4 Approaches to Creating and Sustaining a Coaching Culture

Coaching Heavy

Coaches play a key role in supporting teacher-driven professional learning and growth, but it takes time, strategy, and follow-through to establish a sustainable coaching culture in your organization.

To better understand the effort that goes into creating successful coaching programs, we spoke with four educators who use TeachBoost as a tool for reinforcing a coaching culture within their organization. Despite differences in approach, our interviewees spoke a common language about what it takes to make it work:

  1. Build trust
  2. Empower teachers
  3. Be transparent
  4. Focus on relationships

Proctor Public Schools: Teacher-led Teams

Proctor, MN

Proctor integrated peer coaching into their evaluation model ten years ago. Julie Stauber, who leads staff development at Proctor, said that the initial buy-in was difficult, but the teachers soon realized how beneficial going into classrooms was to their own teaching practice, and have long-embraced the process.

What they do

  • Create teacher-led peer coaching teams
  • Perform three observations per teacher, per year
    • Non-tenured: Two peers and one administrator  
    • Tenured: Two peers
  • Train teacher-leaders in the art of leading and coaching

How they do it

  • Teachers are grouped into grade-level peer coaching teams where they set goals and work with team leaders to plan lessons, review assessments, and analyze data.
  • Coaching teams meet regularly, establishing and nurturing collaborative relationships so that teachers feel comfortable having their peers visit their classroom.
  • Peers learn how to deliver evidence-based feedback based on observation data.

Advice for other organizations

  • Learn about and adopt a growth mindset.
  • Use evidence-based feedback wherever possible.
  • Encourage reflection and conversation between colleagues: two-way conversations allow teachers to think about the places they can grow.

Ingenium Schools: Diversity and Variety in Interaction

Los Angeles, CA

What has made coaching successful at Ingenium, says Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator Katherine Woodfield, is being open to many different types of forms and interactions. “Coaching can fall flat when the conversation is one-sided,” Katherine says. To succeed, coaching has to be “something teachers are a part of, not something done to them.”

What they do

  • Provide two instructional coaches for every school.
  • Establish hybrid roles for coaches: half of their day is spent teaching; the other half, coaching.
  • Add pre- and post-observation conferences to the observation cycle.
  • Train teachers in the art of coaching.

How they do it

  • Ingenium uses TeachBoost Cycles to connect pre- and post-conferences with the observation itself. The cycle was critical to closing the feedback loop.
  • Coaches lead by example: their hybrid coaching role allows teachers ample time to observe coaches delivering classroom instruction.
  • Through TeachBoost, Ingenium has built multiple observation forms, each of which reflect the uniqueness of the interaction and the context of the observer:
    • Co-observation forms
    • Co-teaching forms
    • Peer observation forms
    • 2-step coaching cycles (observation + post-conference)
    • 3-step coaching cycles (pre-conference + observation + post-conference)

Advice for other organizations

  • How you roll it out matters! Be transparent about the role of the coach: what feedback coaches give, how they give it, and how they’ll follow up.
  • Put teachers in a peer coaching role. This allows teachers to feel like they’re receiving support, but can also be recognized for what they do well. Having the opportunity to show and share their strengths helps with buy-in.

Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools: Full-time Professional Coaching

Washington, DC area

“I do believe administrators and principals can coach, but there’s always a caveat that they’re writing your evaluation,” says Rob Murphy, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning at Cesar Chavez. “If I make a suggestion, is it really a suggestion?” Coaches provide more space for intellectual curiosity and experimentation. As a result, Rob estimates a 90-100% satisfaction rate among teachers—and everyone would like more time with their coach!

What they do

  • Employ full-time coaches to do the non-evaluative work of developing teachers
  • Ensure coaches spend nearly all of their time in classrooms
  • Establish areas of focus for coaches:
    • Trust and relationship-building at key points
    • Transparency and collaboration throughout the year

How they do it

  • Coaching is a two-way, collaborative relationship with many parallels to the teacher-student dynamic: coaches see teachers as learners, look and listen carefully for teachable moments, and try to decode the underlying messages of any pushback.
  • During new teacher summer orientations, coaches act as ambassadors for the school. They help teachers set up their rooms, introduce them to key people around the school, and walk through routines and procedures.
  • Once the year begins, coaches check in every day to ensure that the teacher is getting off to a good start. Only when the teacher is on their feet and the relationship is established does the focus shift to coaching.
  • After coaches develop relationships with teachers, coaches spend their time in classrooms with teachers. This allows coaches an opportunity to work with teachers to craft rigorous professional goals that will shift their instructional practice in order to raise student achievement.  
  • Coaches spend the remainder of the year co-teaching and modeling instructional practices for teachers so they are better able to achieve their goals.  
  • Coaches are up front and clear about what their job is as a coach, but teacher and coach work together to decide what the role of the coach will be in the classroom.

Advice for other organizations

  • Don’t misuse coaches. They should be in the classroom 90% of their day, not on hallway or cafeteria duty.
  • Hire the right people. Don’t pick someone just because they’re a good teacher; consider content knowledge, interpersonal skills, and how they deal with pushback and challenges.
  • Make sure the relationship between principals and coaches is stellar. Coaches need to understand the principal’s message and what they are looking for.
  • The key to making a coaching relationship work is effective feedback; coaches need to understand how to give effective feedback that is targeted at increasing student achievement.  

Arizona College Prep: The Power of Peer Observations

Tucson, AZ

In the wake of the newly-adopted Common Core and Race to the Top standards, which were met with skepticism and mistrust by staff, Arizona College Prep implemented coaching as a means to create a holistic system for teacher development. Principal Charlene Mendoza says that coaching helped teachers regain confidence in the observation process, and fostered a supportive, constructive PD culture at her school.

What they do

  • Create teacher pairs and small groups
  • Enable teachers to play the role of observer:
    • Teachers conduct regular peer observations within their pairs and groups
    • Teachers observe their principal teaching.

How they do it

  • Peers are encouraged to focus on the positive. Charlene says, “Really think about the fact that most of us in a coaching situation will do better building on what we do well.”
  • Teachers take ownership of their professional development by setting their own goals.

Advice for other organizations

  • Recognize that transitioning from evaluation to coaching is a process—like anything else, it is about building relationships and trust.
  • Flip the power differential. Creating the opportunity for teachers to be both the observer and the observee builds trust and confidence in the process. One of the most powerful aspects of coaching is seeing how deeply teachers’ own teaching practices are informed when they are in the role of observer.
  • Encourage coaches to build on what is being done well.

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