Instructional Coaching: A Valuable Skill Set for School Leaders - Steve Barkley

Instructional Coaching: A Valuable Skill Set for School Leaders

Who would gain from adding the skills of instructional coaching to their communication and leadership skill set? How would schools, teachers, and most importantly students gain from having more instructional coaching experiences occurring within schools?

My first book on the topic of coaching, Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching, had a forward written by Adam Urbanski, who at that time was the president of the Rochester (NY) Teachers Association, vice-president of the American Federation of teachers, and the director of the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN) of AFT and NEA Locals:

“Many daunting problems in education stem from the isolation of teachers. Teaching requires the highest concentration of adults in the workplace of nearly any profession, and, ironically, it is the most isolated. There is no such thing as excellence in teaching when in solitude. By definition, excellence in teaching is a form of communication and group activity.

A coaching relationship contributes significantly to diminishing this isolation, particularly when the coaching involves experienced and expert practitioners sharing their knowledge and skills with less experienced educators. There is an impulse in the nation toward more collaboration among educators, yet the change is still taking place slowly. “

Urbanski wrote that in 2008……. Those words seem to ring rather true today. I chose the title of that first book because I wanted to communicate coaching more as a culture rather than a separate, isolated activity added to teachers already full schedules.

A culture of ongoing coaching for all educators is key to continuous educator growth that will maximize student success.

Jim Knight -“Instructional coaching is about teachers receiving feedback that is individualized, specific, and timely. With the right support, coaching can create powerful opportunities for professional growth and transformative learning for teachers, ultimately leading to improved student success.”

Elena Aguilar -“Coaching can build resilience, provide emotional support, and foster a growth mindset among teachers. This is the foundation of creating an environment where educators feel valued and supported to take risks, innovate, and continuously grow in their practice, which directly benefits students.”

Diane Sweeney – “The goal of coaching is not just teacher improvement, but rather student learning. When coaching is aligned with the needs of students, it ensures that teacher development is focused, impactful, and directly tied to classroom success.”

Robert J. Marzano – “Feedback is most effective when it is specific, actionable, and followed up with coaching. This ongoing process helps teachers refine their practices, stay engaged in their professional growth, and achieve better outcomes for their students.”

Joellen Killion and Cindy Harrison – “Effective coaching goes beyond mere technical support; it fosters reflective practice, encourages collaborative inquiry, and promotes a culture of continuous learning among educators. This, in turn, enhances teacher effectiveness and student achievement.”

I have frequently described the instructional coach as the “coach of coaching.”  For teachers to receive the coaching they deserve, instructional coaches need to create opportunities for teachers to form coaching partnerships with each other. Instructional coaches can guide and support those opportunities as they work with PLCs, grade level teams, departments, and professional learning programs. Creating opportunities for more educators to develop instructional coaching skills should positively impact the coaching occurring between administrators and teachers, middle level leaders and teachers and teachers peer coaching with each other. I find the number of instructional coaches being selected for administration positions promising. There seems to be a realization that coaching skills are valuable leadership skills.  Interestingly, many administrators have completed master’s degrees and even doctorial degrees in school leadership without any coursework focused on coaching.

A few schools that I consult with are providing opportunities for teacher leaders, and in one case principals, to complete a micro-credential in instructional coaching. The teacher leaders are often serving as PLC or department leaders. The American Cooperative School of Tunis has an increasing number of teachers completing instructional coaching training. The Director of Teaching and Learning, Marina McDonald shared the school’s thinking:

“Developing a culture of peer coaching and continuous growth requires a commitment to providing the structures and training to practice, make mistakes and refine our work. In addition to hiring instructional coaches, we learned quickly that our teachers needed and wanted on-going professional development in coaching. Teachers started to recognize that to be coached, you must learn to be a coach as we are with our students in the classrooms every day! To grow our culture of coaching, ACST registers cohorts of teachers for a coaching micro-credential program annually where they are learning synchronously, asynchronously, and practicing intentionally with teachers on our campus! In our first year, we had 3 teacher leaders and this year, we expanded to 12 teachers from K-12. Currently, our IBDP science teachers are coaching our grade 3 teachers on their next science unit.”

I think Marina’s insight that learning “how to coach” increases my coachability —– knowing how to maximize the value of being coached—- is right on! It aligns with Urbanski’s statement from many years earlier: “By definition, excellence in teaching is a form of communication and group activity.”

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