I figure this is a good time of year to declare my hopes and wishes related to coaching--specifically to coaching that could transform schools--and so here’s my short list that only needs the wave of a magic wand.
1. Leadership Coaching: I wish that all principals had coaches. I wish that all leaders--site leaders, central office leaders, superintendents, teacher leaders--anyone in a formal leadership role--had coaches. If I had to rank my wishes, this would be first, above the wish that teachers had coaches. Yes, I think that our schools would make far faster and greater growth if leaders had coaches because they make so many decisions and those decisions have an affect on teachers and students and if those leaders had a coach who could help them think through those decisions we might be a in better place.
To clarify: I don’t think that the leaders necessarily make bad decisions alone, I think that they have very little time to think, that they have far too many things to think about, and that they (just like everyone) need a “thinking partner,” a confidential, neutral partner with whom they can talk through what’s on their plate. I also know that site leaders are some of the most overwhelmed people I’ve ever met in schools. The range of what they have to manage is extensive, the skill set they need to hold and master is vast--it’s far too much for one or two people to do. They deserve a coach. And if I was the czar of schools, I’d allocate funds for them to have coaches first. A highly skilled masterful leadership coach with whom they meet once a week.
2. New Teachers: I wish that all new teachers had coaches--for at least two years, once a week. Coaches who are highly trained, of course, coaches who have a vast range of skills to support new teachers in their instructional practices, in understanding the content they’re teaching, in figuring out curriculum, in developing deep relationships with students and the families and communities to which they belong, in refining their cultural competence, and in cultivating the emotional resilience necessary to weather the turbulence of working in schools. I wish that all new teachers felt that their coach was essential in helping them figure out who they are as teachers and who they want to be, who their students are and who their students need them to be. I wish I could walk into the classroom of every new teacher and see his/her coach sitting on the side, scripting student talk, taking notes, capturing video, so that the teacher could reflect on his/her practice. I wish I could hear new teachers talking to their coach about their beliefs and values, and being supported to explore those beliefs and values in the context of their classroom. And just to clarify: I wish this coaching had nothing to do with the teacher’s evaluation and was completely confidential.
3. Developing Teachers: I wish that all fourth year teachers had coaches. My fourth year of teaching was the hardest. Once I figured out the basics and got past the overwhelm, I could see with the sharpest and most frightening acuity all the gaps in my teaching practice, all the things I didn’t know how to do, and all the ways in which I wasn’t serving my students. I struggled through that year and contemplated quitting but then the following year I got my first coach and everything changed. My coach guided me in an inquiry project around reading and I saw my instructional practices in the newest and most interesting ways. I had never felt as engaged in teaching, as energized, and that year my students made huge leaps in their reading abilities.
All teachers need and deserve coaches--but perhaps if more of us in our early developing stage worked with coaches we’d push past that difficult bump and become really strong, masterful teachers. It’s been said that it takes 5-7 years of practice (with on-going feedback) to become really good at something. Teachers in their 4th-7th years need coaches. I can only imagine how many masterful, energized and committed teachers we’d have in our schools if teachers had the support to work out the rough edges of our practice.
4. PD for Coaches: I wish that all coaches had six hours a week of professional development, planning and reflection time. Plus a week at each end of the school year. It’s crazy crazy that so many coaches are asked to do something on which they’ve had no training, about which they have little knowledge (because working with adult learners is different in some key ways than working with children and just because you were a great classroom teacher it doesn’t mean you can coach another adult!). And so giving coaches two hours a month (if that!) does not make them masters nor does it make their work transformational and especially if they’re also doing testing coordination and yard duty and teaching one class. So PD for coaches also encompasses narrowing and articulating their roles, (let them just be coaches!) and then providing the time, space, and learning to become really good coaches. Which of course means that someone needs to facilitate this learning (someone who knows about coaching). And oh, one more wish to sneak in here--I wish that coaches were not evaluated by their principals and that there is someone who evaluates them and that their evaluation based on coaches skills.
5. Research on Coaching: I wish that someone would do a study of transformational instructional and leadership coaching (the kind of coaching I practice and promote)--someone with clout and control groups and publishing abilities. Because we need to have valid “research” that says that this kind of coaching WORKS. I know it works. But there aren’t enough research studies out there saying it too--and some folks just need that kind of validation. Which is fine, I get it and agree, and that’s why I wish that someone would conduct a thorough research study of transformational coaching. Because I also agree that a haphazard, random approach to coaching is a waste of time and that there’s a lot of ineffective, undeveloped coaching models out there, and a lot of coaching that doesn’t work.
6. Equity: I wish that all coaches were coaches for equity. Because of what I said in my last post. Because our most vulnerable children need us to advocate for them, and coaching for equity is one way we can do this. Because our country and our world need this of us. Because it’s the right thing to do. (Next post will be “How Do We Coach for Equity?”)
Now, anyone got that magic wand? Or I’ll be satisfied with just a connection to a research institution that would like me to consult on a research project on transformational coaching. Let me know.
The opinions expressed in The Art of Coaching Teachers 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.