I recently had the opportunity to work with a teacher on a unit of study. I went into the experience knowing that I was going to take on the role of an instructional coach, which means I would assist the teacher to improve instruction and outcomes.
Knowing that work needs to start with the development of a relationship, I began this experience with a few conversational prompts: What might you say are the biggest strengths in your teaching? What are you wondering about doing differently?
From that conversation, we planned to work on a unit that the teacher admitted had not felt successful in the past. The next step was to develop some goals.
As anyone who has studied coaching knows, the development of goals is crucial for the work that will be done. The goal we developed was to increase student engagement in workshop structures.
We also agreed that we would use a coaching model for this work. I would model the strategies in the first hour. She would imitate these in the second hour. In the third hour, a planning period, we would reflect.
Eventually, this would shift to co-planning and my observation of teaching the plan, after which the teacher would take on the role of planning – keeping in mind her learning from the modeling phase.
In reflection on the goals, I would say that they were accomplished. The teacher reflects that kids know and can exhibit more knowledge on the unit skills, goals, and standards than others had on this unit in the past. In a personal reflection, though, I’d like to share what I learned from this experience, and how I will use this learning to guide my work as an instructional coach in the future.
The Goal Should Not Be too Big
When I heard “workshop structures” as part of a goal, I knew my daily teaching model would have a clear teaching point, an example of relevant work, group or partner practice, and independent practice. But there was more.
Many other things play into a strong workshop classroom: classroom culture, student-teacher relationships, grading, feedback, and exemplars, to name a few. In my coaching, I began to model a classroom that ran like my own workshop classroom, with all of these structures in place.
I dove in too deep, though. The specific goal of modeling workshop structures became clouded in seating charts and notebook expectations and conferring notes. I learned, then, to choose a small actionable goal for the coaching work that would follow.
Clarify Your Roles
I’ve read about coaching. I’ve been trained as a coach. And I have been lucky enough to engage in work with an instructional coach.
I felt I knew my role as a coach. As I thought about this role, though, I only considered my own actions—and how I could achieve the desired outcomes.
I didn’t think about the broader scope of my role and actions. A coach does not act in isolation. Instead, coaches have to consider administrations, individual school goals, the community of learning, and the teacher’s goals and current actions.
A culture of coaching, I learned, needs to be established before any relationship of coaching can be forged.
Ground Learning in Old Experiences
This is not to say that coaching is meant to perpetuate old paradigms. Still, I recommend observing the teacher’s practices in place, as part of the relationship development and goal setting.
Adult learners can respond in a productive way when they recognize their old practice, compare it to the new practice, and reflect on the impact that those practices have on student learning. I learned, too, that a common language of practice can enhance these conversations.
In the end, no one can learn without the opportunity to do so. So, a big “thank you” to all teachers who take a chance on coaching, and to those who grow from it.
Amy Gurney (@agurney_amy) is an ELA and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator for Walled Lake Schools. She has a Master’s degree from Michigan State University in Educational Administration and is currently pursuing an Education Specialist in Educational Leadership at Oakland University. She is a current Galileo Leader. She worked on the MAISA units of study and has studied reading and writing workshop practice and conducted action research.