When first introduced to the term “coaching” in the educational context around a decade ago, I questioned its validity-immediately connecting the concept to athletics. My commitment to becoming an educational coach through targeted professional development, research, and direct coaching experience has, over time, made the doubter (that I was) into the cheerleader I am now. I have observed how coaching transforms struggling classroom teachers into more confident and skillful professionals and how adept teachers grow more confident in their practice by working with a coach. Today I am convinced of the validity of coaching when applied to the field of education and the value of coaching to support, grow and retain teachers.
What is Coaching?
Coaching is about providing differentiated professional development to teachers to improve student learning. Effective coaching, no matter which model is used, includes these elements:
rapport between coach and teacher
effective questioning and wait time
paraphrasing and feedback
Coaches work with teachers individually and tailor their support to meet each person’s needs. Therefore hearing each teacher’s voice, needs, and concerns is essential to the efficacy of coaching.
Why is coaching effective?
Coaching creates a symbiotic relationship that promotes systemic change helping teachers to grow, regardless of where they are in their careers. Paramount to success is a coach’s ability to build trust and rapport, question, practice wait time, paraphrase, and engage in nonjudgmental conversation while conveying a desire to learn from each other. Unlike evaluating or consulting, coaching promotes collaboration between the teacher and the coach. The coach is not making the decisions; the teacher is. The coach is asking the questions for thought, observing to provide feedback based on the evidence, and modeling when asked to provide support. Both the coach and teacher grow as continuous learners and work as collaborators to increase teacher self-efficacy and capacity. Coaching guides teachers to make discoveries about their craft and to take ownership of their plans and outcomes. Studies agree that coaching questions and feedback guide teachers to self-reflect. This process leads teachers to take proprietorship over their decision-making and problem-solving capacity to improve classroom instruction (Toll, 2014; Wall & Palmer, 2015). An effective coach and a willing teacher make a team for growth and success.
Coaching is for all.
Coaching is an effective form of professional development for classroom teachers, regardless of their years of experience, their level of content knowledge, whether they have a fixed or growth mindset, or their instructional or managerial skill set.
“No matter how long you have been teaching, you are still in the game. The game changes over time, but you need to stay in the game. Every teacher needs a coach.” -- Robin Taylor, 27- Year Veteran Teacher with Hampton District One
Great teachers can become stagnant in their practice, and young and/or inexperienced teachers may become discouraged or leave education altogether without coaching support. Coaching conversations open the doors for teachers to recognize their strengths while discovering their areas for growth. Questioning paves the way for teachers to reflect and make their own instructional decisions regarding the next steps for improving their practice. Evidence from follow-up observations and feedback empowers teachers to monitor and adjust their thinking and actions for continuous learning and improvement.
As a coach and an advocate, I have found coaching to be a more systemic “change agent” for classroom teachers than large group workshops. Jack Hutto, Hampton District One’s Federal Director, affirms this assertion. “Hampton One [began its coaching] initiative 15 years ago with Cognitive Coaching. It led to a sustained teacher leader infrastructure across the district…. Coaching is essential in supporting teachers and systemically changing the educational environment in our district.