Podcast: The Coaching Balance - Steve Barkley

Podcast: The Coaching Balance

steve barkley, the coaching balance

In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by former instructional coach and current assessment consultant, Kevin Schlomer, to explore the coaching evaluation continuum.

View Kevin’s Coaching Balance diagram.

Get in touch with Kevin: kevin.schlomer@gmail.com

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


Announcer : 00:00 Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud is brought to you by Academy for Educators. Online professional development for teachers and leaders. Online courses, modules and micro-credential programs for teachers to enhance their skillsets. Now featuring the instructional coaching micro-credential, including five online modules framed around the work of Steve Barkley. Learn, grow, inspire. Academyforeducators.org.

Steve [Intro]: 00:25 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For the last 35 years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. In each of the coming episodes, I’ll explore my thoughts and my learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning and leading. Thanks for listening in.

Steve: 00:49 The coaching balance. Many listeners to this podcast have heard me in presentations or read in my blogs and writing about a coaching evaluation continuum that I use to help people define roles and relationships. So on one end of my continuum on the far left, I place an evaluation and I describe it as the teacher’s class being observed with outside criteria and the teacher receiving feedback based on that outside criteria. Then I move all the way to the right hand side of that continuum and I had placed peer coaching. And I described peer coaching as the teacher being totally in charge, identifying who comes into my classroom, when the person comes in and what it is I’m asking the person to do when they’re there. So, evaluation and peer coaching — kind of two ends of that continuum. I then stuck in the middle, the term supervision, a position that I frequently see building administrators in where some of their time is spent in that evaluative role and some of it in a coaching role.

Steve: 02:08 And then lastly I placed into my continuum, the term mentoring, falling halfway between the spot of supervision and peer coaching. And generally describing mentoring as somebody with background or expertise in an area, working with someone who doesn’t have that background and expertise. Differentiating that supervisors sometimes do evaluation and mentors don’t do evaluation, which is why I moved to mentoring to the right on my continuum. But mentoring tends not to have the voluntary role that’s built into peer coaching, which is why I stuck the term between supervision and peer coaching. Then when I began to work with instructional coaches, I identified that there was a need to be clear with people that frequently instructional coaches can play different roles. So that sometimes an instructional coach is in that peer coaching role because the teacher has come and requested the coach’s input and other times the coach might be providing the teacher with information that the teacher didn’t necessarily request.

Steve: 03:24 And that’s when I moved to the instructional coach more into that mentor role. And then I described that sometimes, an instructional coach gets real close to supervision and I described it as — they get real close but they don’t touch it. And that occurs when an administrator suggests or even “requires” that a teacher work with a coach. And in that case, the teacher often is responding to the coach in a supervisory kind of relationship even though the coach doesn’t officially have any of that evaluative component. Well, I recently received a note from Kevin Schlomer, sharing with me that he had been doing some work with the continuum and added some of his thoughts to it — sent me a new diagram where he built in some of Jim Knight’s thoughts and I asked Kevin if he would join us on this podcast so that we could explore his thinking. I found the things that he’s done to be quite intriguing. So Kevin, welcome to the podcast.

Kevin: 04:37 Thank you very much. I’m glad to be here.

Steve: 04:40 Would you take a moment Kevin and kind of give an introduction to folks of the role you’re in now and a little bit about your background?

Kevin: 04:48 Sure, I have some background in instructional coaching. I spent about six years in an elementary instructional coaching position and about three years coordinating an instructional coaching program in a school district and I’m currently an assessment consultant for a regional education agency. And so in that role, I still have some contact with school districts as they look at and evaluate their instructional coaching programs and what’s happening with them.

Steve: 05:19 So how about if we jump right in and have you describe the additions, you made to the continuum and then we can explore them in a little more depth?

Kevin: 05:30 Sure. So the continuum, I’ve referred to that many times over the years and thought about where coaches are approaching their work with teachers, and my additions to the right of peer coaching came out of spending several years reading narrative data in surveys, narrative feedback from teachers, responding to questions about instructional coaches, about their work with coaches or teacher leaders and trying to find some themes and make sense of what those teachers were saying. And it occurred to me that sometimes teachers have a different perspective of what they want from their instructional coach and it can vary from just, “I need some information” to I really don’t want any part of it”. And so, the additions that I made to the right — I added the idea of consultation, which is that, sometimes teachers just want — I just want ideas.

Kevin: 06:37 I want to talk about what I might want to do in my classroom. I might not be sure about what direction to go and I think you might be able to help me think through something but I really don’t want somebody else in my classroom. I’m not comfortable opening up the door and having someone come in. It could be a range of factors. I might not be fully confident in myself or I might be nervous that there’s some evaluative component going on even though there’s not. But for whatever reason, I don’t really want them in there. And then over further to the right, I placed the idea of information gathering which is when teachers seem to view the coach as a source of readily available information because they’re typically very connected into the administrative procedures of the schools. So this might be things like, you know, “Can you remind me what week the state testing is happening”?

Kevin: 07:27 Can you tell me what that book was that we used in professional development? I want to go back and look at it. It’s kind of those quick in passing one shot sources of information. I don’t really — I still don’t really want you coming into my classroom and I don’t really want to talk about my teaching. I just want a snippet of information that I know you have that you can give to me. And then furthest down at the end to the right is just indifference which is — and this came out of comments that sometimes you see in coaching surveys like “I don’t need the coach, I don’t feel like the coach has anything to offer, they don’t have content expertise in my area, so therefore I’m, you know, I don’t reach out to them” and it’s just kind of a disengagement from the program. So it moves down the scale similar to how your scale moves from mentoring to supervision to evaluation. It moving more towards external criteria and judgment against those external criteria. When I added to the right, it moves more towards teacher disengagement from the coaching program, from peer coaching in general.

Steve: 08:37 I want to give people a picture here as they’re listening. And that is, Kevin’s created a balance where the center of the balance is peer coaching and he’s calling that the ideal. And then as you move to the left, he has mentoring, supervision and evaluation. So on that side, you’re moving in a direction of —check me if I’m accurate on this, Kevin, as you move to the right, into mentoring, supervision, evaluation, the coach is playing a stronger, more in charge role.

Kevin: 09:15 Correct.

Steve: 09:16 Okay.

Kevin: 09:17 Yep.

Steve: 09:17 Okay, and then with peer coaching as the balance point, moving to the right is where he’s added consultation, information gathering, and then indifference. So describe, Kevin, how you see the peer coaching as the ideal spot to be and then you’ve given some percentages here as you’re thinking of what’s okay to move off of that, but realizing you’re looking to keep a balance.

Kevin: 09:49 So peer coaching, it’s in the center. Like you said, it rests on the fulcrum there. It’s the ideal. It’s, I think, the most respectful and most engaging place for a coach and a teacher to be. This is the place where the teacher and the coach are working together. The idea of peer means that you’re on the same level. There is not one person above the other. There’s not an imbalance of power. There’s a meeting of two minds working together to solve one problem. It’s mutually agreed upon. The approach that will be taken as mutually agreed upon. So this is not the coach coming in and saying, you know, “we’re working on a series of guided reading strategies and I’m going to come into your classroom and we’re going to work on those guided reading strategies”.

Kevin: 10:40 And then the two of us decided together how we’re going to do that. That still moves over towards that mentoring side because there’s — that’s not really decided by the teacher. That’s decided by the school. There’s some freedom and flexibility in the coach and teacher working together, but it’s still not teacher selected. Peer coaching I see more as, there’s some nagging thing happening in the classroom that the teacher wants to solve and they’re maybe not sure how to do that. And so they have the comfort and the trust built with the coach to go to them and say, this particular issue is not working and I’m not sure what to do. What can we do about that”? So that’s how I see that peer coaching role being.

Steve: 11:21 Kevin, if I can jump in there — so first of all, your terms and mine match right on. And it’s really interesting, I was just working with a school in London this week and I was doing a model coaching with a librarian out of the audience and partway through our pre-conference, she changed it from peer coaching to mentoring. So we started it as peer coaching and then she laid out that she wanted me to bring a set of expertise into this process and that made a really interesting feedback. I was actually able to call time out for the audience to catch that we had shifted but she drove the shift. So that would match for me, of people recognizing that difference between the peer role.

Kevin: 12:23 Correct. And so, as you — again, as you move down the right side of the continuum, it almost goes on the left side of the continuum, I think of, the coach being in charge or the school being in charge. They are directing what’s happening. The further you get down to the left, the more directive it becomes and the less voice the teacher has in what’s happening. As you go further down the right, the more teacher self-directed it becomes and the less voice the coach has in what’s happening. So that’s kinda how I see as the difference of what’s happening. And I think as coaches move more towards the left of the scale, teachers move more towards the right. I think of it as, when you try to take a magnet of similar polarity and push it together and it bounces off of each other, that’s how I view this.

Kevin: 13:14 As if you start going one direction, people kind of start to go the other. And the fulcrum that I rested this upon, that peer, coaching is the idea. I use the word power and I’m still thinking if that’s the right word. Because the idea that I’m trying to come across is probably closer related to autonomy or self determination. And I really like — there are several books that I’ve read and come back to. And this one, “Thinking for a Living” by Thomas Davenport, is really a good one about knowledge workers. And he says on page 17 of his book – “knowledge workers prefer autonomy, but that doesn’t mean they should always be given the maximum amount of it. Some efforts to improve knowledge performance may include removing discretion from the knowledge worker. Still, organizations must be careful when implementing any new process or technology that significantly reduces the autonomy of their knowledge workers”.

Steve: 14:14 That’s powerful.

Kevin: 14:14 So I think of that constant tension that happens in schools between we do have standards, we do have best practices, we do have a commonality that we want in our kids’ experiences, but there’s also that tension of freedom and flexibility and the craft of teaching and trying to accommodate for that. So if teachers feel like the coach is moving to the left and they’re not honoring that autonomy in the sense that they have some choice and thoughts to bring to the table, then they start to move towards disengagement down the right side of the scale.

Steve: 14:56 And I think that the reverse of that is also true. And that is, as the teacher moves to the right, the coach moves to the left trying to pull more authority back, which only exasperates the problem rather than stepping into it. I mean, I think that’s the real uniqueness in what you’ve built into your diagram.

Kevin: 15:23 Thanks. Yeah, and I think as one person moves towards the center, my hope would be that the other does as well. That as a coach begins to move towards coaching, that teachers would start to move towards that as well — by peer coaching is what I mean. And the percentages that are in there, you know, we’ve had that conversation in the program that I used to be in prior to where I work now, how much time should be spent in that peer coaching? Because the reality is, coaches get pulled in many different directions and they might spend some of their time and mentoring with new staff members. You know, you definitely don’t want to let a new staff member flounder. There are some good practices that they may just not know that will help them in the short term and establish good patterns of practice that will be helpful to them moving forward.

Kevin: 16:20 And there are some supervision types of things with school requirements and legislation and things like that and sometimes the coach is pulled in to be a part of that. But if the majority of your time is spent in those supervision types of activities, then it begins to reinforce a culture in the school of that’s what the coach does. And you know, the coach is kind of a compliance officer or a, you know, a checker of things that are getting done. And so, Jim Knight in his coaching certification process that he’s recently began to do, requires documenting that 70% of the coach’s time is spent in coaching cycles or learning cycles and that, that’s a co-teacher co-coach directed process. Diane Sweeney suggests 60%, I believe, in one of the blogs on her site. So the amount, you know, down to the exact percentage is not important, but the idea is that the majority of the time is spent in that peer coaching process with teachers and that that reinforces and builds the culture that you want for coaching to continue to happen.

Steve: 17:38 Yeah, I was just going to jump on that concept of the culture piece because I frequently described that a main role of the coach is to create and build that coaching culture within the school, which leads more and more to teachers coaching teachers. It was really interesting — we just produced a video clip for an international school in China that’s working on coaching with me over the last two years. And so we produced a video tape from two different buildings of me doing a coaching cycle with the teacher and the two teachers sat in the room together as we did it. And when we got to the end, the realization was that they were both pretty interested and had me coach them on the same thing. And I was able to invite them to turn to each other now and continue the coaching cycle as I moved away from it, which is really the culture we want to get to.

Kevin: 18:40 Right.

Steve: 18:40 Kevin, you built a foundation across the bottom of your diagram. I’m wondering if you’d talk about that a little bit?

Kevin: 18:51 Sure. So, all of these processes don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re built upon other processes, other procedures, things that should be in place and so, really the foundation at the bottom is meant to try to identify what are some of those pieces of school environment that should be in place for a coaching program to be successful and to allow us to have a balanced approach where we focus the majority of our time on peer coaching with other teachers. And so, the first component is administrator capacity. And by administrator capacity, I mean, the administrators have a very clear vision and understanding of what coaching is meant to be. There’s quite a bit within the research when you look at it — at coaching programs, that identifies, if you have an administrator who strongly understands coaching and promotes it and helps to build the structures in a school that enable it to happen, the program will have a better opportunity of being successful.

Kevin: 20:05 If you have an administrator who maybe doesn’t understand coaching as well and might ask the coach to do some things that would fall more towards the evaluation end of the scale, that may be a detriment to the coach’s success with teachers. And so, the program – in experiences that I have seen success with administrators, they have oftentimes been coached themselves. They’ve participated in administrative coaching programs where they’ve had a coach of their own, that has helped them think about their leadership of the building or instructional practices within their building. And once they’ve experienced that, it really helps to roll that out with their own building.

Steve: 20:52 They get it, yep.

Kevin: 20:53 Right, yes.

Kevin: 20:54 And then coach capacity is the next element of the foundation. And by coach capacity, I mean the technical skill of the coach and the approaches that they need to use within coaching. So they understand about good coaching practices. They know how to have a pre-conference. They know how to collect data. They know how to have a post conference. They know how to paraphrase what a person is saying. All of those skills that good coaches need to have. And that takes ongoing training and intentional training for coaches because those are not the types of skills that we come out of teacher ed programs knowing how to do.

Steve: 21:35 And best, coaching. Coaching of the coach.

Kevin: 21:39 Right. Absolutely. And then, teacher collaboration is the next part of the foundation. And what I’ve noticed over almost 10 years in coaching is that when coaching goes well, they’re often is already a focus on professional learning communities that’s more than superficial. There’s already a process in place where teachers understand what it means to work together, to collaborate. There’s already a sense of respect and vulnerability amongst teachers on a team so that they’re able to have those open and honest conversations. And that’s often a helpful component for coaching programs. And then, program vision and infrastructure. So this is – this means you have a clear understanding of what your coaching program is meant to be. You spent that time thinking about the philosophical underpinning of your program. Because the reality is, it’s too easy, too often to get pulled in many different directions. Schools get – they have to do everything all at once. And administrators are overwhelmed and teachers are overwhelmed. And so, sometimes, they just look for who has the time to lead this process, or who has the time to do this task? And it’s easy to get busy but not be effective.

Steve: 23:05 Absolutely. I described that any effective coach has to be pretty good at saying no because you’re going to get more requests than you can possibly handle and so, it’s gotta be prioritized by the coach principal partnership, by the goals of the school, the goals of the program. Yep.

Kevin: 23:27 Absolutely. And the infrastructure is the second part of that. So is there – are there structures in place in a school environment that allow coaching to happen? For example, sometimes, you know, schools will employ part time coaches. So somebody is a part time coach, they’re a part time teacher. And that might be effective for that particular school as long as teachers are able to access that coach at the times that they need to. So if you have two part time coaches, and they both coach in the morning, you know, that could create a structure where a teacher in the afternoon isn’t able to access that resource. So thinking purposefully about about how you allocate your resources, how you structure your time, how you develop that collaborative time for teachers and coaches to work together during the day. It also includes things like clear job descriptions, job roles, job agreements. I think the more clarity there is upfront with staff and the less mystery they have about what the coach is and what they do, the more effective the program.

Steve: 24:36 Well, I’ve recommended starting each school year with the continuum going up on the board and your continuum would go up well at the beginning of each year to just review and make sure that new people coming into the building have an understanding of the different roles that the instructional coach can and will play.

Kevin: 24:58 Right. And then the last one is school culture. And this one is harder to get your arms wrapped around because it’s so much more abstract than the other things. You know, you can’t really put a handout up on the overhead and say this is the culture the way you can with some of these other foundational components. And so I think the culture – you know it when you feel it. When you go to a faculty meeting and you observe, is everybody engaged, is this a meaningful conversation, are we collaboratively thinking and processing together or are people, you know, checking papers in the back of the room as the principal is speaking up front? So this is an intentional and I think, you know, years-long process where you have to look at — what do we believe as a school? How do we ensure those beliefs are carried out? How do we hold each other accountable to those beliefs? And I’ve watched a school do that before and it’s very powerful when they go through that process and create the culture that they intentionally want to have. But it’s an intentional process. You can’t – it doesn’t just happen on its own typically and that’s important as well too.

Steve: 26:17 The bottom line, driving piece of the culture for me is that student success trumps everything. So my willingness to be vulnerable, my willingness to take on a task here that is less than comfortable for me gets trumped. Because if I thought my students missed an opportunity to learn over my discomfort, that’s how I know I’m off the mark.

Kevin: 26:52 Yes. Can I add one more thought?

Steve: 26:55 Please do. Please do.

Kevin: 26:58 So as I’m looking at the continuum, what I don’t want to do is give the impression that what the teachers are doing on the right hand is necessarily bad with the exception of indifference. I don’t think that consultation or information gathering are bad in the same way that supervision and mentoring are not bad. I think there is a defined a time and a purpose for each of those particular activities that teachers or coaches may engage in. I think the only danger is if we live in one of those boxes too often and we don’t come back to the peer coaching at the center,

Steve: 27:31 You’re right on. You’re just right on with that, Kevin. Um, and, and to me it makes so much sense because it does create the balance. Just like the coach shouldn’t spend too much time in mentoring and supervision, you want to move into that peer spot. The teachers shouldn’t spend too much time in consultation or information gathering.

Kevin: 27:50 Right.

Steve: 27:51 Well, Kevin, thank you so much. I am really glad that you forwarded this to me and got me engaged.

Kevin: 28:02 Yeah, thank you so much. I appreciate the chance. I learn something new every time I talk to you, so…

Steve: 28:07 Well, I’ve learned a lot new from talking to you. So, you know, I always kind of try to point that out to people, when they say every time they hear me, they learned something new. I said, I hope that’s partly because I learned something in between the two times that you heard me and it’s influenced what I’m saying. All right, listen, you have a great day and thanks again.

Kevin: 28:26 Thank you.

Steve: 28:27 Bye Bye.

Steve [Outro]: 28:29 Thanks for listening folks. I’d love to hear what your pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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