Instructional Coaching

4 Steps to a Practical Coaching Cycle

The instructional coaching process can proceed in straightforward ways that provide encouragement and solutions-focused support.

October 26, 2022
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Encouraging teachers’ growth should be on every school leader’s priority list. It’s imperative to teachers’ success to look at the teaching profession with a growth mindset. We value seasoned teachers and appreciate the spunk and passion of new teachers. However, it’s important not to become complacent within those thoughts and ensure that we do more than admire what teachers have done. That value is wasted if we don’t support them. Providing all teachers with advantageous coaching is something that can sustain them and help them grow.

It’s important to coach our teachers so they know that a support system is available to them; we want to retain as many educators in the profession as possible.

Shift the View of Coaching from Evaluative to Supportive 

A coaching process that focuses on empowerment instead of evaluation can help a teacher shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. 

I think there’s a breakdown in coaching mainly because the tone is usually evaluative. This typically leads to discouraged teachers. Moreover, evaluations are typically done at the end of the year, when there is little to no time left for improvement. As a result, educators may feel pressure during formal evaluations. However, open conversations about growing as an educator with steps that help coaches along the way are beneficial for all stakeholders.  

Build Teacher Capacity With a Clear Coaching Cycle

Elena Aguilar states in her book The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation, “Everyone we work with knows a lot more and can do a lot more than we think. It’s our job as coaches to find out what it is that they know, care about, can do, and are committed to, and then to use that information to help them move their practice.”

Using a rubric is a helpful tool for teachers to understand the path they’re on. In order to build their capacity, begin with the end in mind. It’s important to let teachers know what the intended outcome is if we want them to be successful, just as we would with our students. Teachers can develop their craft through collaboration with instructional coaches, a transparent coaching cycle that is crucial for success. 

The following four-step cycle depicts a transformative process that gives teachers an opportunity to cultivate their teaching practices in ways that are tailored to their specific needs.

Step 1: Objective 

The teacher and instructional coach work together to set a goal based on their district’s framework. They collaborate to determine where the teacher currently stands (beginning, intermediate, advanced) and then create a rubric based on that goal. During this part of the process, it’s important for the teacher to have a realistic expectation for where they would like to see themselves by the end of the cycle. During this step, it’s also helpful to set a date for a follow-up meeting to ensure follow-through.

Step 2: Obstacles

This is where a discussion begins about things that may get in the teacher’s way of achieving their goal. However, it’s crucial that this be a solutions-driven process and that the obstacles be within the teacher’s circle of control, which allows them to more easily outline the issues that might arise. The instructional coach can offer solutions throughout this part of the process. 

A Coaching Cycle Rubric
A rubric demonstrating the different phases of teacher's instructional growth.
pdf 176 KB

For example, if a teacher begins speaking negatively about their students, the coach can encourage the teacher to reframe their sentences to focus on what is in their control. Bright Morning offers useful coaching sentence stems that can help coaches guide teachers for positive results. Reframing a question can be tough, but it’s necessary for the conversation to continue in a solution-oriented way. Some teachers might also lack motivation, which can make this stage of the coaching cycle challenging for them. Coaches who ask thoughtful questions can help uncover the root of difficult issues and lead teachers to finding ways to overcome their problems. 

Step 3: Opportunities

In this part of the cycle, the instructional coach identifies learning opportunities that support growth and foster excitement. Thinking about the new things being added to their tool belt can be helpful for teachers to define or reconnect to their “why.” Examples of these opportunities could be adopting a new digital tool, embracing a new teaching style, or even increasing their planning efficacy. 

Another meaningful opportunity could be connecting teachers’ coaching cycle objectives to their evaluative goals, such as what is used in my state, the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System.

Step 4: Observe

To be clear, this step isn’t a typical evaluation or observation moment for the teacher, where an administrator sits in the corner of the classroom watching. Prior to the observation, the coach and the teacher can specifically discuss what the teacher needs and reach a consensus together. This final step is conditional and should be based on what the teacher wants, needs, and, most important, is ready for.

There are different formats of observing and working with a teacher. For example, this part of the process could be a modeling time (performed by the instructional coach or another grade-level teacher) or just a one-on-one planning session. Other options could include coteaching (the coach and teacher in the classroom together) or the teacher observing a mentor teacher. Some teachers may also want a watch-me experience where there are multiple opportunities for observation. 

Effective coaching is situational, not procedural. Instead of evaluation, the goal of this entire process should be for coaches to give teachers encouragement and best practices to help them improve their instruction.

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