Cross-posted on the Eduro Learning blog

One of the challenges of the coaching role in schools is that it is often left undefined (and sometimes unsupervised and unsupported). Not only are teachers and admin unsure of what the role might be, but the coaches themselves can also struggle to identify where they should start and how they fit in to this particular school environment. Of course it doesn’t help that this job can have many different titles, so even previous experience doesn’t always help solidify understanding among the staff. In order to move things along, coaches often work together to develop their own job description and then can struggle to successfully communicate that to the rest of the school.

Having had exactly that kind of experience as a coach in previous schools, as well as watching it happen to coaching colleagues in other schools, I am especially excited about what is happening here at NIST.

Co-Constructing a Coaching Protocol for NIST

Last week, on an early release day, the ES Digital Literacy Coaches, Tosca and Brian (and to a much lesser extent, I), worked with almost the entire Elementary faculty to co-construct the coaching role at NIST. As an Elementary team, we explored coaching as a opportunity for professional growth and developed ideas for how we can successfully implement this kind of practice here in the NIST community.

Walking home from the session, I realized how absolutely awesome this is. Over the past 15 years, I’ve been in a coaching position at 5 previous schools, and I’ve defined my role at all of those schools, either independently or with a team, but I have never had the opportunity to co-create it with teachers before. It seems so obvious now that they should be part of the process, they are the ones being coached, after all, but I had never been given the opportunity (or even thought to ask, mostly because I was so desperate for the definition myself).

Key Takeaways

Although we ran a little short on time during the session, I think the experience was valuable for so many reasons:

  • Teachers were so engaged! It was their third presentation of the day, after school, sitting in the same room, on a rainy Thursday afternoon before a long weekend. I know that teachers are amazing, and that the staff here at NIST are exceptionally professional, but this was seriously impressive. The conversations I heard, and the thinking that came from each group was genuine, deep and relevant.
  • It was challenging. Through their conversations and within the activities we planned, teachers recognized that coaching is not an easy role to define, but it’s one we all have high expectations for. There is a need for this conversation to happen.
  • It was inclusive. We’re all in it together. This was a great opportunity to recognize that coaching is successful when we are all part of the process. Teachers need to feel comfortable enough to initiate dialogue with coaches, coaches need to build rapport and trust so that they know their staff well enough to collaborate effectively, and admin need to understand the role to be able to support everyone else in the process.

The Planning Process

As we were planning this session the previous week, we had a few key priorities:

  • The first was to ensure that the definition and process of coaching comes from the teachers, to ensure that the understanding of what coaching is, and what coaches do at NIST, is a collaborative creation between all stakeholders.
  • The second was to give teachers an opportunity to see coaching in action. All three of us have been trained in Cognitive Coaching with Bill and Ochan Powell, and really enjoyed the way they model a Cognitive Coaching conversation in their sessions. Plus, the majority of the ES staff has been through the training as well, so we thought that would be a great way to demonstrate what coaching can look like in a short timeframe to give teachers a model to work from during their conversations.
  • The third goal was to ensure that we provided research-based resources that highlight the coaching process so that teachers can build the NIST model based on sound practices from around the world.
  • The final goal was to highlight the positive power of coaching through personal connections. Sometimes coaching is perceived as a criticism of what teachers are doing, rather than an opportunity for continual self improvement and reflection. For this, we really wanted to use the New Yorker article, Personal Best, but at 18 pages, we just couldn’t fit it into the time frame we had…

Structuring the Session

Part 1: Access Prior Knowledge

We started with a brief intro and this short video. Then, we asked teachers to remember a time in their life when they have been coached. Not as a teacher, but as a learner, and particularly something non-academic. They then documented a positive coaching experience on a post-it note to come back to later.

Part 2: Model

One of the wonderful NIST grade 2 teachers, Colleen, and I, modeled a coaching conversation in front of the staff. Colleen had a particular concern she had been struggling with and was brave enough to come up in front of the whole staff to share. As we talked, I wanted to make sure that her learning goal for her students was the starting point for our conversation, followed by an opportunity for the coach to observe in her classroom, and then an offer to model a lesson or co-teach with Colleen.

Part 3: Jigsaw Read

We had participants split into new table groups to read one section of an article on coaching by Jim Knight. Then they did a jigsaw into mixed groups to report back about their section. The article highlighted four aspects of coaching that we thought were critical for teachers to understand: collaboration, observation, modeling and support.

Part 4: Create Protocol

In their new groups, after they had shared the key highlights from their section, we asked the groups to create a protocol (a visual model) for what coaching could look like at NIST, based on their prior knowledge and experience with coaching, the conversation they watched between me and Colleen, and the article they discussed.

Since protocols are a big part of learning in the Elementary School at NIST, we knew teachers would be comfortable with the concept and the terminology. They had big butcher paper and spent about 20 minutes creating visual models of the coaching process. It definitely wasn’t enough time, but as I walked around the room I could hear some great conversations.

Part 5: Reflect

Before transitioning into a new session (yes, that’s 4 sessions in one afternoon for these teachers), we asked if there were any key highlights from their discussion, here’s what they said:

  • It’s hard to decide where this starts and ends. It can go many different directions.
  • With only two coaches and 90 teachers, it makes sense for the team to identify needs and then approach the coaches.
  • Everything starts with teacher self-reflection.

Next Steps

This is really just the beginning of the conversation, but it was a very powerful one. Teachers have now had some time to really think about how the coaches can best support them, and what this model can look like in this context.

If we are able to have time with the staff again, we’d like to come back to these initial ideas and further discuss, refine and reflect. We would like to:

  • Set out the big butcher paper at separate tables around the room and ask teachers to walk around in teams to review each one. Give them about 2 – 3 minutes at each table to chat about the visual and leave comments. Allow each group to see each protocol and leave comments.
  • Have teams highlight items that they had not considered when creating their own protocol and their current thinking about those ideas.
  • Have teams discuss and then share the common elements of each protocol and/or new relevant ideas so that we can ensure that those elements are part of the final creation.
  • It would be great to follow this up with an I used to think… Now I think… Visible Thinking routine to see if teachers have further developed their understanding of the coaching process.

Once we have all of the feedback and ideas from the teachers, Tosca and Brian can review all of the protocols and develop one that meets the needs of the teachers, students and admin at the school. With the purposeful use of protocols at NIST, it seems like this process will fit in very well with the school culture. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how it turns out!

Your Thoughts?

Have you ever developed a coaching protocol, process or model with the teaching staff at your school? Or been part of the process? How did it work? Was it more successful than already having a model in place?

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