Podcast: Exploring the Why of Instructional Coaching - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Exploring the Why of Instructional Coaching

Simon Senik’s advice to focus communicating the WHY of your organization before the how and what has a direct application to a staff’s understanding of “why” an investment in instructional coaching would be made. Decisions about a coaching model, the selection of coaches, the training provided to coaches, as well as the expectations for administrators, coaches, and teachers should all be connected to the program’s “WHY.”

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Podcast Transcript:

Steve [Intro] (00:00)

Welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. As instructional coaches and school leaders, you have a challenge to guide continuous teacher growth that promotes student success. This podcast looks to support you with strategies from our experienced guests and insights that I’ve gathered across many years. I’m thrilled you’re here. Thanks for listening.

Steve (00:27)

Exploring the why of instructional coaching. While assisting a high school leadership team in the midst of initiating some instructional coaching opportunities with their staff, I uncovered the need to explore if the why of their coaching plan had been communicated to their staff. Several of the teacher leaders were on a revised schedule that now created an opportunity for them to provide coaching to their colleagues or to arrange opportunities for their colleagues to coach each other. But teachers were not responding to the availability of the coaching, even though all the assurances of autonomy, and non-evalutive communication were presented. From earlier conversations with the leadership group, I could identify what they wanted to achieve with the coaching process, but I wondered if the staff knew or questioned what was the purpose. Those thoughts triggered me to connect with Simon Sinek’s work on the “why.” The golden circle concept introduced by Sinek is built on the insight that successful leaders and organizations start by communicating why – the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires them to do what they do. The why represents the core beliefs of an individual or an organization. It’s the reason that they exist, the purpose that drives every action and decision.

Steve (02:13)

The “how” refers to the processes or the methods that are used to realize the why. These are the specific actions taken to embody the core beliefs in the way they operate or the strategy strategies that they employ. The “what” encompasses the products, services, or roles that an organization or individual provides or performs. It’s the tangible outcome of the why and how. The what is the outcome of the why and the how. The what is the visible proof of the entity’s belief and methods in action. Sinek argues that most people in organizations operate from the outside in, focusing on what they do without giving much thought to why they do it. However, most inspiring leaders in organizations do the opposite. They start with why. The why attracts people who share those values. I had realized from my time in this school with the administrators that there was a desire for more students to have more learning experiences that engage them in greater autonomy, ownership, critical thinking, and problem solving. I posed these two questions to the principal: One, what do you want to make happen for your students or for some of your students that isn’t happening now? Two, how many teachers know what that picture is. The principal decided to pose the why question to his administration and teacher leaders.

Steve (04:08)

Students gaining something that they currently are not gaining is a reason for change in the teaching learning process. That’s the why. Among his leaders, there was a clear common message that they wanted students to gain joy and fun in learning, investment in learning, student ownership and engagement, connecting learning to their futures, critical thinking, being challenged. Then the team moved to the second question, how many teachers know what that picture is? Now, a substantial amount of uncertainty emerged. A realization arose that there was a need to explore the staff’s views and thinking in order to decide the next action leaders needed to take. They mapped out a plan for small group discussions with staff in order to find out. Engaging staff in ongoing reflection is a key. It’s got to be more than simply telling the staff what the why is. Here are some questions I gave the leadership team to explore in their future as they plan for the administrator and the coach’s next round of actions. First, who are the teachers that agree with the why and have ideas to implement to make it happen? Instructional coaching for this group would provide the support and encouragement to experiment with their ideas, implementing hypotheses and learning with other colleagues about ways to achieve the goal with their students.

Steve (06:02)

Secondly, are there teachers who agree with the why, but they really don’t know what they would do to achieve the goal with their students? Instructional coaching needs to provide these teachers with learning opportunities. They may want time to observe peers who are being successful in generating the desired student engagement activities. Professional development might provide possible instructional approaches. As these teachers decide on approaches to try, instructional coaching can support them with modeling, co-teaching, and reflection. Lastly, are there some staff who either disagree with the desired why or simply are not willing to invest in changing their current practice? In the short term, these unwilling staff members are not a focus of the instructional coaching activities. As school leaders focus on a bigger conceptual change, encouraging and celebrating with teachers who are gaining the process on the desired goal is key to establishing a new culture and expectations. In my work, I’ve always used the backwards planning approach to coaching. So taking a look at the desired learning outcomes we wanted to achieve, then figuring out what students needed to do in order to gain those skills those elements of knowledge, those attributes. Then, looking at what teacher actions would be taking to assist students in implementing those learning behaviors.

Steve (08:00)

And then lastly, what’s the support that we would provide teachers in order to carry out our backwards process? That’s where coaching would fit in. As I took Sinek’s thinking and overlaid it over mine, I realized that why was really about the learning outcomes. How was really about teacher actions and student learning production behaviors. And the what becomes the coaching support, professional development, and learning communities working with colleagues, all of that support of “what” to drive the “how” of teacher and student actions to achieve the “why” – student learning outcome goals. By starting with a why, a school ensures that every stakeholder understands and is aligned with the overarching goal, thereby increasing engagement, commitment, and the willingness to invest in the necessary changes. Applying Sinek’s thinking to the implementation process involves constantly linking back to the core purpose throughout the development and execution of instructional coaching. This means that decisions about coaching models, the selection of coaches, the training provided to coaches, and the methods of feedback and assessment that are made are all fundamentally connected to the why. I’d love to hear your thoughts about connecting Sinek’s work with the important why to our work with instructional coaching.

Steve (09:58)

You can always reach me at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.

Steve [Outro] (10:05)

Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn at Steve Barkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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