Coaching Coaches - Steve Barkley

Coaching Coaches

To reap the maximum gain from a coaching program, districts need to prepare principals to support and supervise coaches’ work and clarify the program goals for staff. (The Learning System, NSDC, Dec/Jan 2010, Joellen Killion High Impact Coaching Ensures Maximum Results) ”When coaches are timid about their roles and lack a clear goal or focus, their efforts may lead to teachers feeling supported, but without effecting any change in practice or student learning.” (page 6)

In my workshops where I train coaches and administrators, I promote them serving as coaches to each other. Their coaching serves as a great model for staff and assists both administrator and coach in staying focused on the outcomes of their work.

In a recent workshop, I modeled a pre-conference with a math coach. Our dialogue illustrated how coaching helps a person define the “work” that will lead to the desired outcome.

Here is the conversation after about five minutes of warm-up and rapport building:

Steve: What have you chosen as the focus of our coaching time?

Coach: I’d like to be more successful working with teachers who lack sufficient math knowledge and background. They actually say, “I don’t like math and I’m not good at it.”

Steve: Could you arrange for me to observe a conference you are having with that teacher?

Coach: Pretty sure I can.

Steve: What do you want to accomplish in that conference?

Coach: For the teacher to be more competent and confident in teaching the current math concept.

Steve: What would cause the teacher to be more competent and confident?

Coach: She needs to gain increased understanding.

Steve: What will the teacher need to do to develop increased understanding?

Coach: Research…and practice

Steve: Study?

Coach: Yeah, study.

Steve: Homework?

Coach: Yes

Steve: So your goal in the conference will be to get the teacher to commit to doing extra preparation…researching, studying the content prior to planning instruction for the students.

Coach: Yes…that’s what I need to do.

Steve: OK. How about I observe with a T-chart, recording what you say on one side and the teacher’s response on the other. Then we can study that to identify the strategies/choices you use and their effect. I’ll be happy to share any ideas I get from observing with your goal in mind.

Coach: Sounds like a plan.

I’m pretty sure that prior to our conference the coach had not identified the specific teacher behaviors she needed to gain as an outcome from the conference. Having that defined should sharpen her conferencing effectiveness.

A coach could conduct a very similar pre/post conference with an administrator concerning a faculty meeting. Such conversations would likely increase leadership effectiveness.

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3 Responses to “ Coaching Coaches ”

  1. Kristine Durias Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly Steve!! This conferencing does not happen enough!! As you and I have spoken before, clear direction from principals can only come from intentiional conversations. Unfortunately, many principals have so much on their plate that these converstaions are pushed to the bottom of the to do list. However, I would argue that what could be more important than a principal spending time with their assistant principals and coaches in order to share their vision and guide them in the right direction?

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Kristine: Bingo! The assistants and the coaches are key resources for a principal.

  3. Nina Morel Says:

    Steve, I agree with Kristine. It is our experience that as a district we have to do things to encourage the principals to do this kind of thing. One that that is effective is periodically sending the principals short email surveys or having district personnel telephone principals, asking their feedback on how the coaching is going in their school and how the interactions with the coaches are progressing. This brings coaching to the top of their “to do” pile and reminds them to be accessible to their coaches. I think strong district support is important to principals and coaches.

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