Why are some instructional coaching programs more successful than others?
Coaches and onsite professional developers often find themselves in high-stakes, critically important roles expected to lead school reform efforts with little or no professional preparation for successfully performing such tasks. They know they are there to be leaders of change, but without the most essential factors in place, they will not be as effective as they could be. After working with more than 150,000 coaches from around the world over the last 20 years, ICG experts have identified seven factors that must be in place in order for coaches to flourish.
The way we present ourselves to others – what we do and how we act – plays an important part in the strength of our relationships. In Unmistakable Impact, Jim Knight outlines the way of being at the heart of coaching – the Partnership Principles (click each for an extended post and video): Equality, Choice, Voice, Reflection, Dialogue, Praxis, and Reciprocity. These principles help establish a strong foundation for the coaching process.
- A Coaching Process
While every coaching situation presents unique challenges, an established process for guiding the coaching experience ensures that instructional coaches have all the tools they need to help teachers set and achieve their goals. Detailed in Jim Knight’s book, The Impact Cycle, the Impact Cycle coaching process is the product of 20 years of ICG research and provides a framework for any coaching scenario.
Its three main stages – Identify, Learn, and Improve – help both coach and teacher through identifying a clear picture of reality and setting goals, learning how to implement strategies to meet the goals, and reviewing the results to make any necessary adjustments. The process provides structure to ensure that essential tasks are being addressed, but also leaves room for adaptation to suit the specific needs of each teacher, coach, and situation.
- Teaching Strategies
When going through the coaching cycle, there can be so many factors at play and so much new information coming to light that it’s easy to be overwhelmed. But a central focus of instructional coaching is partnering with teachers to modify their instruction to meet student-focused goals. This is why providing resources to help teachers implement new strategies is such an essential part of a coach’s work. One of the most effective resources for implementing high-impact teaching strategies is an instructional playbook.
An instructional playbook is a simple resource made up of the following three parts:
- A one-page list of high-impact teaching strategies
- A one-page description for each of the strategies
- Checklists to help facilitate the practices contained in the playbook
For more on instructional playbooks, pre-order The Instructional Playbook: The Missing Link for Translating Research into Practice!
- Gathering Data
Data is important within coaching because it provides a way to identify goals and monitor progress. Goals need to be measured frequently so that teachers can determine if what they are doing is working or if adjustments need to be made. Using video to gather data is one of the most effective methods, and Focus on Teaching by Jim Knight is the first book on using video for this purpose.
Data can be gathered for two main focuses for coaching – student engagement and student achievement. It is important to consider three different types of engagement – behavioral, cognitive, and emotional – in addition to measuring student achievement to get a full and clear picture of reality.
- Communication Beliefs & Habits
Since coaching is, above all, a series of conversations, coaches need to be effective communicators. They also need to employ effective coaching skills that reflect healthy beliefs about communication. In Better Conversations, Jim Knight outlines a set of Beliefs and a set of Habits that can help improve the quality of coaching conversations. Internalizing the Better Conversations Beliefs and Habits is only the first step, and it is important to develop strategies for improving. A great way to begin this process is gathering video data and reflecting on the current reality of our conversations.
Leadership can be divided into two parts: leading yourself and leading others. To lead yourself, you must know your purpose and principles, how to use your time effectively, and how to take care of yourself. To lead others, a combination of ambition and humility is needed – to be reliable and ambitious for change but at the same time responsive to teachers.
If coaches are responsive and emotionally intelligent but are disorganized or lack ambition, people won’t want to work with them. Similarly, if they are ambitious and organized but not responsive or emotionally intelligent, people won’t want to work with them. Effective coaching involves being reliable and ambitious and being humble and responsive. Both are essential.
- System Support
When coaches flourish, it is often because they work in settings where leaders are intentional and disciplined about providing the support that is required for coaching success to occur. The opposite is also true. Without support, coaches will often struggle to have any impact at all.
A number of things need to be in places for coaches to succeed, but two of the most important are administrative support and time management. When asked, most coaches identified time as the major barrier the faced. If coaches don’t have time to do the work, the work won’t get done. Coaches are often tasked with many things that can add up and interfere with their actual coaching. At the most fundamental level, coaches will struggle if their principles don’t believe in coaching or professional development. Using Role and Time Clarity Tools like the ones above can help administrators better understand coaching while also ensuring that coaches have the time they need to coach.
There are countless elements that can influence an instructional coaching program, but these seven factors have proved to be the most essential to ensure effective coaching, and improved instruction. Reviewing the questions in the document above is a simple way of determining if these seven success factors are in place.