In my work, I meet a lot of coaches who are struggling because they can’t seem to fit what they do into their model for coaching. Sometimes this conflict arises because coaches have learned to be facilitative coaches when they are expected to be dialogical coaches. I’ve written about this here.
An equally significant challenge is when coaches are expected to provide technical support, but they are applying an instructional coaching model to their work. For that reason, I think it is important to break down this distinction.
Instructional coaches, at least as I define them, partner with teachers to identify a clear picture of reality, often using video, a goal, and a teaching strategy that can be implemented to hit the goal. Then, instructional coaches help teachers learn the new strategy through clear descriptions, often enhanced with the use of checklists, and modeling that strategy, which can happen in many different ways, including in the class room, watching another teacher, co-teaching, and watching video. Finally, instructional coaches collaborate with teachers to help them make adaptations until the goal is met. Simply put, instructional coaches help teachers set and hit powerful, student-focused goals. You can watch videos of teachers going through the cycle with me here.
People who provide technical support do not focus on student-focused goals; they focus on helping teachers learn a new teaching strategy, or set of strategies, such as a literacy or math program, a model for promoting positive behavior in the classroom, or a model for enhancing content so that it is more accessible to all learners. Simply put, those who provide technical support help teachers master a teaching strategy or program.
As we explain in our workshops (see below for more information), there is a lot of overlap between technical support and instructional coaching. To help teachers master new strategies, people providing technical support use checklists, when appropriate, to more clearly describe strategies. They provide modeling (offered in a number of different ways), and they use video to help teachers deepen their understanding and fluency of whatever strategy is being learned.
Like instructional coaches, those providing technical support, also see themselves as partners with teachers, and they use effective communication strategies, such as effective listening, affirmation (rather than moralistic judgment), demonstrating empathy, and fostering trust.
Technical support will likely fail if teachers are told what to do and expected to simply do it. A more effective and humane approach is to honor the professionalism of teachers by doing the following:
- Involve teachers in all decisions about what programs or teaching strategies are being adopted by a school or district. This means authentic involvement where teachers are listened to and truly involved in decisions.
- Give teachers control of the way in which technical support proceeds. Let teachers decide what kind of support (video, modeling, visiting other teachers) helps them best.
- Keep the focus on student learning and well-being rather than the strategy, by basing decisions about implementation on what students do not on what a checklist says.
- Recognize that one-size does not fit all when it comes to student learning and partnering with teachers, so they can modify practices to meet student needs.
- Let go of the need to control what others do, and embrace the opportunity to learn with teachers, by letting them make most of the decisions in their classroom.
- Seek out, embrace and learn from teacher feedback. Remember, teachers know more about their students than anyone else.
Whenever possible, I think instructional coaching is superior to technical support because it recognizes the complexities of human motivation. But sometimes coaches need to help teachers learn specific strategies before coaching can begin. In those cases, something like technical support may be what would be most helpful to teachers.
You can learn more about instructional coaching and its relationship to technical support by clicking the links below.