Keys to Success with Student-Centered Coaching

Christina Brammell continues discussing her techniques for turning conversations from mandatory to voluntary with her second TeachBoost post on successful student-centered coaching.

I wanted to share with you some of my keys to success in my work with my teachers. I have identified four key components that I find invaluable to my success when living deeply in Student-Centered Coaching.

Keys to Success

Please know that the training I have received is a combination of many wonderful educators who have shared their research through books and conferences. One of my favorite coaching resources that has helped me with Student-Centered Coaching comes from Diane Sweeney and her book called Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level.

The Environment Created on Your Campus

Since instructional coaching is about working collaboratively to move the student learning forward, our school leaders are a key component to my success. My leaders create and support a school climate where all students have the right to grow. When teachers are supported as the single most important factor in student achievement, they are willing to try new things, take risks, and reflect on successes and struggles in their journey for all students to experience growth.

To help keep the climate focused on student learning my leaders and the coaching team collaboratively create a partnership agreement. This partnership agreement is the key that allows us to communicate about our work towards our campus' common goals, while keeping our work with our teachers confidential. We revisit our agreement throughout the year to help clarify our work together.


Approaching my work with any teacher from just the science content, for instance, or the pedagogy behind instructional strategies, will fall flat if I have not first cultivated a relationship with the teacher. To help me create authentic relationships, my campus leaders revisit the role of an instructional coach each year as a whole staff. They explain how we are an integral component to helping all learners experience success. From here I spend time meeting with my teachers to share my job description, how our work together supports our campus' overall goals and I dispel some of those “typical” coaching rumors by clarifying that I am not an evaluator and that our work together is actually confidential.

When we meet as a team we create norms for working together and partnership agreements to help guide our work for the year. During our planning I facilitate and support my teachers in the backwards design process as we work to identify what mastery of the standards looks like, the strengths and weaknesses of the students according to previous data with respect to the standards, the design of their assessments, and our instructional activities used along the way.

By treating my teachers with respect, they understand that I am not an evaluator and learn that I support them as the primary decision maker in their classroom. I then spend as much time as possible in my teachers' classrooms to learn about their teaching style, their students' needs, and how their work with their students tie to their personal and the campus goals.

Recognize the Opening

Having established the necessary foundational relationship with my teachers, I then look for the openings to move our conversations from mandatory to voluntary with a focus on the students' progress towards mastery of the standards. Since my campus has created a culture and expectation that everyone who has students strives to meet each student's individual needs it makes this part of my job easier, but here are still some of my favorite ways I use to get my foot in the door:

  • I keep my ears open to hear what my teachers are needing during our common planning.
  • I keep in mind our random conversations throughout the day and when we are working on other tasks for opportunities to show how I could help support them with that idea or need. Keeping a journal of these throughout the semester is also a great way to remember them.
  • I ask them about their personal goal and their progress in reaching it throughout the year. I also tie in the campus goal here too.
  • I use their survey answers that I send out at the end of each school year and at the beginning to see what needs they are seeking. I also ask them to identify a unit to work on with that need.
  • Our backwards designed units present data throughout the instructional process so this alone is a great tool to start the discussion with a true student focus.
  • I also clarify my role and remind them of the support I can provide them throughout the year.

As I take in all of this information I then determine what the specific student need is and tie it to a learning standard. I then meet with my teacher and ask for clarification in identifying the standard based student learning goal. Once we are on the same page I then inquire about how I can help support them on their journey in this work.

Choose your words wisely

Anytime I am working with a teacher the first thing I do is carefully clarify their actual goal. If they haven’t already tied it to a learning standard we work to identify which standard would be appropriate that the students will be learning in our upcoming unit(s). This allows for our work to be redirected to a measurable goal based on student learning. Without this clarification our work together would fall into a Teacher-Centered or Relationship-Centered coaching cycle and open the door for teacher judgement. My tip for all instructional coaches needing to redirect a personal teacher goal is to ask the teacher, “What will the students be doing …”

Once a teacher and I have decided to work on a specific student-focused, standard-based goal we collaboratively create a partnership agreement. The magic behind a partnership agreement falls in identifying the answer to questions such as:

  • What is the student focus or goal?
  • What student artifacts (work) or data will we collect to determine if our work is impacting their progress towards our goal?
  • When will we meet?
  • How will we communicate together with each other? What Norms will we commit to?
  • What student data will the coach collect during class time to provide student artifacts for our ongoing reflection on our goals progress?
  • Did you know that my work with you is 100% confidential? If anyone from the administration team would inquire about our work together my response is as follows: “Yes, we are working together, but I cannot share more than this.” If needed I will remind them that they are welcome to attend your class to see what your students are working on or come and check in with you. Do you have any questions about this or is there another way you would like me to respond?

To ensure that the teacher continues to know that I am not judging their work professionally, or acting as an evaluator, I always add that last statement to our partnership agreement. You will be surprised when your teacher opens up after seeing that you truly respect them as an educator who is working to meet the needs of all of their learners.

Knowing your WHY

"When you know your why, your what has more impact because you're walking in or toward your purpose." — Michael Jr., BreakTime

As an instructional coach you spend every day being a catalyst for change. Sometimes, our work results in successful collaboration and growth for the students, teachers, and ourselves. Sometimes our work is derailed due to a lack of buy-in from our teachers. For me, Student-Centered Coaching is my what and my why are the students. When I share my why with the teachers our work together is united and impacts ALL of our students on their individual academic journeys.

As you build your coaching program, learn how other districts are sustaining theirs—check out the 2022 Coaching Impact Report which highlights the bright spots and growth areas that district and instructional leaders need to consider when building a successful coaching program. Get Your Free Copy!

About our Guest Blogger

Christina Brammell started her educational career as a true science loving nerd when her first birthday request was a microscope kit. She earned her B.S. in Chemistry at Westminster College at New Wilmington, PA in 2010 and her M.S. in Chemistry from Texas A&M University at College Station in 2012. During this time she realized that her passion for science flourished when she was able to help students make real life connections to science and she jumped into the world of education. After five years in the classroom, she has just finished her first year as a science instructional coach at two intermediate campuses. 

Continue reading more great posts!