Mention the term “instructional coaching” in a room full of educators, and you’ll hear as many different interpretations of what that term means as you have employee ID badges in the room. Jim Knight coined that term many years ago, and he defined it, too:

Instructional coaches partner with teachers to
-analyze current reality in the classroom,
-set goals,
-identify and explain teaching strategies to meet those goals,
-and provide support until the goal is met.

Other labels (mentor, expert, specialist) are often conflated with instructional coaching even though those labels have a top-down approach instead of our partnership approach.

Other tasks (technical support, PLC organization and leadership, professional development organization and leadership) are often conflated with instructional coaching even though those tasks have a top-down approach instead of our partnership approach.

Other jobs (lead teacher, team leader, content coordinator, supervisor) often have “instructional coach” added to their list of duties even though they often don’t have the time available to engage in coaching as we describe it.

It’s no wonder, then, that confusion abounds about what instructional coaching looks like, how to evaluate its effectiveness, and how to ensure its success. Thus, one of a coach’s key roles is as the communicator of what instructional coaching is, what it is not, and what the coach needs in order to support teachers so that students and school cultures move forward. Without that communication to people at all levels in the system, role clarity goes out the window, and student success pays the price (see last week’s blog)

To be Chief Coaching Communicator, coaches need to hone their skills. They need to practice partnership (with teachers and with leadership), foster strong relationships (with teachers and with leadership), and continue learning about instruction and instructional strategies that can help teachers with their goals for students.

For our ICG coaching certification, the final entry focuses on this communicator role. Coaches demonstrate how they work with the system and how they hone their skills to aid everyone in understanding what coaches do.

ICG Certification: What Scoring Taught Us This Year about System Support

This entry was one of the first ones we scored this summer, and we noticed right away that we needed more specificity in the directions. Below are the requirements for the three elements of that entry as they now stand.

  • Directions change: Last year, we required candidates to list all of the professional development activities in which they engaged as a participant to build their capacity as coaches. The description of some of those experiences led us to see that we need to ask candidates to connect each activity directly to one of the 7 Success Factors so that our scorers can more effectively analyze the ways in which the coach has developed in the role.
  • Directions unchanged: Last year, we asked each candidate to provide completed surveys from 12 different teachers they worked with, along with the PEERS goals they set with each teacher. Each of the three goal areas (academic achievement, student engagement, and positive classroom environments [what many people call “classroom management”])must be represented by at least one of those 12 goals. Many candidate questions ensued involving the number of teachers involved, the types of goals involved, etc., but those requirements remain the same.
  • Directions change: The final element of last year’s portfolio was a letter from a school or system administrator describing the coach’s role in the school. We were not clear enough that we need that letter to describe the coach’s impact on the school (or schools), especially the impact of the coach on students. To explain that impact, the school or system leader will need to know the types of PEERS goals that the coach has worked on with teachers and whether those goals were hit. We advocate coaching as a confidential relationship between coach and teacher, but the coach can still discuss goal areas and hitting those goals with leadership without using teacher names. Our coaching research shows the connection between coaching and improved classroom achievement and improved classroom environments, so our certified coaches must demonstrate that connection as well.

Coaching is a complex job in which the coach works hard to ensure that teachers feel like partners, that they have choices and autonomy, and that they have the coach’s respect. At the same time, the coach is often under pressure from school and system leadership to “fix” those same teachers, an idea that flies in the face of the relationships that the coach is trying to build. Coaches can feel torn between two paradigms as a result, and once that tear begins, it can lead to a division that jeopardizes the success of coaching for students.

The success of coaching depends so heavily on system support that it constitutes our “big finale” for this blog series. The thread of communication weaves itself through all 7 Success Factors. As with our personal relationships, our professional relationships and professional goals often rise or fall around ability to do one thing: We need to talk to each other.