In an earlier blog, I shared results from the Research Partnership for Professional Learning, Building Better Professional Learning: How to Strengthen Teacher Learning. It described the importance of effective professional learning communities as an accountability element for change and improvement.
The authors also highlighted the importance of coaching:
There is strong evidence that coaches working one-on-one with teachers on specific aspects of the teacher’s practice, over a sustained period, results in increased student learning from the work of coaches. Those studies covered diverse subjects and programs where coaching was included to improve both average instructional classroom quality and student outcomes.
How coaching time is used is a critical element.
“Coaching that includes focused and specific pre-lesson planning can improve teaching. Focusing on one -on -one coaching as opposed to administrative duties is likely the most effective use of coaching resources. Many scholars suspect that coaches who spend their time largely engaged in administrative duties are not as effective as those who spend more time in classrooms observing instruction and facilitating teacher learning.”
I worked with one instructional coach who had an ongoing way of exploring time use with her administrator. The coach kept a daily journal of where she spent her time and every two weeks, met with the principal to look back over her coaching activities.
- She color coded her daily schedule using green to highlight those areas she felt were most likely to have a positive impact on student learning.
- She used yellow to identify activities she was engaged in that she had some concerns as to whether that time was impacting student learning outcomes.
- She used red to identify activities that she felt pretty sure were places she spent her time that were unlikely to positively impact student learning.
It was a great way to kick off conversations with her building principal around desired coaching outcomes. There is always some need for red activities. The concern is the frequency of those activities. Yellow and green items encourage exploration of expected outcomes from coaching activities. I can imagine the insights from these conversations eventually being shared with staff in further defining the coach’s role.
Coaching supports teachers’ day-to-day practice by starting with the teacher’s existing practice, then working outward from the teacher’s existing practice to integrate new instructional techniques. Similar to the impact that professional learning communities can have on teacher implementation of new learning, the cyclical nature of coaching offers that same accountability.
Teachers knowing that their coach is going to return and continue their work together, are likely to increase conscious implementation of what was discussed during a coaching meeting. Follow-up meetings, added to professional learning opportunities, provide teachers a chance to discuss and explore their findings as they take new practices back into the classroom.
I frequently have worked with educators, who with minimal time available for professional learning, chose to tackle too many different topics. They might use an early dismissal day to have teachers attend a workshop on one topic. Then two months later, there was another early dismissal day, and they went on to a different topic. I encouraged these clients to consider how taking the time that is available and spending a sufficient amount of it on follow up is more likely to bring about a change in teacher practice that will impact student learning.
These follow up sessions should be based on teachers’ problems of practice… the parts of the new program or the new strategy that the teacher questions or finds challenging. These meetings should be collaborative with teachers sharing ideas with the goal of enhancing implementation. In doing so, teachers can learn from one another and perhaps customize the program to best meet the needs of their students. Coaches can play a key role in encouraging these teacher dialogues and following up on insights that emerge. Too often insights are lost as classroom pressures return the next day.
The work of coaches can create accountability rather than supervision to gain implementation of new teacher learning. Effective coaches create an environment where teachers’ experiences and feedback guide institutional learning. Teacher input should influence the focus of PLCs, coaching, and future professional development. Everyone focused on success for all students.