Instructional Coach Training: #BTCFS

Atlanta Metro Station

One of the best photos I took in Atlanta. Not sure what it has to do with my post. There’s a metaphor there somewhere. I’m sure of it. CC-BY-NC

At the beginning of the school year I wrote a post about my students’ goal setting as well as my own. When I wrote that post, I only talked about my goals for myself as a teacher, but didn’t discuss the goals I set for myself as an instructional coach. That’s really because at the beginning of the year I wasn’t sure what the standard was for instructional coaches. Where was I going? I really wasn’t sure. I didn’t have a job description to help focus me, and while I have been a literacy coach before, it was in a completely different school environment where that was my only role. In my initial meeting this year with my principal, she suggested that I look around for professional development opportunities about becoming a better instructional coach. Excited to learn more, I immediately started researching and came up with the Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success workshop with Pete Hall through ASCD. I knew that the title sounded extremely familiar, and that’s because I picked up the book at ASCD last year after my principal had first suggested that being an instructional coach might become part of my job.

Reading the book was eye opening, but the workshop with Pete was 1000 times better than reading the book. If you ever get the chance to see him present, I highly recommend it. He’s passionate, energetic, and friendly (he also has good advice about running routes in Atlanta and possibly in the other cities where he presents. Warning though: he did try to convince me to run the stairs in the Georgia Tech stadium. Not happening). I’m still processing everything that I learned over the two days, but I think I have a “Top 5” list of things I learned, all of which led me to the coaching goal I set for myself at the end of the workshop. For things that others learned , check out #BTCFS on Twitter.

5. Find the “Green Stars”

You know the teacher down the hall? The one who seems to have taught the same lesson for the last 20 years? Or the one who seems to have no control of her class? Even when we’re trying to be supportive, sometimes working with these teachers can be frustrating. But there’s good there. And as coaches and administrators we need to see that good and remind ourselves of it. Then we need to use that good–that green star–to spark change and growth. This helps us to have a growth mindset with our teachers just like we have with our students.

4. Self-reflection is the key to teacher growth

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time you know I’m a fan of self-reflection. For me, for my students, for educators in general. And I think on some level I understood the idea that in order to develop as educators we need to reflect on our teaching. I was also on board with the idea that teachers need to be taught how to self-reflect. What was new was the idea that we can put the ability of teachers to self-reflect on a continuum, and that where they are in terms of their ability to self-reflect determines how we interact with them and the role we take on as coaches, mentors, and administrators. For example, I would take on a totally different role with a teacher who is able to easily reflect on their instructional practice to improve it (a teacher in the Refinement Stage) than I would a teacher who isn’t really able to see the connection between what they’re doing and student outcomes (a teacher in the Unaware Stage). I’m also wondering how I can use the Continuum of Self-Reflection with my grad students and with their practicum supervisors to help support them in their development toward becoming more self-reflective educators.

3. Building teachers’ capacity is the key to student growth and success

Teachers matter. They matter a lot. There’s tons of research on this. Too often, however, we try to get teachers to improve their practice by using carrots and sticks, rather than actually guiding and supporting them in improving their practice. In order to ensure student success we really need to support our teachers in their professional learning and growth based on where they are on that Continuum of Self-Reflection. And to do that…

2. Instructional coaches and administrators need to work together to support teacher growth
Instructional Coach & Admin work together to support a teacher

A visual representation of how the administrator and the coach work together to support a teacher in the Refinement Stage. CC-BY-NC

Administrators and coaches really need to be partners in helping to teachers to improve their faculty’s level of self-reflection and their skill as educators. If administrators and coaches are on the same page with how they work with teachers and are clear about their individual roles and transparent with the staff about those roles, they can be really effective in fostering professional growth in an environment that is supportive rather than punitive. Again, I’m wondering if I can stretch this model to apply to working with my grad students. Maybe with me as the instructor in the role of the administrator with my practicum supervisors in the role of coach.

1. And not but

Of everything I’ve learned, this may be the smallest thing that makes the biggest deal. While there were a number of “ah-ha” moments during the two day workshop, this one was the biggest. And it’s such a tiny change to make when I interact with teachers (and with students and parents). As educators, we like to use the “start with a compliment” format. Then comes the “but”. However, the word “but” can make people defensive and angry. “But” can make the compliment feel like lip service. “And”, though. “And” says, “You really are doing these things right. Here’s how you can grow.”

I’m really excited to start implementing this framework, and I hope I can get others on board as well. Next week I’ll share my goal for myself as a coach and how I plan to achieve it.

What are your strategies for coaching teachers? How do you foster self-reflection with faculty?

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