Students’ learning can be increased by the quality of their teachers, which is why districts spend time and money on professional development opportunities. Although professional development opportunities are rooted in research, the learning that teachers gain doesn’t often translate to the classroom and has little impact on changing teacher practice because many sessions are disconnected from the classroom.
To ensure that research-based practices are implemented in the classroom and lead to sustained changes in teacher practice, many districts are implementing instructional coaching programs where an instructional coach works individually with teachers to improve their practice through ongoing learning embedded in the classroom.
Give Clear Guidance for the Coaching Interactions
Because of the benefits of coaching, more and more districts are attempting to develop coaching programs and hiring coaches. However, districts hire great teachers as coaches, release them to support teachers, and tell teachers to utilize the coaches as resources without clear structures on how to do so. Part of why districts might not provide enough guidance to their instructional coaching program in terms of defining the program and the role of a coach is because many people lack a full understanding of the process of coaching.
Humans naturally want to learn and improve, so if teachers aren’t utilizing the instructional coaching program, it might be because they don’t fully understand the role and purpose of coaches. If coaching is a “mystery position,” staff will naturally make incorrect assumptions regarding the program and its purpose. It’s important for districts to be direct in defining what coaching entails; create a collaborative group of administrators and coaches who will communicate the purpose of coaching directly with staff and share explicitly what a coaching relationship might look like and more information on the processes that will be utilized.
At the beginning of the year, even if you have an existing coaching program, have the instructional coaches share their role, the power of coaching, and provide examples of what happens after a teacher reaches out to a coach. Providing as much clarity as possible for teachers helps alleviate any anxiety over the unknowns of working with a coach.
Define the Coaching Role
In addition to a clear vision and definition of coaching, another important structure to ensure success is that coaches are visible. It’s important to ensure that the instructional coaches are embedded in the school and visible at all levels. This helps make teachers more aware of the work that coaches do, and it also reminds teachers that coaches are an effective resource for supporting their classroom goals.
Instructional coaches can remain visible through the PLC process, staff meetings, professional development opportunities, email and newsletters, Twitter, walking the hallways, hosting office hours, classroom pop-ins, and expressing gratitude.
Try Different Options to Increase Visibility
1. Professional learning community (PLC) meetings. Attend as many PLC meetings as you can as an observer and listen to the conversations. When the team is discussing data and instruction, they will ask you questions because you are physically present.
2. Staff meetings. Try to make yourself present at staff meetings through leading staff shout-outs, delivering professional learning, and sitting with different departments each time.
3. Professional development opportunities. Gather data from your staff to find out what topics they’re interested in learning more about, and host “lunch and learns” on those sessions. Partner with teachers to have them run co-run sessions when the topic matches their expertise.
4. Newsletters and email tips. Create a monthly newsletter sharing quick tips and inviting teachers to work with you. If newsletters aren't your thing, you can email tips and/or create short videos to provide tips. This is also a great way to market working with a coach because if they want help implementing the learning strategy, they can work with a coach!
5. Twitter. Leverage social media to celebrate teachers and build community. Create a hashtag for all teachers, coaches, and admin to use to celebrate the great instruction and community-building happening in the classrooms.
6. Walk the halls. Walk the halls during pass periods and before school where teachers tend to congregate to connect with teachers informally. Consider keeping a list of all staff and check off who you connect with to ensure that you connect with everybody.
7. Host office hours. Host random office hours during all lunch periods (e.g., cookies and coaches) where teachers can come for an informal chat and food. It’s a great way to invite staff in a low-stakes way because this can feel safer than scheduling a coaching session.
8. Expressing gratitude. After every meeting, conversation, observation, anything, write a thank-you card/gratitude gram/nice note on a sticky note. It’s an effective way to be visible and build connection and community because coaching is built on relationships.
When coaches are visible and embedded in the classroom, their presence supports sustained changes in teacher practice and increased student learning, because teachers who work one-on-one with a coach can more effectively implement learned strategies into their practice than teachers who haven’t worked with one.