Every coaching situation is unique and requires a variety of tools and techniques. However, using a structure to guide the coaching process is a key factor for success. In the following excerpt from Chapter 4 of The Definitive Guide to Instructional Coaching: Seven Factors for Success, Jim Knight provides an example of a simple but powerful coaching structure, the Impact Cycle:
The Partnership Principles suggest a way of being for coaches, but coaches also need a structure for coaching conversations. The Impact Cycle, a deceptively simple instructional coaching cycle, is one such structure. There are three stages to the Impact Cycle— Identify, Learn, and Improve. Before diving into the Impact Cycle, coaches should have a Pre-Cycle Conversation to set up coaching for success.
Like most things in life, coaching is most likely to succeed when it gets off to a good start. For this reason, the coach should have a short conversation with the collaborating teacher before they dive into the coaching cycle.
First impressions shape all future impressions, so during this conversation, the coach should listen with empathy, affirm rather than judge, and communicate that she believes in the teacher and truly wants what’s best for him. The coach should start by encouraging the teacher to discuss any concerns or questions he may have. After addressing these, the coach should summarize the stages of the Impact Cycle, explain the confidentiality policy, and clarify that the teacher decides on his own what to implement in his classroom. The coach should explain that she is there to help the teacher achieve his goals, not to impose her own ideas on the teacher. Throughout the pre-cycle con- versation, the coach should frequently ask the teacher if he has any questions.
Next, the coach should explain the Impact Cycle in greater detail by going through each item on a checklist summarizing it. She should explain each action on the list, confirm that the teacher understands it, and then ask if the teacher wants to do the action as described or modify it in some way. To be able to explain the cycle clearly, the coach needs to have a deep understanding of each of its stages and steps.
- Teacher gets a clear picture of current reality by watching a video of his lesson or by reviewing observation data (video is best).
- Teacher works with coach to answer the Identify questions and identify a goal.
- Teacher identifies a student-focused goal.
- Coach shares a checklist for the chosen teaching strategies.
- Coach prompts the teacher to modify the practice if the teacher wishes.
- Teacher chooses an approach to modeling that he would like to observe and identifies a time to watch modeling.
- Coach provides modeling in one or more formats.
- Teacher sets a time to implement the practice.
- Teacher implements the practice.
- Teacher or coach gathers data (in class or while viewing video) on student progress toward to the goal.
- Teacher or coach gathers data (in class or while viewing video) on teacher’s implementation of the practice (usually on the previously viewed checklist).
- Teacher and coach meet to confirm direction and monitor progress.
- Teacher and coach make adaptations and plan next actions until the goal is met.
After the teacher has reviewed the checklist and received answers to all his questions, the coach and teacher should make a plan for the next six weeks, identifying when each of the steps of the cycle will occur. I think it is best if coach and teacher determine the exact dates when each activity will occur. As Denise Brennan-Nelson (2005) has written, “‘someday’ is not a day of the week.”
Lastly, after the meeting, the coach should send a detailed email to the collaborating teacher restating key ideas (for example, about confidentiality and decision making) and listing all the cycle steps and when she hopes to complete them.
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