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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Even Instructional Coaches Need Coaching

By Peter DeWitt — November 22, 2015 4 min read

Coaching is about empowering, not enabling.

In the best case scenarios instructional coaches (IC) are the professionals who walk into classrooms and work with teachers on continuous improvement. In Jim Knight’s coaching model, coaches co-construct goals with teachers in the first part of the cycle which is labeled “Identify.” Teachers are typically the ones who choose the goals, but sometimes they need assistance finding an area to work on.

The next step is for coaches to partner with teachers through the “Learning” phase, which means finding resources, modeling lessons or co-teaching (knight). The learning aspect of Knight’s instructional improvement cycle is to partner on those various aspects of learning, and not for coaches to do all of the work. Coaching is about empowering, not enabling.

The last step of the cycle is to focus on improvement. Improving is just one part of the of the “improve” aspect of coaching. Improving isn’t just about hitting a goal, it’s about gathering evidence to prove the goal has been met. Knight suggests using PEERS goals in order to maximize this stage of the cycle.

As a Instructional Coaching trainer for Knight, I have had the good fortune to work with coaches and leaders who want to understand their impact on teacher instruction and student learning. They use video cameras or smartphones to video their instructional coaching sessions with teachers (with teacher permission). Coaches want to see how they interact with the teachers they try to support.

But coaches sometimes need more than a video camera. Sometimes they need honest feedback and coaching from someone else. Instructional coaches need to provide great feedback to teachers, but they need to get feedback as well.

Conference Session Gone Wrong

Recently, I was presenting at a conference. I had a few different sessions to present on over two days, and although the first one went well, the second one bombed for at least a 1/2 dozen people in the audience. I know this because of the feedback forms that were handed in. One person filled it out before they left early.

The first time you see the checkmark next to “Poor” hurts a bit.

Unlike teaching, when we present we don’t always have the opportunity to go into a class the next day and show the students we can do better. At conferences, participants walk away with a different perspective than when they walked in. Sometimes those perspectives have changed for the better, and other times for the worse.

It’s the people who walk out feeling worse that bruises the ego.

As I read through the feedback the first time, “Ouch,” came to mind. To be honest, I have never received negative feedback from that many people. The second time I read through the feedback didn’t make me feel any better. Truth be told, it made me feel worse because no one will be harder on me than...me.

On the third read-through I saw some common themes develop. I broke some cardinal rules when it came to presenting. It wasn’t even a rookie mistake because I’m not a rookie. I guess the number of years of experience of teaching will not always prevent us from making rookie mistakes.

I want to cringe as I list them here. The major issues were that I:


  • Read from my slides - Yes, I read the words on the slides.
  • Had too many words on slides
  • Talked for a majority of the 90 minutes with only asking for questions twice.
  • Didn’t allow time for people to get up and move around to connect and learn from others, and offered two times to turn and talk
  • Gave too much information in too little time

There were many feedback forms that were 100% positive, so the truth is that a many of the audience members left happy. They wrote feedback about how they learned new information, and had tools to walk away with that will help how they teach or lead. But to be happy with 75% of the audience being satisfied would be like saying it’s ok that we don’t get through to every student in our classrooms or every teacher in our buildings.

The lesson learned for me is that I need to trust my instincts. I knew I was talking too much, and every time I went to read a slide I thought in the back of my mind that it was a mistake. But, instead of listening to my inner voice I kept moving forward to get the slides completed in the allotted time. I needed someone to say, “Don’t do that!”

It came after the session but not during.

My Own Coaching

My friend and colleague Mayan attended the session. After it finished she sat down next to me and asked how I thought it went. I knew from the question, and my instincts, that it didn’t go well. She timed how long I talked, and asked me on a scale from 1 to 10 how I thought it went. I gave it a 4. She didn’t agree but she asked me questions on what I could do differently to hit the 9 or 10 on the 10 point scale in the future. I realized I was being coached, and it made me feel a bit better about a session gone wrong.

When I write and talk about continuous improvement, I am including myself in the dialogue I am trying to create. I cannot go back and change the experience the dozen participants had during the session, but I can certainly listen to the feedback, get over myself, and change how I present and teach in the future.

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Creative Commons Photo courtesy of Pexel.com.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.