Today’s guest author, Janice Lenarduzzi, is a Deputy Principal at MacGregor State School in Queensland, Australia. Before entering her current role, she served in a regional position on the Teaching and Learning Team in Brisbane for five years. She has also served as an instructional coach and has been instrumental in promoting instructional coaching and professional learning for educational professionals.

Several years ago, when I was an instructional coach, I was introduced to Jim Knight’s first work on instructional coaching – a partnership approach. This approach to coaching was very refreshing because I had experienced being thrown into schools and told to “fix” people. Choice and agency are extremely important to me, so Jim Knight’s work really spoke to me.

Coming into my current Deputy Principal position at MacGregor State School, the Principal asked me to focus on instructional coaching, and I couldn’t have been more excited! I needed a framework, and the timing aligned perfectly with Instructional Coaching Group’s partnership with Growth Coaching International. I took our two instructional coaches along with our Head of Curriculum to an Impact Cycle training led by GCI’s Chris Munro in February of this year, paving the way for us to implement coaching in our school.

Getting Staff Onboard with Coaching

People often have inaccurate, negative mental models of coaching, so one of my key tasks was clarifying what instructional coaching is and what it is not. Sometimes, when you say the word “coaching,” educators think it will be evaluative and inspector-like. They’re worried that you’re just going to tell them what to do.

So, I worked tirelessly to explain that coaching is about professional learning, respecting each other, and building a partnership to improve student outcomes. I repeated this message to staff any way I could – in staff meetings and year-level meetings, between classes in the staff room. Any opportunity for staff to ask questions and clarify how instructional coaching could work in their school. I even created a document (below) to share with everyone to try to clarify what coaching would look like in our school. I always stressed that it was about building them as great practitioners.

 

After the coaches were appointed and we gave staff a rundown of what was possible with instructional coaching – sharing our Impact Cycle framework – we received 23 Expressions of Interest (EOIs) from 53 classroom teachers to receive coaching. To help share the love and build knowledge about all the good coaching can do, I asked the coaches to firstly select someone from each year level out of the Expressions of Interest.

While it is all about the coachees, goals in our system are required to align to our school’s reading improvement agenda. A major focus of instructional coaching is pedagogy, and a focus at our school this year was Doug Fisher’s gradual release of responsibility. This focus was reflected in our teachers’ PEERS goals. Some goals were set around students’ collaborative learning, engagement, goal setting, and owning their learning – all determined through the coaching cycle.

 

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Collaboration, Professional Learning, & Sharing Successes

We used Jim Knight’s Impact Cycle as a starting point for our coaching process (above) and set it to a timeline that worked for us. This framework provided the process for coaches to follow, but the work didn’t stop there. Coaches must show humility and partner with teachers instead of directing them as they grow professionally and work to improve student outcomes.

To help make this new initiative thrive, we needed to hear the voices of the coachees and share their successes. This sharing was done in year-level meetings, having a coachee share their journey, and staff professional learning afternoons, when a number of coachees opened their classrooms to share their learning and student improvement. It also encouraged our ‘WOWs’ – watching others work. Teachers – and not just those being coached – often requested to go into another teacher’s room to watch for a particular purpose. As a ripple effect happened, we started to find out teachers were doing great things. This is great for teachers who often feel so isolated, to see something of interest to them in action, such as the Question Matrix being used by students in a group reading activity.

Alongside this wonderful coaching, we started a book club, using Visible Learning for Literacy by Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey and John Hattie. Everyone was welcome, and we had another wonderful group of 15 learning professionally together. The teachers committed to reading a chapter and to sharing their learning, but most importantly, to sharing how they changed their practice in the classroom by enacting their learning.

 

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Measuring Impact, Seeing Results, & Planning for the Future

With any ambitious initiative, a question looms over: How do we measure the impact? In my regional experience with schools, I learned that it is important to consider this from the beginning, so I developed a survey for teachers. It contains some questions specifically directed at our pedagogical framework and reading placemat, but the focus is on how confident teachers are and what they know. By having all staff take the survey at the beginning of the year and then repeating it at the end of the year, we were able to measure the impact of our first three terms of coaching at our school. It was very pleasing to see that 42% of all staff – even those who had not been formally coached – had changed their practice. Of the only coachees, 96% reported that they had dramatically changed their practice!

The data we gathered is only one piece of the successes our school has seen. Teachers are not scared to open their classrooms. People are excited about coaching. We already have 11 teachers lined up to start for next year. The shift in the culture has been remarkable. While there is always an incline – some people may still be nervous or hesitant – but demystifying the process and sharing successes has created a positive atmosphere where teachers are excited to improve and share their learning with each other.

It has been an amazing first year, but the work is far from over. Now that we have established a method of measuring the impact of coaching on teachers’ practice, we are currently developing ways to gather student data for next year. We saw improvements through student interviews and work samples, but now we must create scales to try to quantify the impact of coaching on student outcomes to guide our efforts in the future.

We’re only at the beginning of our instructional coaching journey at MacGregor State School, but we have seen a tremendous response and some inspiring successes. I – along with our coaches and staff – will continue to refine our approach, but we have discovered several crucial tips for anyone working to develop or improve an instructional coaching program:

  • Everything must be explicit. Not only the model – but clearing negative mental models. Walking through exactly what the process is, what coaches do throughout the day, and addressing any gossip or concerns.
  • The coachee must have agency. It’s about them. I might do guided reading very well as a coach, but who cares. It’s not about what I do, it has to be what the coachee wants. The coach and coachee must work together in a mutually respectful relationship.
  • Relationships are everything. If you don’t have someone who really shows their humility, it could all fail. Our coaches already had relationships with some teachers, but when I was a coach, I was new to a school so a massive part of my work was building relationships and trust.
  • Share successes. Whatever that looks like: a coach standing up and sharing their story, a classroom opening their doors. But whatever it is, it has to come from the coachee to be effective.
  • Value the coachee and their time. We release them from class to have a lot of our coaching conversations. This is part of the mutually respectful relationship between coach and coachee.
  • Professional learning should occur alongside coaching. Coaching is not a standalone exercise. It has to be a whole cultural shift. For instance, we started our book club to inspire deeper learning.

I hope to continue seeing the positive impact in our teachers’ practice and in our students’ lives, but there’s always more to learn. What successes and struggles have you experienced throughout a coaching cycle in your school? How have you measured the impact of coaching? What do you hope to see as you move forward?