Looking back on my 35 years of working in the field of coaching, I am pulling some of the authors, beliefs, experiences, and insights that I believe form a foundation for those building their coaching practices. In this first episode, I’ve focused on Joellen Killion’s explanation of the importance of “coaching heavy.” She reminds us that results build relationships.
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[00:00:00.570] – Steve [Intro]
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.[00:00:31.450] – Steve
Foundations for Instructional Coaching: Episode One – Heavy Coaching. I had received an invitation from Nicole Turner to prepare a presentation for her Simply Coaching Summit. I was asked to explore some of my expectations and some of the foundations that I believe exist for instructional coaching. These are concepts that I’ve centered in on across 35 years of working in the field of coaching. Looking back, I identified some of the writers, presenters, and ideas that have shaped my work. I realized that today, we have many educators who recently or currently are starting their coaching careers, and they may not have the information about some of the early findings that led us to where we are today. In this podcast, I’ll examine Joellen Killian’s important insights on heavy coaching. Here’s my exploration of her work from a 2008 article titled, “Are You Coaching Heavy or Light?”
[00:01:57.750] – Steve
Early in the introduction of Instructional Coaching Literacy Coaches Math Coaching, Joellen Killian, with Learning Forward, published an important article identifying light and heavy coaching. Joellen defined light coaching as coaches who were working to build and maintain relationships more than they were working to improve teaching and learning. I was working in the field at that time, and it was very common that people who began in coaching positions were providing a lot of “help” to teachers in order to build that relationship. Joellen described that they provided demonstration lessons, they share curriculum materials, but the pressure wasn’t on the teacher for the teacher to apply learning in their classroom. Joellen then went on to describe heavy coaching as coaching that feels heavy to the teacher because of the weight of collective responsibility and commitment that the teacher is devoting to the success of every student. It’s the coach bringing that to the teacher’s mind. It’s not the coach, again, “being heavy.” Coaching heavy causes a teacher to feel on edge because they’re questioning their actions and their decisions, thinking about what they might do to have a greater impact on their students.
[00:03:59.070] – Steve
In Joellen’s work, she identified seven beliefs that could interfere with coaches working on heavy coaching. And I’d like to click through each of those that she shared and give you my responses and experiences to them. The first one that she shared was that coaches can believe that being accepted gives them more leverage to work with teachers. And Joellen’s response was that working on being accepted could not allow you to get to what those most important things were, as in a focus on teaching and learning. And I must say that early on, there were many coaches who did light coaching with every good intention, which was building that relationship with teachers. The problem is that by the time the relationship was built, the actions of the coach with the teachers had defined coaching as light coaching. And so teachers were seeing their coach as a resource to, in some cases, be seen as making the teacher’s job easier. Because you could find that resource for me, it was easier for me to get it implemented in my classroom. The second belief Joellen shared was that being viewed as credible is essential to being a coach. And while it’s true that credibility is important, she suggested that credibility emerged from the alignment of one’s actions with one’s words.
[00:05:55.170] – Steve
So as a coach, when you can talk about the importance in student achievement, when you can talk about and identify what is the work that students do that cause that achievement and how the work that you’re doing with the teacher is to get the students to do that work, that’s probably the strongest way to build your credibility. The third belief that Joellen suggested could get in the way is defining that the work of coaches is to support teachers. And this kind of clicks back to that earlier statement that I made. It needs to be clearly presented by the administrator coach partnership. I believe that the role of the coach is to be impacting student learning and that the coach works backwards from that desired outcome of student learning to assist in providing the teacher the changes that the teacher needs to implement to bring about that impact on student learning. So, in effect, as a teacher, I assess the value of my coach by seeing the impact that the coach’s work has on my learners. The fourth item that Joellen raised was that coaches can have a belief that teachers are resistant to change.
[00:07:30.370] – Steve
And she shared here that we really need to get into teachers belief systems. And if we do, we’ll find what I’ve certainly found in my work across these last 35 years is that the largest, largest, vast majority of teachers are truly interested in their students having the greatest learning success possible. So that any resistance that a teacher has to change is probably a resistance to change for the sake of change, or changing to implement a new program without getting to the core of identifying how that change that the teacher is implementing will change student behaviors, student learning production behaviors, and thus change student learning outcomes. The fifth item that Joellen identified was that coaches can’t impose on teachers since they have no supervisory responsibility. Coaches can’t impose through assigned authority. I’m not going to “threaten” a teacher with an evaluation or negative feedback. I believe that the way coaches most strongly impact teachers from a heavy coaching standpoint is through the use of a mirror. It’s mirroring back to the teacher any incongruity that exists between what a teacher is stating he wants to make happen for his students and what is actually happening. When the coach sits down and looks at student work, student outcomes, student indicators, and can get the teacher to talk about what she wanted as an outcome from the investment she made in a lesson and then the coach can describe the need for the teacher to change in order to get the student closer to the outcome that the teacher has set, I believe that has a much stronger impact on teacher change than any evaluator can have.
[00:09:42.730] – Steve
An evaluator’s impact is likely only to be present as long as the evaluator’s impact is present. The voice of a coach playing back a teacher’s own words to the teacher, those words tend to stick and be present even when the coach isn’t. The 6th belief that Joellensaid can get in the way is a belief that helping teachers know about or learn how to implement new instructional strategies is the coach’s primary responsibility. Take it back again – the primary responsibility is to impact student learning outcomes. So any new instructional strategy you’re bringing to a teacher, it’s not about the teacher just gaining success in the strategy as an executionm it’s in the teacher’s use of the strategy, having that impact back on students. So again, I think you keep hearing throughout all of these that if I keep bringing it back to the teacher describing the student learning outcomes that she wants, the coach can constantly be working backwards from that to talk about the investment you’re asking the teachers to make.
[00:11:16.890] – Steve
And the last belief that Joellen labeled as being present that could interfere with coaches’ success was coaches believing that they’re not responsible for what teachers do. If I identify as a coach,that the real measure of my success is in the impact that I’ve had on student achievement in my school, I cannot get that change in student impact without a change in what teachers are doing. So in effect, as a coach, I am going to be held responsible. It’s interesting because when I first began to work in the area of coaching, I would do a presentation and I’d have some educators come up to me in the audience and say, Steve, I really like what you had to say, but couldn’t you find a word different than coaching? I said why? And they said, well, we already get too many coaches getting into administration as it is, and we’re not sure we want you out there promoting that. It’s really the word that comes out of me because if you think about a person coaching the basketball team at school, they can work with the team all week long but come Friday night during the game, they really need to sit on the bench, and they got to look over their shoulder and say to the crowd, how am I doing?
[00:12:42.500] – Steve
And the crowd, in effect, evaluates the coach based on the performance of the people the person has provided coaching to. So in this case, the effectiveness of an instructional coach is seen in the impact that it’s had on the teachers he or she is working with, which is only evident in the impact that that teacher has had on his or her students learning. If I can stick this into a summary thought for you. When working as a coach increases the success of a teacher in achieving his or her goals with students, that teacher takes on a believability and a trust in both the coach and the teacher’s own ability. And that increase in believability and trust will cause the teacher to set ever increasing goals for their students, which causes them to set ever increasing goals and risk taking for themselves.
[00:14:06.430] – Steve
I’ll close this podcast with Joellen explaining her experiences that led to the concept of heavy coaching. It’s taken from an interview that she did in an episode of Coach Better. The link to the whole interview, as well as Joellen’s initial article, are in this podcast lead-in. As Joellen’s comments end, I’m encouraging you to reflect on her words. Results can build relationships. Thanks for listening.
[00:14:47.950] – Joellen
The background is really pretty easy to tell. It was working with the school system that I worked with with a colleague for many, many years. I’m going to say it was at least ten years. We had a close association with this school system – helped design, develop, implement their coaching program. And we found after even two or three years, that teachers were continuing to ask the same question over and over and over and over again. And it was the question, how do I build a relationship with the teachers I work with? And it dawned on me that teachers held an assumption that it was relationship before results. And I pondered that for quite a long time, because that assumption is not necessarily an accurate assumption. I think results can build relationships just as easily as relationships can build results. And so we spend some time grappling with this issue. And in one of my in the middle of the night ideas, I came to this notion of coaching light, which is coaching to build and sustain, and for the purpose of a relationship only to this notion of coaching heavy, which was coaching for results. And what I found in talking with teachers and administrators and coaches was that when coaches saw their work only from the lens of helping teachers feel better, helping teachers feel supported, being valued and appreciated as coaches, that they very often, literally came up against a wall, and the wall they needed to learn to push through was the wall of results.
[00:17:07.520] – Joellen
How do we get through that worry about maybe they won’t like me if I raise the question about students not learning in their classrooms, to get to the point where we can actually talk about results. And so we tussled with those terms coaching heavy, coaching light when I first shared it with a group of coaches and principals together in the same room. Principals were all over that idea and coaches were freaking out because they assumed that it meant being dictatorial, being heavy handed, being very directive, being almost supervisory in their approach, when in fact it isn’t any of those things. It is about putting results of high quality teaching and learning for students in the forefront and keeping that in our view at all times and holding ourselves accountable and responsible for both of those things.
[00:18:26.610] – Steve [Outro]
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.