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Why Do Schools Need Coaches?

For Week 2 of the EduroLearning coaching course, I met with Adam to address the guiding question: Why do schools need coaches? We met for our weekly coaching conversation. We opted for our usual walk-and-talk meeting based on an article we read, “That Didn’t Need to Take an Hour.” Today we wound our way around campus coaching and brainstorming.

As outlined in Four Conditions Essential for Instructional Coaching to Work, Elena Aguilar confirms for me that, at AIS, we definitely have the first three conditions in place: culture, collaboration, administrative support. This is Adam’s first year in his role as Head of Department. He refers to a lot of what he does as “making it up as I go.” I think Adam’s perspective supports that we have some room to grow with the fourth condition. Aguilar’s last condition necessary for successful instructional coaching is that schools professionally develop coaches. Paired with Adam’s comment, this underscores that my vision to add a professional development coaching cohort to our leadership training is valid. [Note: Adam’s “making it up as I go” is indicative of just how consciously competent he is as an educator. He does a lot of reading, planning, thinking, and acting!]

Week 2 Performance Task

A recent coaching conversation from Adam’s week

Adam has begun a monthly check-in with his various grade level teaching teams this semester. He sees this as an opportunity to gather teams of teachers in order to listen to what is on their minds as teams. These conversations provide him with guidance to coach the teams based on their reflections.

He guides the team conversations with three questions and allows seven minutes of talk time for each.

  1. As a team, what is working well?
  2. As a team, what are weaknesses/areas of growth?
  3. As a team, where would you like to go? How can I help?

Adam employs at least three effective coaching strategies here. He offers a forum for colleagues to speak and listen. He poses guiding questions to ensure a productive conversation that will lead to action(s). By monitoring response time, he allows all voices to be heard on each question without wandering off topic.

According to Adam, the questions are intended to 1) allow the team to reflect, 2) give the team an opportunity to constructively critique itself, and 3) give the team agency in determining their next steps. While the questions are addressed by the team, Adam listens and takes notes. He follows the conversation time with a summary of what he heard from the team. This is another effective coaching strategy, actively listening and reporting back what has been heard.

The resulting coaching challenge

During one particular team check-in, Adam was presented with a coaching challenge. (Wow! How convenient is this for me and this course?!?! :)) From Adam’s perspective this meeting went well and the team’s challenge presents him with “the need to lock down this coaching opportunity.” The team is confronted with a status quo dilemma concerning student assessment. The team typically assesses only two of four criteria per summative assessment. One team member is proposing that they assess all four in an upcoming summative assessment, mostly because the assessment has already been designed and very naturally lends itself to assessment of all four criteria. Adam sees this as an opportunity to coach the teachers towards a shift in practice, rather than dictating. I agree with him because coaching will require the team to engage in deeper thinking and productive conversations that will lead to professional learning and growth.

I told Adam that this was kind of perfect for the next part of this week’s assignment as I could practice coaching him to identify effective coaching strategies that he can use with this team. He responded, “Are you asking me what you can do for me?” Indeed. How can I help?

The go-forward from my coaching perspective

I found it a bit challenging for the first few minutes as I assumed the role of coach. I felt pressured (by myself) to come up with something helpful quickly, right off the top of my head. I could feel (and hear) myself becoming a bit anxious. This is important reflection for me because I know that it’s through conversation and questioning that ideas best emerge from my brain, so I need to respect that and not let the stress to be immediately wise and helpful get the better of me.

We continued to walk and talk. I channeled my Critical Friends Group coaching experiences. I used probing questions to guide Adam in his thinking. For example, what does he think might be the fears/obstacles holding the team back? He speculated and theorized a bit. In the end, he appreciated that question as it helped him gain a bit of insight into what he might be dealing with. I asked him what the IB source documents say about this “new approach to assessing.” He quickly realized that the source documents could be key to this team’s challenge. We brainstormed how he would like the conversation to take shape and what his ideal outcome would be. This helped lead me to a few conversation protocols that could help him in coaching this teaching team.

Here are Adam’s takeaways that will guide his upcoming opportunity to coach this team:

  1. Let the data speak. This is advice that I shared from a previous coaching workshop. Data and evidence are important. It keeps us focused on facts and prevents our emotions from taking over. So the conversation becomes: This is what source x says about best assessment practices and student learning, not what Adam, the HoD, wants or feels. Adam will do some research and pull important information from resources such as the MYP subject guide and MYP: From Principles to Practice.
  2. Structured Conversation. My work with protocols has been magical. I know that Adam finds great value in, and has experienced great success with, protocols to guide conversations with both students and adults. Among the suggestions I made was the Fears and Hopes protocol re-framed as Losses (What do we have to lose?) and Gains (What do we have to gain?).
  3. Being coached is helpful. As a teacher new to leadership with no real training, Adam was very kind to thank me for this opportunity to be coached. It just confirms that a coaching model is the right next step for our leadership team.

Here are my takeaways:

    1. Coaching takes time. It takes time to build trusting relationships. It takes time to think and talk and question. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time, but it takes focused time. By making the time for these conversations every week we are prioritizing coaching and growth.
    2. Coaching instills confidence. Adam certainly walked away from our conversation with a clear set of next steps. He began unsure of just how to approach this challenge, but ended with an action plan. Could he have done this without me? Probably. However, the coaching conversation gave him confidence and direction to inform his next steps. And, most times, two heads are better than one.
    3. Coaching makes us all better. Whether I am being coached or coaching someone, I am growing and expanding my knowledge and abilities. I learn about myself as I coach, just as the coached learns about him/herself. In the end it will only make us better able to support whomever we are working with.

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