Podcast: Making Magical Ripples Towards a Coaching Culture - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Making Magical Ripples Towards a Coaching Culture

Making Magical Ripples Towards a Coaching Culture

To what extent should building coaching into the culture of the school be a desired outcome of instructional coaches’ and administrators’ responsibilities?

How can an instructional coach plan for and assess progress even when administrator support or system expectations are not present? Many schools experience ongoing changes in staff and teams, which can seem overwhelming for coaches who feel they lack the time, stability, or support to create real change. In these cases, I suggest that coaches focus on creating a ripple effect by enhancing individual teachers’ coaching experiences and increasing coachability.

Watch Simon Sinek’s video on magic ripples here.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!

Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:00.270] – 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.

[00:00:28.640] – Steve

Making magical ripples towards a coaching culture. From the start of my work, I’ve been focused on seeing coaching as a culture rather than an isolated observation feedback activity. I titled my first book, “Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching” to help communicate that message. Organizational cultures might be defined as the collection of values, beliefs, customs, and attitudes that guide our practices. It can include the way a staff interacts with each other, it can include how decisions are made and the general approach to work. Here are some key elements that define organizational culture and what might be the signs or indicators that I see connecting it to a coaching culture. One is values and beliefs. How are beliefs and values about coaching communicated? One idea of mine is, is there a question in the interview process of candidates for teaching positions that communicates the idea of a culture of coaching?

[00:01:45.760] – Steve

The question might sound something like this: “What are your thoughts about observing in colleagues’ classrooms and inviting them to observe in yours and to give you reflective feedback in a conversation?” Nearly every candidate who’s asked that question in an interview is going to respond positively. But then they shouldn’t be surprised at the start of their next year when the principal begins to ask them questions about how they’re accessing coaching. Another item in culture is norms and practices. A coaching culture is communicated one way when time for coaching activities is built into things like a PD day or staff meetings. Language is one way that culture is communicated. How often at your school would staff hear leaders talk about when they were coached? How frequent is coaching mentioned in problem solving meetings or in PD activities? Leadership style is another element of culture. The behavior and approach of leaders sets the tone for an organization’s culture. Are coaches, department heads, team leaders, and administrators among the most coached people at your school? Work environment and climate is important in a coaching culture. Coaching thrives under the right working conditions that include levels of collaboration, trust, and support.

[00:03:32.320] – Steve

Would your staff say that they receive more feedback that is in the arena of evaluation and supervision, or would they say the feedback they receive is more often of coaching? How often do school leaders request coaching feedback from members of the staff? Another element that communicates culture is found in stories and myths. Narratives and antidotes can shape and identify a culture. Are coaching stories frequently told at your school? One of my favorites occurred when I spoke with a principal who had a teacher new to her school, and she wasn’t not new to teaching, but new to that principal’s school. Three or four weeks into the school year, the teacher was called to a meeting and informed that a student with autism was going to be placed in her classroom. The teacher hadn’t worked with a student with autism previously. A short time later, that teacher sent an email out to the rest of the staff, informing them that she was going to be having this student in her classroom, and that during the next two weeks, if everyone would consider that her door was always open and anyone would stop in and observe in her classroom for whatever time they had, she would love a note from them saying, here’s things I saw that I believe is going to assist your new student in being successful in your classroom.

[00:05:24.630] – Steve

Here are some things that you might want to question or explore. I got to I’ll tell you, when I heard that story, I met with the principal and I said, congratulations. I congratulate you first on doing a great job of hiring that you found that teacher. But secondly, that story pretty much communicated to me that coaching was in the culture of that school because in a few short weeks, the teacher had identified that what she did was an appropriate step for her to be taking. Organizational culture is the glue that binds members of the organization together. It influences how they think, feel, and behave. What signs of coaching culture exist in your school? Two recent experiences had me consider, how do we make progress towards building a coaching culture? I’m engaged with two schools that at the beginning of this year held an introduction to peer coaching to their staffs with the plan to offer voluntary participation in some fall workshops where teachers will practice and build the skills of coaching as they then start conferencing and observing with each other. It’s important that we are able to start and explore this element of coaching as a part of the culture rather than as a new program.

[00:07:02.310] – Steve

Similarly, in a online conversation with instructional coaches, I recently heard reinforced a message concerning the lack of common expectations for instructional coaches. Some instructional coaches at the district level can often be found working in different schools where building principals have different expectations of the coach. Similarly, in an online conversation with instructional coaches, I heard reinforced, a message concerning the lack of common expectations among principals for instructional coaches. Some instructional coaches work at the district level, and they need to work with different principals in different buildings who have different expectations from each other, but can also have different expectations from the central office staff member who is actually coordinating the coaching program. In some of the international schools that I work with, where Pre-K to 12 are on the same campus, you can find different expectations as coaches move their work from the primary, to the middle to the upper school. To what extent should building a culture of coaching be considered a desired outcome and responsibility of instructional coaches and administrators? How can an instructional coach plan for and assess progress when administrator support or system expectations might not be present? Many schools experience ongoing changes in school staff and teams. The coach or the administrator might be new to the school, or many staff members may have changed from school year to school year.

[00:09:11.120] – Steve

These conditions are quite common when I work with international school coaches. This can seem overwhelming for coaches who are sensing that they don’t have enough time or stability to support and create real change. In these cases, I suggest that coaches focus on creating a ripple effect, building individual teachers’ coaching experiences, and creating increased coachability. Listen in on this short clip from Simon Sinek as he describes creating small, successful instances – successes that can begin to spread like ripples.

[00:09:58.940] – Simon

I get this question all the I’m not CEO. How do I change the organization when I’m not in charge where there’s four levels up above me? The answer is, of course, you can’t change behaviors of somebody you have no contact with. The reality is you take responsibility for the environment you can control. If you have influence over seven people, and if we just work to create this little pocket of magic, what you tend to find is when you have well-led teams, those teams outperform all the other teams. Somebody from the team will eventually get promoted out to another team and bring all the lessons that you taught them and lead that team the same way. Then somebody there gets promoted and you have four magic teams, and you have eight magic teams. What you do is you create these magical ripples inside an organization, and you don’t even need to convert everybody. It’s a law of diffusion. Having a top leader who understands the stuff just means it’s more efficient. But it doesn’t mean it’s the only way. So don’t worry about the CEO. Don’t worry about the company. Just worry about what you can control.

[00:10:57.000] – Steve

Where can you find individuals with higher coachability to start your ripples? I’ve described instructional coaches approaching this task like plate spinners at the circus. Can I get two or three teachers working together doing some reflection, perhaps out of co-planning, then working in each other’s classrooms, and reflecting in conversations initially facilitated by the coach. These conversations might occur as part of a PLC or department, or it could be an extension of a professional learning activity. After a while, the coach looks to pull out of this activity. They got this plate spinning. The teachers are working together, coaching each other, and the coach pulls out of that group and looks to get another one started, having to step back in and check on a group from time to time, maybe even getting back too late and finding that the plate has fallen and broken, but the coach immediately begins to connect teachers, perhaps with another staff member or two, and those people who have been engaged and who have benefited from this process begin to promote the building of that coaching culture. Michael Moody wrote, “When we think about instructional coaching, we likely envision a single coach observing a teacher and providing feedback.

[00:12:36.540] – Steve

Perhaps we’ve been short-sighted. What if instead we broadened our definition of coaching to include several engagement points for teachers? After all, coaching is really about targeted and supported reflection of practice. It’s much more feasible to engage teachers in frequent reflection in coaching if the school isn’t relying on a single coach to carry out the entire plan. The activities must be coordinated, and a coach can be the one managing the process. We need to think beyond the traditional coaching structure.” Here’s an example that might be putting into practice what Michael Moody is talking about. You might call it peer coaching circles. These could be small groups of teachers who observe in each other’s classrooms, provide feedback, and engage in reflective discussions. The instructional coach might coordinate the schedule provide some structure for giving feedback, and ensure the process runs smoothly. The setup of this activity might occur as a component of a staff PD day, or maybe even within PLCs or staff meetings. Circles might be the same grade level or content mix, or it could provide the opportunity for teachers to observe outside their grade levels and outside their content areas. The instructional coach can provide and model some observation and feedback protocols that generate a schedule, guaranteeing coverage for the time needed to do pre-conference, observation and post-reflective conference.

[00:14:35.410] – Steve

The scheduling is a critical step, as teachers often see time as the prohibitor of coaching. One example I’ve used is having conferencing occur during an already scheduled activity. Imagine at this week’s department meeting, folks conduct a pre-conference among circle members. Then they carry out the observation during the week, and at next week’s Department meeting, the post-conferences are held. By participating in instructional coach-designed activities, we would hopefully engage teachers in experiences that they would want to continue with their colleagues. Again, hopefully, as the culture develops, taking more personal initiative to implement because of the benefits they’ve gained. A coaching culture leverages the strength links of multiple educators rather than relying on the single instructional coach. I’d love to hear your examples of ripple activities to build a coaching culture. Contact me at barkleypd.com. I’d also be happy to have you join me on a future podcast and share those experiences. Thanks for listening.

[00:16:13.020] – 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 blogs at barkleypd.com.

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