Best Practices for All 3 Steps in the Coaching Cycle

Forest - Three Cycle Steps (YCTB)

Annie Forest, coaching and math coordinator in Illinois, walks through the stages of a successful coaching cycle and shares how clear goals and continuous reflection help power them.


s instructional coaches, we're often tasked with doing lots of things: planning with teams of teachers, leading committees, giving professional development, and so on. But one of our most important tasks is working with individual teachers during a coaching cycle. By co-planning, co-teaching, modeling lessons, and more, coaches can really help to develop teachers' skills.

The three core steps of any coaching cycle

No matter the coaching model you follow, most present a coaching cycle as three parts: before, during, and after. Perhaps it's "planning-development-growth," or "identify-earn-improve," or even "assess-coach-reflection/revise." In all of these models, three processes remain consistent:

  1. Planning: identify and make goals to define the work that you are going to engage in with your coaching client.
  2. Doing the work: plan with a client/teacher or observe in the classroom doing lessons; this part is probably the bulk of the time in a cycle by diving into the work of your coachee.
  3. Reflection: revise and improve practice, and the work that makes up the real growth. Without this last step you can be left in a limbo of feeling like you did something, but just not sure what. 

Before: settings goals

When I first became a coach, I found myself thinking: What was I doing? How was the teacher growing? How do I know when it's time to wrap things up? As I've coached longer, I realized a mistake in coaching that first year: I wasn't structured enough during the first phase to set clear goals.

At first, all I wanted to do was jump into the "doing" phase of my coaching cycle too quickly, and, as a result, I did a lot of co-teaching and modeling. Honestly, it felt a lot like having two teachers in the room doing their thing: giving compliments and suggestions, planning and reflection, doing lessons together, etc. Then, I started to wonder, how will we know when we are done? This could go on forever this way!

Setting clear goals in the beginning helped me know what to focus on during this "doing" phase as well as when to finish a cycle, when to think about reflecting and helping teachers improve their practice, and where the finish line was. Without clear goals as to where a teacher wants to go, how will you ever know you got there? You can end up in the middle "doing" phase forever!

Without clear goals defined with a teacher, a coaching conversation is truly just that: a conversation.

During: doing the work

The second phase of the coaching cycle is where you'll spend most of your time, as this is where the work truly begins to happen. You'll collect a lot of data through this stage to give yourself a clear sense of what's going on in the classroom and on which you can shape your coaching efforts to support the goal.

Whether it's co-teaching with a teacher, data collection through observation, or a lesson you model, it's important to simultaneously promote opportunities for reflection along the way. Taking time to reflect on the mini achievements throughout the process not only ensures that the goal is being worked on and creates opportunities for the teacher to "see" their improvement, it sets up the next reflection stage very well.

After: reflection!

In addition to on-the-go reflection opportunities, another way to set up this third phase for success is to simply schedule it. Putting reflection meetings on the calendar with my coaching client helped us stay on track. The "appointment" for reflection can always be pushed back or bumped up, based on need, but having that expectation that we will meet to reflect helps make sure it happens.

Just as important here is to make sure reflections are authentic for both you and the coaching client. It can be easy to meet and have a superficial conversation that might sound like, "that was great! I love working with you. We did so much and I saw so much growth in the students!" Although positive and complimentary, this type of reflection leaves little for a teacher or coaching client to dig into as next steps. Instead, it might be helpful to go in with some question stems that help you get at what went well, what was a struggle, and where to go from here.

Final note

Making sure you complete a cycle with a teacher by intentionally doing each of the three phases allows you and the coaching client to really see results in pushing teaching practice forward. It's the satisfying end to the hard work of a cycle. Planning for it, scheduling it, and being authentic is key to finishing strong!

About our Guest Blogger

Annie Forest is a former middle school math teacher and instructional coach. She now serves as a coaching and math coordinator at a K-8 district in Berwyn, IL, as president-elect of the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and is a Desmos Fellow.

Annie focuses on a strength-based model for coaching teachers and believes that learning math should be visual, joyful, make sense, and that everyone is a math person!

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