My Take Aways
This quarter has been very formative and has expanded my thoughts about coaching. Here are some of my big take-aways:
- First and foremost, take time to develop relationships. Just like in a classroom, you won’t make much headway helping students learn if you do not take the time to get to know your students. Slow down now so that you can speed up later.
- A trusting relationship is vital to coaching work. It is important when working with teachers to highlight that it is a partnership and that you are excited to learn from them too. Coaches also need to be humble and empathetic, caring about the whole teacher – not just getting a job completed.
- Before this quarter I hadn’t taken time to really think through the coaching roles before: expert, facilitator, collaborator, and catalyst. These roles have redefined how I see coaching. Before I usually operated as an expert. I loved solving people’s problems and offering solutions, advocating for a specific technology, or sharing stories from my own time in the classroom. But effective coaching comes from facilitating reflection and asking questions that guide teachers in making their own conclusions. This builds sustainable teaching when an educator is able to make critical decisions and pursue their own professional growth. Coaching is also about being a cheerleader and helping teachers build their own capacity whether that is through collaborating, modeling, co-teaching, or observations. I realized coaching is a lot more about listening than about talking.
- Finally, before this fall I had never heard of a Coaching Plan. Coaching Plans are a way to set clear expectations for all parties – administration, coaches, and teachers. It addresses key issues like how “the coaching aligns with school or district goals, who the coach will collaborate with, and how the school will provide for the resources coaches need to be successful” (Foltos, 2013, p. 58). The Coaching Plan can help lay the groundwork for a successful year and help everyone feel comfortable once goals and expectations are identified and clearly communicated. I think this will be a very helpful document to have next time I am in an official coaching position.
Practice Makes Perfect
While learning more about effective coaching I had the opportunity to put it into practice. I partnered with a friend who teaches K-2 Art to collaborate on improving a lesson. One of my first goals was to build trust. Our first meeting was in person at a local French bakery and cafe. We spent the first half an hour or so just catching up. It was so fun to hear how she’s doing, especially with distance learning. Conversation flowed naturally and I think having a casual conversation was an important step in developing a relationship and building trust. I was able to listen and empathize with how hard this school year has been. We are also both currently working on our masters, so we connected over that too. During our meeting, Sonja shared that she is creating her own art curriculum. In the past, she has taught units that cover the 7 elements of art. Now she is developing a more formal scope and sequence for her lessons and also aligning them to Washington’s Art Standards. This is a large undertaking and she said it would be helpful to work together on creating a new lesson on form. She explained that form can be a very challenging concept for little kids and thought it would be beneficial to collaborate together on how to teach it via distance learning and also make sure it was connecting to the overarching standards. We ended up creating a two-part lesson where students will learn more about sculptures and then design their own paper sculpture as a representation of 3-d art. We used their learning management system, SeeSaw, as a way to amplify student voice and give the class an authentic audience for their artwork. It was very fun to work through the lesson improvement process with Sonja and I think we are both very proud of the product.
Throughout our time collaborating I tried to practice the various communication skills we were learning about in my graduate course. During our first meeting we set norms for our time working together. I have never used norms before so it felt strange at first. We opened each sequential meeting reviewing our norms and it was a great way to set professional expectations for our work time and create a safe and respectful work environment. I also intentionally tried to practice paraphrasing and asking clarifying questions as she shared. Probing questions were harder for me, but I’m sure they will become more second nature with more coaching experience. I also tried to be intentional when working together to practice active listening by taking notes and show that I was interested and engaged with my body language by leaning forward, smiling, making eye contact, and gesturing. It was helpful having an opportunity right away to practice these communication skills. I can see why it is imperative for coaches to have excellent collaboration and communication skills when working with other teachers.
While this quarter has definitely changed how I view coaching, I know I still have much to learn. I am excited to continue sharpening my coaching skills by reading specific books, like The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar, and also participate in OSPI’s Best Mentor Academy.
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.