is full of emotions, but there's no other way to go -- and a coach can develop skills to move someone down that road and not get stuck in it.

Even more powerful is when a coach can support the client to build emotional resilience. We are always going to face adversity in our work and the odds will seem impossible for a long time; how do we find the confidence and energy to keep working for what we believe in, despite setbacks? A coach can work with an educator to form assessments of the past and current reality that support emotional resilience, a coach can help a client form positive views of the future, connect with his/her personal values, develop a strong sense of personal efficacy, and develop the courage to act on convictions. There are many ways in which a coach guides a client through the emotions that arise to transform them into fuel for our work.

Coaching for Systems Change

The third way in which coaches can impact a school beyond one-on-one coaching is the role they can play in whole school system change. A coach is often uniquely positioned to see the big picture -- the way in which people are working, the impact they're having, the needs of students, teachers and administrators. If they have the skills, coaches can help others see these big pictures and work towards systemic changes. They can support the process of gathering data, information and resources so that changes can be effective. They can use an inquiry process approach to ask questions and explore root causes. Coaches often see the parts and the whole at the same time -- this is essential in systems change.

Clearly, there is much more to say about coaching and the conditions that need to be established for it to be effective. As the field expands and more research is conducted into effective coaching models, I hope that the role of coaches in these three areas of work will be explored. And in the meantime, I hope that those deciding on professional development models will seriously consider what coaching can offer.

For more on coaching, read, "Support Principals; Transform Schools," E. Aguilar, D. Goldwasser and K. Tank-Crestetto




Comments (4)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

J. Boan's picture
J. Boan
parent of two pre-school children, elementary teacher of 12 years

After teaching in private schools for 8 years, I moved over to public schools. During my first year in the school district, I was a 2nd grade assistant for reading & math. My desk was located in the Literacy Coach's room. What a blessing!!! She was a fantastic resource for learning about the community that I had just entered. I had a tremendous amount of respect for her as I saw how much she had to do to help with individuals and grade levels. I gained more confidence in my position and eventually took over a long-term substitute position. I am so thankful for that Literacy Coach!

Sandra Jewett - 20497's picture
Sandra Jewett - 20497
Grades 9-12/ Teacher Mentor/Coach

After thirty-one years of teaching in the classroom, I was hired as a teacher coach. I have been supporting teachers at the high school level across content area for 3 years to date. It has been an extremely rewarding journey. After reading and reflecting on this article, I can see that my classroom experience along with the training I received was and continues to be exceptional. Collaborative team work and problem-solving along with supporting individual teacher instructional practice is essential and should be in place but is not always the norm across districts and teacher preparation programs. Thus far I have been embraced by school administrators, other school-based instructional support staff, and teachers not "officially assigned to me" and seen as a vital resource to create positive learning environments that advance authentic student achievement in the schools where I had the priviledge to work. I agree that great coaching prepares teachers not to need them and to develop effective, sustainable professional skills and relationships with their students and colleagues. This is what opens the door for them to develop high levels of teaching expertise. In short, I love the work. I believe that veteran teachers who are passionate about and committed to the field of education and student achievement at high levels should consider positioning themselves to support 21st century educators at elementary, secondary, and college levels. I find coaching a very important and viable option for being a change agent in our nation's schools. My hope is that its role continues to be valued and expanded.

Sandra Jewett
Teacher Coach/Mentor
High School Region
Office of Curriculum, Instruction,
and Assessment
School District of Philadelphia

bill petrarca's picture
bill petrarca
enabling children with skills to deal with aberrant behavior.

I wondered if Edutopia has considered offering a coaching platform for teachers and administrators, connecting them with thought leaders in the profession? We use a platform called onCoach with our corporate executive clients. Given the importance of Edutopia, we would welcome the opportunity to provide onCoach without charge to Edutopia if it would be beneficial.

Samantha Guilford's picture
Samantha Guilford
2nd Grade teacher from Tacoma, WA

As a first year teacher, I have found my instructional coach to be such a help! Our instructional coach meets with our team each week to guide our meetings and to help us solve certain problems.

Without my instructional coach, my first year would have been much more difficult. She has given me advice on how to organize and run reading groups, how to better reach students, and has offered to come and observe my teaching to give me feedback to make me a more effective educator.

Our instructional coach has done a lot to bring our school together and she is an all around support system for our staff. She makes herself readily available and is always willing and eager to get you any information, support, or resources you need. I am so thankful for our coach!

Samantha
2nd Grade Teacher
Tacoma, WA

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