Trying to launch an instructional coaching model in your district?

Now that you and/or staff have been trained and provided with resources to implement the Impact Cycle, what’s your plan to get going? Getting any new district program off the ground comes with a number of challenges, especially when you have 129 instructional coaches within 84 schools who will be providing the professional learning, coaching, and monitoring implementation like we did here in DeKalb County School District in Stone Mountain, Georgia. The four district-level lead academic coaches (coaches of coaches), including myself, are just completing year one of implementing the Impact Cycle as the districtwide instructional coaching model with our coaches working with teachers K-12.

In this blog, I will be sharing the structures and processes we followed to ensure that our instructional coaches had a “working knowledge” of the Impact Cycle, resources to help support them with day-to day operations, and individual feedback provided by us the lead coaches.  First, we conducted a 10-question survey asking for feedback around several aspects of being an instructional coach. The overwhelming consensus was that they wanted one coaching model to be implemented districtwide. After much research into several coaching models, our district felt the best fit was Jim Knight’s Impact Cycle.

Once this decision was made, we immediately began the planning phase(s): Who was going to train the district-level coaches and when? Who was going to train the instructional coaches and when? What would be the process for informing principals and assistant principals of what was taking place? What would be the focus of professional learning throughout the year? How would the coaching model we had chosen correlate to our coaches documenting their time and effort in conjunction with Title 1?  How would on-site support be implemented to impact teachers and students? These are all essential questions that guided us in the planning stages leading up to year one of this model.

Who was going to train us as district-level coaches and when?

We immediately chose a trainer who had extensive knowledge of Jim’s Impact Cycle and began arranging for a two-day training in our district. Also, we purchased some resources that we felt would best support our learning of the Impact Cycle before the instructional coaches were trained. This training occurred in May prior to the new school year starting in August.  The training provided us with the foundation to learn more about the Impact Cycle.

Who was going to train the instructional coaches and when?

We asked the same trainer to provide a three-day deeper dive into the Impact Cycle with our instructional coaches the following month, June. Also, we purchased the same resources for all our coaches, so we could begin using common language that revolved around the Impact Cycle. In addition, between May and June, we invited principals of the schools who employed an instructional coach to attend the afternoon session of the third day of the training to gain some basic knowledge and to sketch out a first 30-day plan with their instructional coach.

What would the process be to inform principals and assistant principals?

Prior to the training we attended in May, and the one that principals attended in June, we asked them to complete a 10-question survey on the way they would like to see their instructional coaches used in their building, along with a specific question about whether they wanted a districtwide coaching model. Overwhelmingly, there was support for a district-adopted model.

After the half-day training the principals and assistant principals attended in June with their instructional coaches, we designed intentional “initial visits,” in which we sat down with principals, assistant principals, and their coach(es) to (a) have a conversation regarding the steps of the Impact Cycle, (b) clear up any misconceptions of the coaches’ roles, and (c) review the revised tool to document instructional coaches’ time and effort, which included their work in the Impact Cycle with teachers.

What would be the focus of professional learning throughout the year?

In May, we developed an extensive professional learning plan, whereby our instructional coaches would attend monthly professional development session, with each month covering a component of the Impact Cycle.  Topics included having better conversations, the process of videoing teachers, how to develop goals and strategies with teachers, breaking down the components of the Impact Cycle, and how to move teachers through the cycle. Having a monthly focus helped us gain a deeper understanding of the work our instructional coaches were performing day-to-day with teachers, and whether we needed to follow up with them individually to help them grow and change their practices as an instructional leader in their building. In addition, for any coaches who missed the June training, we provided follow-up training for them as needed.

How would this coaching model correlate with our coaches documenting their time and effort in conjunction with Title 1?

As stated previously, we created a Google spreadsheet that aligned the Impact Cycle to the coaches’ daily work. Training was provided to instructional coaches along with exemplars for each instructional level (elementary, middle, high school), which were also explained at our initial visits at the beginning of the school year. Instructional coaches receive weekly feedback from the district-level coaches designed around the Impact Cycle and other components of their daily work. This provides a monitoring tool that has helped our instructional coaches’ knowledge about the different phases of the Impact Cycle in their work with teachers, ultimately improving student achievement.

How would on-site support be implemented to impact teachers and students?

In year one, we have had to differentiate our on-site support depending on the instructional coaches’ understanding and implementation of the Impact Cycle with teachers. This support has included classroom observations with teachers in the Impact Cycle with feedback about potential next steps, coaching conversations, reviewing teacher videos with instructional coaches, collaborative planning feedback, and/or data team meeting feedback.

In conclusion, we have used a continuous improvement cycle to help enhance our instructional coaches’ knowledge about the Impact Cycle in a step-by-step approach. In addition, all year long, we have kept a “brainstorming list” of changes in practices we would like to see in year two, and now are in the planning stages for the 2018-19 school year.  This work has been intentional, and the impact has been great. We’ve met challenges along the way and are prepared for the needed adjustments to coach for student success.