Building a Coaching Culture | Steve Barkley | Resources for Educators

Building a Coaching Culture

I was recently asked to facilitate on Skype a meeting with coaches and administrators from a school that was in its initial year of instituting a peer coaching program supported by lead teachers who have full teaching assignments. They sent me some key questions they wanted addressed. When my partner, Michelle, saw the questions she quickly said, “Our coaches have the same questions. Can you facilitate a meeting with them?” Here are the questions and my initial thinking:

How to encourage more teachers to get coached?

How to find time to coach when you are teaching a full load?

How to create a sustained culture of coaching?

Is there a ‘continuum of coaching’ which allows our school/coaches to define where we sit in terms of progress?

The first thought that I shared asked them to consider how much coaching these lead teachers were receiving. Teaching coaches should be among the most coached teachers in the school. Asking teachers to coach you is the best way to introduce coaching to  a staff where the concept is new.

I asked the coaches to consider:

How many different areas are you interested in receiving coaching input:

Teacher Behaviors?

Student Behaviors?

Individual Students?

What observation form might you design for your coach/observer to use?

Who are all the people you might ask to do this observation?

How might you advertise the request? Who is available which periods?


I then asked the coaches who had been observed to consider:

How can you make your reflection on the observed data public?

What have you learned from coaching? How will you use your new understanding, insight, or questions?

How do you imagine your students benefiting from your learning?

I suggested that the coaches communicate that a teacher should be able to easily identify something a coach could observe and give feedback on for any upcoming lesson. The coaches then paired up and pre-conferenced on a learning activity scheduled for the next day. Everyone easily found a valuable feedback piece to request. We discussed how this paired activity could be added to any department, grade level, PLC or faculty meeting to create an understanding of the value of feedback at any time.

Exploring the question of time for coaching, I recommended that they first have teachers decide what coaching is desired and why? (If we could find the time what coaching would you request? Why?)

Then use a problem-solving approach as a team to make it happen.  “I need time from 10:00 to 10:30 on Tuesday to observe in Cheryl’s class.  How can we make that happen?”

It’s much easier to create the time when there is a purpose….. a desire. If people first look at creating the time, the motivation isn’t as great. If the time is set first, the coaching activity might not be as authentic as when the request for feedback is identified first.

Here are some indicators I suggested would signal that a school was making progress in deepening a culture of coaching:

Individual teachers have a mindset of continuous growth as a teacher.

As I have written earlier,  “There is no mountaintop to teaching.” Teachers believe that their greatest facilitation of student learning is in the future. They believe there is a goal beyond the one their students have just achieved.

Collaboratively teachers believe that their colleagues can play a major role in supporting professional growth.

There is an increased indication that the school is a learning community as much for adults as for students. Teachers invest in the continual learning of their colleagues as well as themselves. As new coaches continually share,  “I can’t believe how much I am learning while coaching.”

Requests for observations increasingly are made as part of problem-solving (struggling student, curriculum change, professional learning, self -evaluation, etc.).

As requests for observational feedback increase, coaches become the “coach of coaching” rather than the “coach of teachers”. For sufficient feedback to be provided, schools need to move toward everyone providing coaching as well as receiving coaching. (Just like highly effective classrooms and sport teams where students coach each other.)

Teacher leaders’ and administrators’ vulnerability spreads to increasing numbers of staff.

In the early stages of a coaching culture, leaders make themselves vulnerable to observation and coaching before a trusting environment has been built. As trust enters the culture more teachers show increased vulnerability opening the way to greater growth in effectiveness.

There is an Increasing sense of team (shared responsibility) for student success.

I believe this is the ultimate indicator of a coaching culture. I make myself vulnerable to my colleagues and I commit to supporting my colleagues because I am responsible for the success of all students in the school.

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