As a school leader, you understand the importance of providing teachers with ongoing professional development (PD). However, you may be limited in your ability to provide direct support due to time constraints, a limited budget that prevents you from hiring full-time instructional coaching staff, or other variables.
Working with external teaching consultants can be a great way to improve instruction without incurring the overhead costs that come with full-time hires. Here are five ways to ensure a positive relationship with your consultant that, in turn, can lead to improvements in teaching and, ultimately, student growth and achievement.
Allow Teaching Consultants Latitude
External teaching consultants are not employees or subordinates. Most teaching consultants not only hold advanced degrees in education but also may have served in positions of authority within school systems.
Allow external consultants the opportunity to employ their expertise, and be open to the new ways of coaching and support that consultants bring to the table. External teaching consultants most likely have been involved in school improvement efforts across many schools, and they therefore have knowledge of best instructional practices.
As an external teaching consultant, I ask questions up front not only to ensure that I understand the needs of the school but also to be sure that the school leader trusts that my coaching support will be aligned with the building’s academic priorities. If your teaching consultant has taken the time to engage with you in an initial conversation like this, permit the consultant latitude in developing individualized coaching plans in collaboration with the teachers they will mentor.
If the consultant has not initiated this conversation, however, feel free to make the first move. You might also consider having a chat with your consultant at the end of each coaching visit to discuss “teaching glows” (i.e., what’s going well) and opportunities for growth that they notice across the school. You also can ask consultants to provide you with written summaries of their work to track progress.
view Coaching as Long-Term PD
While you can have consultants assist you in remediating problematic teaching practices, consider how an instructional consultant might also improve instructional practices systemically across your school. This work is not only remedial but proactive.
When I work with schools, for example, I often suggest that leaders consider implementing professional learning communities so that the teaching strategies I’m working on with one educator might be shared by teachers across grade and content teams.
Professional development can become a long-term systemic process that promotes adult learning. When teachers see coaching as a practice in which everyone is engaged, they are more likely to trust that the coaching process is neither a setup nor evaluative, but collaborative.
Support the Consultant
Supporting coaching practices can take many forms. In addition to making time to speak regularly with your teaching consultant, consider how instructional coaching fits your school’s overarching strategic plan and how it serves as a clear action item that meets specific performance goals in your learning context.
Carefully consider consultants’ feedback. If teachers are hesitant to engage in the coaching process, how might you further communicate its importance to staff? If your consultant tells you that a teacher might benefit from a positive word from you on their growth, how might you make the time to not only observe their improved practice but also provide positive feedback?
External teaching consultants are in a unique position to serve as a bridge between teachers and administrators, and they can share information with school leaders that teachers might not be comfortable sharing directly. If you are supporting the coaching process diligently, you will be in the know and empowered to implement ideas and suggestions from staff in subsequent school improvement efforts.
Involve Teachers in the Coaching Process
As a leader, you might ask teachers if they would like to work with a teaching consultant, and allow them choice in deciding the instructional areas where they would most like support.
Discuss with both the teacher and the consultant how the focus of their work will align with the school’s academic priorities. In addition to the teaching practices on which your teachers and instructional consultant decide to focus, consider allowing autonomy and differentiation in how those teaching practices are developed.
For example, when I’m working with educators, some prefer that I observe and provide feedback on their practice, while others enjoy co-teaching, modeling of best practices, collaborative learning opportunities (such as professional learning communities), observation of their own practice via video recordings, and/or receiving examples of quality curriculum, assessments, and/or samples of additional student-facing materials. Catering to these preferences can help make the coaching relationship feel more collaborative.
Use Data to Support Coaching Progression
Coaching should be data driven, evidence based, and, as stated, aligned to strategic planning. While many external consultants will research publicly available data sources before working with a school, you can also provide your consultant with scholarship and/or teaching data, along with teachers’ schedules and contact information.
At the beginning of their contract, engage in a data review protocol process. This will help define clear deliverables for their work. I particularly like using the ATLAS Protocol when conducting a data review with school leaders—“What do you see in the data? So, what does that mean? Now what do we do about this?”
Analyze instructional data collected by the consultant to measure the ongoing impact of coaching. Measure ongoing progress in teacher performance against baseline instructional data collected at the beginning of the year and/or the consultant’s contract.
If your consultant does not provide their own instructional measurement tool, consider developing this tool with them and co-observing instruction from time to time. Online forms/survey creation has made the collection of instructional data and analysis simpler than ever before, and these data offer guideposts to make improvements in teaching and learning visible.