George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Power of Educational Coaching

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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I squirmed a bit in the center seat as I responded to questions. One educator after another around the circle asked me probing questions that made me think about my actions. I knew they understood me because they often rephrased what I said. Vocalizing my thoughts helped me to see clearly what my real issues were. Even still, I was hesitant to reveal my concerns, but at the same time I was curious to see where it would lead; I was being coached!

The issue on which they were trying to coach me was that, as school principal, I was uncertain on how to deal with a particular teacher's request. That day in the training, I volunteered to have the group of educators practice on me to help me unravel my quandary. As part of the coaching process, they asked questions, having me explain why I was concerned, and then attempted to get me to discover my true thinking and feeling on the subject.

Even though I knew exactly what they were doing, I was still experiencing the benefit of the reflective thinking their questions incited. At the end, I really did understand my motivations, and I had a plan. Best of all, I was the one that devised it, not them.

Coaching Defined

Coaching has been around a while at the leadership level, but it has taken its time in getting to the teacher level. I'm not talking about athletic coaching. I'm talking about educational coaching, instructional coaching, life coaching, learning coaching, leadership coaching -- pick your name.

Whatever you call it, it is more than a simple technique and it is more than a simple "play on words" of an old idea. It is a unique philosophy that deals with how best to implement radical and sustained change in educators. The autocratic way or if you like the "let me help you fix it" way, means that others dictate and direct a teacher's progress to teacher improvement with affixed consequences if it does not happen. Under this traditional system, ultimately, the teacher can blame his boss if the strategy that he was dictated to do does not work. Educational coaching is entirely different.

How It Works

Instructional coaching at the teacher level requires that the administrator and school leaders be trained to refrain from their natural tendency to provide the teacher with solutions to the problems he is facing. Rather, the administrator's role is to help the teacher identify the problems and bring their own solutions to light. By asking the teacher probing, open-ended questions, the administrator helps the teacher reflect and analyze an issue of the teacher's choosing and then asks the all powerful question: "What are you going to do about it?"

Employing this coaching strategy compels the teacher to accept responsibility for his behavior, which is a big step for a teacher who often only turn to students, parents, and prior teachers for the reason behind a student's lack of progress.

Why It Matters

This approach helps teachers focus on and change their own behaviors. And that real power of educational coaching is revealed when the administrator later follows up with the teacher about his plans by asking, "How did your solution work?" Celebrations ensue if they were successful, and if not, another poignant question, "Now what are your options?"

Educational coaching has powerful ramifications for the classroom. Through coaching, true teacher empowerment is possible, but perhaps most importantly, the skills that are modeled by the administrator on the teacher are exactly the constructivist skills that teachers can employ with their own students. If teachers are able to help students solve their own educational and personal problems in similar ways, teachers become less prescriptive in their attitudes towards students, and students feel more in charge of their learning and their lives.

How do you see teachers applying the skills of educational coaching in the classroom? Please share in the comments below.

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Amanda Upton, M.Ed's picture
Amanda Upton, M.Ed
Life Coach, Career Coach, and Educator at Root Down Coaching, Vermont

Thank you for this article! It is so wonderful to see coaching entering the schools at all levels. Within my classroom, I integrate the same principles you discussed as a way to focus on the student's needs and to harness their inner wisdom so that they create a solution that meets them where they are at. Coaching techniques such as reflecting back is an excellent way for the student to feel heard and for them to also hear what they are actually saying - that in itself can be incredibly powerful. I also ask dynamic open ended questions that get the student thinking about what they want and need as well as how they want to feel. So often, as teachers we can lean in to being the "solver" or "the teller of information" when really the learning can be unleashed just through reflective listening, questions, and time for marinating on the topic. Coaching is about the student, the whole person including their values, interests, passions, needs, etc...When we can tap into these through reflection and questions, we empower our students to learn at a much deeper level.

Tess Brustein's picture
Tess Brustein
Co-founder of SmarterCookie

Thank you for your post! When I was teaching elementary school, I appreciated when administrators would lead me through the reflective process via questioning so that I came to my own conclusions about how I could improve my practice. It meant we were on the same team working toward the same goals instead of an us vs. them mentality (teachers vs. administration) that so often clouds the evaluation process.

I also often used video to reflect on my practice. As teachers, we can't see ourselves in action, but as video becomes more ubiquitous, it's easy to watch ourselves at a later time. I felt that when I could watch the same video of my instruction as my administrators, it became a more productive conversation with specific data points.

I wonder if you have used video coaching with your teachers as well? And if so, how did it enhance your coaching, or what challenges did you encounter?

Lissa Layman's picture

As a technology integration coach, I would love to see this coaching model spread to more than just admin. If I was trained in educational coaching it would greatly help me in my endeavor to help teachers integrate technology meaningfully and take ownership of their lessons. Thank you for this article!

Ellen Eisenberg's picture
Ellen Eisenberg
Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching

Implemented well, instructional coaching is a very effective way to help improve instructional practices that influence student learning. It must be build on mutual respect, trust, and shared vision in a collaborative, non-evaluative environment. It is a professional development system that focuses on helping teachers improve their skill set and have a voice in their own professional growth. Through feedback and reflection, changes in practice will transform the culture of a school.

Danna Yeager M.Ed.'s picture
Danna Yeager M.Ed.
Special Education teacher, aspiring instructional leader

Educational coaching in my district is only reserved for mentor teachers. I would truly appreciate collaborating with another teacher or administrator to build my capacity as a teacher. I often find that students also benefit from a teacher taking time to talk to them and help them reflect on their learning. I will definitely read all I can on educational coaching so I can implement it in my classes!

Lori Flint's picture

At my large university, we continually face challenges related to diversity. And, although we have repeatedly hosted workshops, dialogues, meetings and more, some things never seem to change. And, as a a teacher and provider of professional development, I am aware of the value of job-embedded professional development and coaching, so plan to combine these with my diversity work at my university. This could well be a very effective way to make changes stick!

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