Coaching is a powerful practice schools can adopt in order to provide support for their staff and encourage continuous professional growth. Like the quote states above, school leaders should aim to create a learning community for teachers that are focused on trust, collaboration, and growth. Too often teachers chat in the halls but carry out their work in the silos of their classrooms. Coaches can help remedy this situation. They play an integral part because they can come alongside teachers and meet them where they are at. Just like we wouldn’t impose a one-size-fits-all curriculum for our students, we should recognize that our teachers have varying needs, skill levels, and interests. And while PD time may provide new ideas for teachers, coaching can help transfer that knowledge back into the classroom and put it to action (Wang, 2017, p. 23).
Many people struggle to define coaching in an educational setting. That is largely due to the fact that coaching roles and responsibilities vary from school to school. There are peer coaches, instructional coaches, or coaches who work in a certain subject such as math or literacy.
“…coaches’ functions are as varied as the students and teachers they serve.”Wolpert-Gawron, 2016
So what are the key roles and responsibilities coaches and teachers assume when working together?
Let’s first start with coaches. Coaches can wear many hats….. instructor, facilitator, cheerleader, curriculum designer, analyst….. And while the list can be quite extensive, I found some reoccurring ideas when researching.
- One part of facilitating is planning and leading professional development for both large and small groups. However, the role of the facilitator can also be used in one-on-one sessions with teachers. One of the coach’s most important skills is the ability to guide the teacher through the coaching cycle and to ask meaningful questions that help a teacher reason, reflect, and refine their instructional practices.
- Coaches cannot be experts at every grade level’s standards and curriculum, but they should be skilled communicators who are experienced at lesson design, best practices, and tech integration and be able to interweave all of these components when helping teachers design curriculum and assessment (Mraz et al., 2016). Sometimes being an expert involves model teaching or observing a teacher to provide helpful feedback. In order to stay an expert, coaches must also be researchers and curators. They need dedicated time to learn new and innovative instructional practices so that they can then share with other interested staff members (Wolpert-Gawron, 2016).
- Coaches come alongside teachers to help them “plan, implement, and evaluate activities” (Foltos). To take it a step farther, they could team teach the lesson. This can be a powerful practice so that the educator can see what strong teaching looks like. This usually involves pre-teaching meetings to discuss what the goal of the lesson is, and then again afterward to reflect on what occurred, how the collaborating teacher might adopt these ideas, and what kind of support the teacher might need moving forward (Foltos, 2013, p. 5). However, the coach needs to be wary of taking on the brunt of the work and encouraging learned helplessness. The goal of the coach should always be to help the teacher build capacity. Les Foltos (2013), said it best: “Ensuring that the learner is taking responsibility for learning is a key strategy coaches use to help their peers develop the capacity to improve their teaching practices. In other words, the coach’s role is to facilitate learning” (p. 15).
- This could also be called change agent or empowerer. Coaches help “teachers reflect on and improve their practice by using question strategies and skills that assist colleagues to become effective instructional decision-makers.” (Foltos). Heather Wolpert-Gawron (2017) comments that coaches have a powerful position of influence since they can establish partnerships based on trust and respect. Teachers usually feel more comfortable opening up to a coach or TOSA (teachers on special assignment) compared to their principal, and can see best practices modeled in ways teachers can relate to. Coaches can empower teachers to try new things and help the school embrace new pedagogies and practices, such as culturally responsive teaching.
However, coaches are just one piece of the puzzle. Progress could not be accomplished without their partners, the teachers. Teachers also have specific roles and responsibilities in a successful coaching-teacher relationship.
Roles for the teacher:
- Teachers should be experienced with their grade-level standards and curriculum.
- Reflective Learner
- Teachers should be open-minded and willing to learn new things and grow. Having a growth mindset will enable them to tackle innovative practices and problem solve issues in their own classrooms. They understand that being a life-long learner is essential to meeting the diverse needs of their students and that collaboration with a coach can help them achieve their goals.
- Be okay with “failing forward” and trying new things. No one learned how to ride a bike overnight or was able to sit down at the piano and play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on their first try. Teachers too need time to perfect their craft of teaching. Like it is for all of us – learning something new takes time. This can be uncomfortable for teachers to be so vulnerable with a coach and have their “failures” visible. That is why trust is essential in the coaching-teacher relationship and teachers need to be confident in the fact that the work they do with the coach is private. Coaches can come alongside the teacher, empathize, and be their cheerleader reminding them that we really only grow when we take risks, make mistakes, and are able to learn from them. Going back to the quote at the beginning, school leaders should try their best to create a learning community that encourages risk-taking and innovative practices. Teachers need to know their administrators have their backs before they try and branch out.
“Improving instruction is a long-term, iterative process” (Foltos, 2013, p. 12). And one that we should not try to undertake alone. Our diversity and range of experience can only make us stronger if we are willing to meet at the table, have open and honest conversations, and try new things.
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek
Mraz, M., Salas, S., Mercado, L., & Dikotla, M. (2016). Teaching Better, Together: Literacy Coaching as Collaborative Professional Development. English Teaching Forum, Vol. 54 n4, p24-31. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1123196
Wang, S. (2017). “Teacher Centered Coaching”: An Instructional Coaching Model. Mid-Western Educational Researcher, Vol. 29, (1). https://www.mwera.org/MWER/volumes/v29/issue1/V29n1-Wang-VOICES-FROM-THE-CLASSROOM.pdf
Wolpert-Gawron, H. (2016, June). The Many Roles of an Instructional Coach. ASCD. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/jun16/vol73/num09/The-Many-Roles-of-an-Instructional-Coach.aspx