New Instructional Coaches: Getting in the Classroom Door - Steve Barkley

New Instructional Coaches: Getting in the Classroom Door

How do new (and not so new) instructional coaches get into teachers’ classrooms and schedules? That question was posed to me when I recently worked with the 11th cadre of elementary reading coaches at Hillsborough County, Tampa, Florida. The members of this class were completing their year long training program with a summer reading camp and daily opportunities to work with teachers and each other. They are completing interviews and getting assigned to buildings. In a few short weeks they will be meeting administrators and faculties, anxious to dive into coaching practices.

Here are some options we explored for introducing observation and feedback for teacher growth and student success:

Technical Coaching
When coaches provide professional development on teaching strategies, the expectation of coaching follow up should be built into the workshop session. Coaches modeling an instructional strategy in the teacher’s classroom should provide the teacher with an observation tool focused on teacher and student actions reflective of the strategy. When the teacher reviews the findings with the coach, the opportunity for the coach to observe the teacher with the same tool can emerge in the conversation.

Collegial Coaching
Coaches new to a building can request the use of a teacher’s class to practice an instructional strategy that the coach is learning or perfecting. In a pre-conference setting the coach can introduce him/herself to the teacher and encourage the teacher to do the same. The coach can request that the teacher collect some observational data for the coach. Discussing the teacher’s observations in a post conference setting might create an invitation for the coach to return the observation favor.

Challenge Coaching
As teachers tackle problems that arise in student behavior or learning, the coach can become a valuable observer, collecting data on students’ reactions to teacher strategies. These observations can emerge from the coach’s attendance at team meetings or RTI planning sessions. A middle school coach found a team discussing a student whose engagement varied from class to class. The coach volunteered to observe the student in each team member’s class recording what teachers were doing and how the student responded and later sharing the data at the next team meeting… “Open door into 4 classrooms”.

How principals introduce instructional coaches to the staff can play a big role in the early acceptance of the coach in teachers’ classrooms. A coach might consider sharing the following paragraph from the Essential Educator blog for March 3, 2010 with the principal and discussing how to build a coaching culture.

Administrative support – Coaches struggle to be successful when they do not have the explicit formal and informal backing of administrators within their school and at the district level. Principals significantly increase coaches’ effectiveness when they collaborate with coaches to identify teachers who could benefit from a coach’s services, respectfully apply pressure to teachers who need improvement, lead school improvement teams to institutionalize the interventions provided by coaches, evaluate teachers’ use of the interventions they learn from coaches, and celebrate the success teachers experience using materials they learned from coaches. Additionally, principals are more effective at supporting coaches when they know that the coach’s efforts are important to district decision-makers. Without district support, many principals are hesitant to fully support a coach’s efforts.

The sooner the new coaches get into the “action” that occurs in classrooms, the sooner student learning will be positively impacted by teacher investment in learning.

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