I’ve been asked that question by new clients who have had some coaching program going on in their district and then looked at having me work with their instructional coaches, administrators or perhaps even introducing peer coaching to the staff. They want to know how my work compares to other coaching programs that they’ve read about or studied. I’m sometimes asked that question in a podcast interview so they can do an analysis of similarities and differences among programs. My usual answer to this question, is that there isn’t a Barkley Model. But I’ve realized now that if I keep giving that answer, it turns out to describe a model.
My initial work with coaching was in the area of peer coaching. I had spent all my years as a teacher working in various co-teaching settings, so coaching had always been a natural, informal part of my relationships with colleagues. It wasn’t until I became a teacher trainer and then consultant that I realized the difference in my teaching background and that of most other teachers. I began to look at how to create peer coaching programs within schools. The first book that I wrote on coaching was titled “Quality Teaching In a Culture of Coaching.” The title was very purposeful. I wanted people to see coaching as a culture rather than as an isolated activity. That it was a way of describing how we do business in the school; when issues arise, when needs arise, coaching is a tool that one would turn to for support.
My early coaching training programs focused around technical, collegial and challenge coaching as described by Robert Garmston.
- Technical coaching is often connected to professional development. A teacher would explore an instructional strategy and then when working to implement that strategy would have a peer observe and provide feedback as to the degree to which the teacher’s practices were matching with the training that had been provided.
- In collegial coaching, the relationship that developed between the teachers was the important outcome. I often recommended collegial coaching for middle school teaching teams with a common grade level. Creating peer coaching activities, would increase their knowing each other better and their ability to work effectively as a team. Similarly, I suggested collegial coaching between middle school and elementary school teachers and middle school and high school teachers to introduce the teachers to each other and begin to build an understanding of common beliefs and values.
- In challenge coaching, teachers work together in pairs or larger groups where the focus is to solve a problem or create an opportunity. Hence the term, challenge. Middle school teachers might identify a group of students that are struggling in several content areas. The teachers observe in each other’s classrooms, strategize together to come up with a plan to increase student success. An elementary teacher might ask a peer to observe students at centers during her reading block because she wants to decrease the number of students who interrupt her guided groups.
My focus was on conferencing skills so that the coach can follow the interest of the coachee, rather than implementing a “model.”
When instructional coaching appeared on the scene, I realized that instructional coaches often played different roles. At times they’re invited by the teacher to work with the teacher as a peer coach. At another time, they’re asked to work in a role that I frequently describe more like a mentor. In the peer coach role, the coach only provides feedback and information that the teacher requested. When they step into the mentor role, the coach may be providing information about a district-wide topic that’s being explored, such as questioning for critical thinking. An instructional coach might present data from student assessments. This a different role than peer coaching. Sometimes instructional coaches find themselves pushed very close to a supervisory spot, if an administrator makes a “strong” recommendation to a teacher that the teacher work with the coach. Instructional coaches need to adapt their verbal communication skills to function in each of these settings.
One element that I would say is common across all these areas of coaching is working with student production behaviors and connecting the teacher’s role in generating student learning behaviors. It’s the student learning production behaviors that produce the learner outcomes. That focus is in all the coaching strategies with which I work.
Another component that is embedded in all my work is the concept of creating a culture of coaching. It’s a task that belongs to an instructional coach. It belongs to an administrative team. It belongs to teachers, especially teachers who see themselves in any leadership role. Leaders need to model coaching and coach-ability.