Designing Coaches' Work - Steve Barkley

Designing Coaches’ Work

In this week’s blog I share a request I received from a central office leader responsible for elementary schools and my response to her questions.

Hi Stephen,

I’m hoping you can provide a bit of feedback regarding a situation we are currently in.

Our district has 6 elementary schools. Each one has a full time “Literacy Leader” plus some core reading support assistance (about 1/2 to 3/4 time additional help). We have had the full time lit leader luxury now for about 4 years, and still our reading scores in “most” schools are very flat (and not acceptable). We know we need to make a change from this model. (One school broke the mold and changed what they were doing. Results did happen.)

Our superintendent has been here about 18 months now, and has seen great strides in achievement with the use of coaching. The district has proposed to go from 6 Lit Leaders to 4 Instructional Coaches, and have them be true instructional coaches. The thought is having them pair up in teams of two (flexible) doing trainings & presentations, then follow up with these same teachers on a consistent, regular basis to help implement strategies learned in the trainings with the purpose of increasing student achievement.

We were talking about Tues, Wed, Thurs being the ideal days for trainings (not each week – spaced out) with a couple weeks of follow up in the classrooms before that same group comes back for more training (followed by more in class coaching). We also have spoken about Friday being a learn more about coaching day; and Monday being a planning/collaboration day with the instructional coaches and myself. Our goal is to not have them only content (reading) focused. Yes, we do need to improve the literacy skills of our youngsters, but math needs work too… so in time would like to have a well rounded/balanced group.

Ideally, we would have the funding to have a coach in every building, but we sadly do not. We are getting quite a bit of pushback from the current lit leaders, some elementary principals and staff as you can imagine. However, I’m a bit afraid that if we left one person in every building, the model would not change from what it currently is, and we would continue to see flat growth. Eventually we’d like to have the instructional coaches work in all content areas.

Would love to hear any thoughts you may have about how to make a coaching model work with 4 coaches and 6 schools.

Here’s my response…

I am big on backwards planning and believe that is where you need to start. This blog (LEADERS PLANNING FOR IMPROVED LEARNING) illustrates the process.

So for you, the first question to ask is, “What do students need to be doing that would cause reading achievement to increase?”. That has to be clear before deciding what teachers need to do to get those desired student behaviors.

Then you are ready to plan… ”What do leaders, coaches, trainers do to cause the desired teacher behaviors?”How might teacher PLC’s or peer coaching support the desired teacher behaviors?”

Teachers’ behaviors need to be driven/modified by studying student behaviors. ”Is what I am doing getting the students to do what they need to do to learn?”

Coaches’ and administrators’ behaviors need to be driven/modified by studying teacher behaviors. “Is what we are doing getting the teacher and thus student behaviors that will produce the achievement?”

Lastly, what do you do to support the coaches and administrators in the efforts to drive the process?

The work of a coach in a particular building may need to be quite different from that of a coach in another. The work of a coach who works in more than one building may be very different in each building.

Only after figuring out the needs in each building are you ready to build a coach’s schedule. That schedule should be flexible and change as needs change. Just as an example… you might want a week where all four coaches are in one building doing an extensive assessment of current teacher practices and then working with you and that administrator to develop the change plan for that building.

These blogs might help illustrate:


A look at coaches working in “heavy” coaching will also be important.

If your coaches approach their work as “learning about learning and teaching” along with their partner teachers, they will be able to work in all content areas. This should increase teachers’ sense of continuous improvement.

Let me know what questions arise from my thinking.


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