Thursday, April 18, 2019
In the previous blog post, the first of this three point series, I began connecting coaching to the Implementation Science Formula for Success. I presented a conundrum faced by coaches across the state--they are being asked to implement the innovation without a system of support. In today’s post we will consider the Implementation Drivers and how their development is essential to supporting coaching.
When the innovation of coaching is supported by the system drivers located on the outside of the triangle, the likelihood that coaching will be implemented to fidelity increases. Drivers are considered, both integrated and compensatory, because they must all work together as a support net (i.e., integrated); however if one is more weakly established, the others will compensate (i.e., compensatory).
Let’s begin by considering the competency drivers along the left side of the triangle: Selection, Training, and Coaching
Selection, Training, and Coaching
Selection of coaching staff is a critical cornerstone, but in my travels around the state of Wisconsin I find that it is given little consideration. All too often good teachers are put into coaching roles under the assumption that they will also be good coaches. The thought being that “good teachers make good coaches”. In one example, an educator showed up to start the New Year as a classroom teacher only to be placed in a coaching role without consultation or training.
A district that is achieving high levels of success through their coaching program, decided to open available coaching positions for anyone to apply. This meant that individuals within or outside of the district knew what they were committing to. Furthermore, the district carefully crafted job description under which the coaches would operate. This simple, yet essential, document is often missing from many coaching systems. In the same district, once staff was selected they received initial and ongoing training to support their instructional coaching work. It is important to collect some type of data to determine training needs. In my experience much of the training available to coaches circles around building trust and conversations within a coaching cycle. These skills are absolutely necessary, but what is available to the coach that has already built relationships and is ready to move past coaching light? The final competency driver is coaching. Coaches need coaches too! Coaching can be a very isolated position and it is important to have networking opportunities. This can be achieved by creating peer coaching programs or hiring an external coach.
Last summer I visited a district that had a comprehensive learning plan for their coaching team. They met monthly and spent part of each day engaging in whole group learning before breaking into smaller study groups to cover content they had selected as necessary to their growth. Coaches were engaged in training and meaningful dialogue with other coaches. Coaching of coaches is critical in the implementation of the innovation of coaching in order for coaching to obtain socially significant outcomes.
Decision Support Data System, Facilitative Administration, and Systems Intervention
The second set of drivers to consider is the organizational drivers. Systems interventions are considered by a district-level team and consider if policies/practices and funding align to the district vision, mission and action plan. When coaching is new, funding will often be a topic of consideration. How will the new position be funded? How will the funding be continued? Facilitative Administration relates to creating a culture where the new innovation will be received. It is a rare occurrence to have a successful coaching program without the support of leadership. At the minimum, leadership must be aware of the research and promote the coaching model to staff. In some of the strongest programs I’ve seen, leaders themselves will engage in a coaching cycle of their own. The use of data in making decisions is crucial to the ongoing improvement of coaching. Anecdotal data seems to be the most common data source for coaches with teacher testimonials centered on a coach’s accomplishments. Another data that may be regarded is student outcome data. These data sources are both worth considering; however when taken as single sources, they don’t always tell the entire story. Other data sources may include teacher surveys, coach observations and coaching logs. Best practice would have the leadership team consider various sources to triangulate the data.
Technical and Adaptive Leadership
The final set of drivers is in regards to leadership. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a supportive leader in building systems of support for coaching. Technical leadership speaks to management. This is the where there is general agreement about what needs to be done and an understanding of how to do it (i.e., compliance). Unlike with “technical leadership” (i.e., management), adaptive leadership seems to bring with it less certainty. This work of changing culture, which is a tenant of adaptive leadership, is “messier”; mainly because this is where conflict lives. We know that human beings struggle with change and the reaction to change can range from emotional to resistant. Therefore, leaders must have the skills, persistence, and heart to lead through and past this resistance. While both types of leadership are necessary to support the system, leaders with strong adaptive leadership styles result in the highest implementation with fidelity.
At first glance, establishing systems for coaching may seem overwhelming. After all, it does require a lot of intentional work. However, when considered through implementation stages, the work begins to take an evergreen shape, and even seems more manageable along the way. In the next, and final post of the series, I will work through the steps within the stages of implementation to establish a robust system of coaching.
Monday, March 11, 2019
In my position as a statewide coaching coordinator, I’ve traveled the Driftless region of southwest Wisconsin, the peninsula of Door County and each of the five principal urban centers. In speaking with coaches across the state, there are unique successes and barriers depending on the individual cultures and contexts of the buildings and districts they serve. Some smaller districts shared a coach between all buildings, a larger district wondered how to provide coaches with individualized learning plans and another wondered how to connect with other coaches given their somewhat isolated location. One theme that continued to surface, however was that leadership was key to the equation of successful systems of coaching. A culture of coaching and growth mindset often hinged on the leadership and their understanding, support and development of systems to sustain coaching as an innovation. Based on stories of success and barriers, as well as research from the National Implementation Research Network, Wisconsin has developed a worksheet to help guide the process of developing systems to support coaching.
In broad strokes, implementation science as described by NIRN is the study of systems and supporting the execution of research-based best practices. This three-part blog will examine coaching from three different lenses of implementation science. The first part will situate coaching within the implementation science formula. The second considers the drivers of coaching as an innovation and the final post will dive into concrete considerations for each of the four implementation stages. Coaching is one critical component of implementing an innovation. In essence, it drives the work. With so much research pointing toward coaching as a key component to the success of a program, it is no wonder that districts and schools are hiring coaches in droves. Giving someone the title of coach; however, does not translate into a magical unicorn, but often a this is all a coach will get in terms of direction and guidance. In fact, my recent interactions with coaches has revealed that many of them don’t even have a job description. In these scenarios coaches are hungry for professional development, a chance to network, and a wish that they were observed based on coaching skills instead of teaching. We must remember that coaching is also an innovation; and just like any innovation, it must be mindfully and intentionally operationalized.
This diagram visually highlights the fact that effective innovations, which are effectively implemented within a context ( In the case of coaching, the enabling context may be considered the learning culture. Is there a culture of growth mindset that will be open to partnering with a coach to improve student outcomes?) that enables and supports the effective innovations, leads to socially significant outcomes. In many current systems, we are using coaching to support other effective innovations. One example would be the installation of literacy coaches who are hired by schools and districts to support best literacy practices. This is a sound practice, but we must first look at coaching as an innovation in and of itself and not a driver. Subsequently, in seeing coaching as an innovation, we may then work to build a system to support it--only then will coaching yield the socially significant outcomes that it promises.
This concept is easier for me to understand when we examine the mathematical equation using numbers. In this example let’s use coaching as the effective innovation and assign it a 10, given that it is research-based. If we don’t spend any effort planning how coaching will be implemented, our effective implementation will be a 0. It doesn’t matter how great the effective innovation is, it will not result in a socially significant outcome (10 x 0 = 0) Furthermore, continuing with the example, if you take coaching and implementation has been well-planned--we’ll assign a 10--but there is no leadership to support a culture of growth, the enabling context will be a 0. Again, the results will not get to the promise of the research (10 x 10 x 0 = 0).
Once the team has a baseline understanding of the formula, especially the importance of effective implementation, they can turn their sites towards building the implementation infrastructure--known as drivers. Check out the 2nd post to get more details.
Adapted content and graphic credits to National Implementation Research Network (NIRN).
Friday, September 28, 2018
In the first blog post on Coaching With a Lens for Equity, I dug into why coaches are well-positioned to engage in equity work. I also discussed Joellen Killion’s coaching heavy and coaching light and the importance of shifting mindsets when it comes to equity work. If you haven’t read part one of the blog, I suggest you do so here. I also discussed that entering into dialogue around equity and race is not always easy since we, as a people, have mostly learned to avoid these conversations. In this post we will look at Wisconsin’s Model to Inform Culturally Responsive Practices as a starting place for entering into this work.
The model to inform states, “Wisconsin’s model to inform is about the journey. Becoming culturally responsive is a lifelong journey, not a final destination. This journey involves intentionally choosing to stay engaged in introspection, embracing alternative truths, and ensuring that every student is successful.” Given that the journey is lifelong, it makes sense that it is visually depicted as a circle with culturally responsive practices at the center and the process (will, skill & fill) around the outside.
The Model to inform defines will, skill and fill as follows: (Will) The desire to lead and a commitment to achieving equitable outcomes for all students, (Fill) gaining cultural knowledge about ourselves and others, and (Skill) applying knowledge and leading the change, skillfully putting beliefs and learning into action. The eight inner pie pieces describe actions that one can take in their journey to become more culturally responsive. Each piece of piece of pie is connected to a process. If an educator is unsure of where to begin, they should start with self-awareness, or developing their will. Fill engages educators in furthering their learning about others and skill moves to action.
Before we can bring our coaching lens to working with others, we must also consider our own coaching journey. It is important to note that this work is continuous. You can’t move from will to skill and consider yourself master of equity. Throughout your life you may find yourself at different places in the work depending on the educators, students, families and communities you work with. At any given time you should consider will, fill and skill. For example, Wisconsin has a large American Indian population. In my educational experience I hadn’t previously worked with this community, so I’ve been spending time in the fill zone of the journey by engaging in online book study groups and engaging in dialogued. On the flip side, a recent student engagement survey for the state provided data that the LGBTQ+ students are twice as likely as their peers to say they feel like they don’t belong at school. This is an area I feel prepared to lean in and work with schools to develop curriculum and inclusive environments to make these students feel more welcomed-- so I may spend more time in the skill zone.
Once you’ve considered your own will, fill and skill journey, consider how, as a coach you may support others in theirs. The following chart, created in collaboration with several Wisconsin coaching stakeholders, provides some concrete actions you might take in supporting individuals and teams no matter what process of the model they find themselves in.
Coaching with an Equity Lens
A coach continually strengthens self-awareness of how identity and culture affect who they are and how they interact with learners and families
Engage in reading, viewing, and listening about unconscious bias, colorblindness, and micromessages.
A coach supports staff in continually strengthening self-awareness
Facilitate the use of protocols which provide for safe environments to engage in courageous conversations. Ask questions that prompt a client to examine their own culture and how it shapes their actions. Protocols for equity work may be found in The Power of Protocols: An Educators’ Guide to Better Practice.
A coach supports individual staff members’ and teams’ focus on equity by actively considering whether mismatches in systems, structures, policies, practices, values, and beliefs inhibit learner success and contribute to inequitable outcomes for underserved students.
Facilitate teams in the disaggregation of data, engage in root cause analysis and calculate risk ratios. Lead courageous conversations about disproportionality.
Coaches support staff in knowing and understanding their students and families, and in using evidence-based practices, curriculum and policies that respect the identities and cultures of learners and families served by schools.
Learn about the unique strengths and blend of identities that families bring to the school setting. Ask how staff are incorporating these strengths and identities into school practices, policies and curriculum.
Coaches, in partnerships with principals and other leaders, create positive school cultures, characterized by “an unwavering belief that all students can and will learn” (Du Four). In a positive culture, adults accept responsibility for learner success.
Collaboratively examine the assumptions and implicit biases that create barriers for historically marginalized students to fully access the learning environment.
Coaches and principals work together to lead, model, and advocate for equity.
Collaborate with leadership in the investigation of systems and problem solve for lasting change. Provide resources and support for ongoing professional learning focused on equity, such as a book study focused on anti-bias education and culturally responsive pedagogy.
Special thanks to Barb Novak, Heidi Laabs, Kathy Myles, Wendy Savaske and Ananda Mirilli for their contributions.
Monday, September 10, 2018
Please check out my newest blog post on the dangers of spending too long in the coaching light stance. You can access the blog below where it was featured as a guest blog.
Monday, August 13, 2018
Special thanks to Chrissy Thuli and Barb Novak--their work influenced this blog post.
All equity work is a personal journey, it requires you to be open and acknowledge your own truth. I personally believe that words matter all the time, but in equity work they truly matter. Recently a colleague challenged me on the use of the phrase, “coaching for equity”. She argued, and I agree, that coaching for equity could be misunderstood. Coaching for equity might mean that someone else has that job--they coach for equity so I don’t have to--or that it fits into a certain day like --I coach for equity on B days. Rather, we must bring a lens of equity to every coaching interaction--it is the job of all coaches at all times.
Coaching with an equity lens is interesting because there is currently a ton on information out there on coaching and a ton on equity, but little that brings the two together. In this two-part post I will share Wisconsin’s framework: A Model to Inform as a map to help push into this essential dialogue. Before we get to the framework, however, post 1 will focus on a common definition of equity and a understanding of what it means to bring it to your work. In Wisconsin we believe, Equity means that every student has access to the educational resources and rigor they need at the right moment in their education across race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, sexual orientation, family background and/or family income (CCSSO, 2017).
For many, deciphering the difference between equity and equality is a good place to start. If we start from a place of equality we are essentially saying that the world is equal, but it is not. Some students have access to tutors, honors classes and better-funded schools while others have larger ratios of adult to student support and less-skilled teachers. To further muddy the water--the world has bias and systemic racism. Predominantly marginalized students must face microaggressions and implicit bias that the better-supported, predominantly white students do not. Equity, then, requires purposeful use of resources, removal of barriers and intentional support. (Informed by the Center for Urban Education)
Equity is not something extra; something on top of the core work. Equity is embedded within all aspects of our work; equity is the core. Working towards equity is not a checklist or a strategy. Working towards equity is a way of being and knowing that leads to developing systems that respectfully engage with learners and families who have been historically underserved. Working towards equity is not an afterthought; something to consider when the main work is done. Working towards equity is the place you come from; a mindset, the way you do work/make decisions.
Elena Aguilar’s quote, “Coaches are in a unique position to influence teachers and administrators to interrupt inequitable practices, to engage them in safe, reflective, transformational conversations that shift beliefs and ways of being,” demonstrates how coaches are well-positioned to engage in equity work. We know that creating equitable systems is an ongoing process and since a coach’s role is job-embedded, they can provide unbroken support for this process. Equity work often requires root cause analysis and coaching supports individuals and teams to understand their role in creating and reforming the system, planning action, implementing change, studying results, and refining action. Educational equity requires looking at data to make decisions and employing evidence-based instructional practices. Coaches can use questioning, paraphrasing, and summarizing to continually focus conversation and collaboration on equity.
And of course, educators must continually engage in professional learning and practice. Coaches can support teams in developing culturally responsive ways of collaborating to meet student needs. Although it is clear that coaches play a key role in this work, the question I most often hear is, “how do I get started?”
This is a common question when you are shifting into what Joellen Killion calls coaching heavy (more on this in upcoming September blog post). Basically coaching heavy requires a shift away from focusing on teacher actions to student outcomes and systems change. This is heavy work. This is necessary work. Wisconsin’s Model to Inform, a roadmap for individual equity work, provides a starting place for coaches ready to dive into the work. Look for post two soon on the Model to Inform and how you can use it to engage in dialogue.
As coaches for educational equity we can, “mediate a person’s thinking toward values, beliefs, and behaviors that enable effective cross-cultural interactions to insure an equitable environment for learners, their parents and all members of the community” --D. Lindsay, Culturally Proficient Coaching
Friday, May 25, 2018
When it comes to coaching, nearly every elephant in the room is birthed from conflict, but given that conflict is on a spectrum and something we both need and avoid--sometimes it is really confusing as to whether we should call the elephant out or chase it away.
Perhaps the most familiar conflict is unhealthy conflict. It is part of human relationships and we’ve all experienced it at one time or another in our personal lives. Since conflict is nearly unavoidable, how you approach the conflict is key. I personally come from a conflict-avoidant household and this arena of coaching continues to make me uncomfortable, but over time I have come to realize that avoiding conflict will build a wall between a team and progress towards their goals.
Elena Aguilar offers three suggestions for “Managing Conflict in Leadership Teams” (the unhealthy kind).
First she suggests we name the conflict. Since conflict makes many people uncomfortable, it may seem easier to avoid and make attempts to move on, but by calling out the conflict, you can talk through the root cause and potentially eliminate it. Perhaps, for example, the conflict resides in resources. I remember working with an ELA team that was experiencing conflict. Initially I thought it had to do with personalities. Eventually we were able to call out that some team members felt that the department chair wasn’t dispersing funds for classroom libraries in an equitable manner. In reality, the two teachers that appeared to be receiving more books had individually applied for and won a small grant to supplement their library. They shared the application with other team members and the conflict quickly subsided.
The next strategy Aguilar offers is assessing the conflict and making a decision to address it in the moment or later. This is especially important if you are working with teams and the conflict appears to be between two people. Is it possible to move the meeting forward and circle back to the two team members at a later date?
Keeping norms at the center of every meeting can be a valuable corner stone in managing conflict. Reminding a team members about a specific norm feels less threatening and personal than calling out an individual.
While unhealthy conflict can act as a divisive wrench in a team’s plan, productive conflict can propel them towards achieving truly transformational work.
The article, “Building a Culture that Nurtures Productive Conflict” focuses on creating an environment for productive conflict to thrive. By setting up a team with expectations and boundaries for conflict to live, and even be encouraged, teams will feel safe to learn and make mistakes.
The article starts with a quote: “If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along-whether it be in business, family relations, or life itself.”
The three key ingredients mentioned are:
- a shared purpose
- protocols for when the norms are broken
Protocols are for when the norms are often overlooked, but then the norms may just become words on paper. The team must commit to live them. It doesn’t need to be anything creative. It could be as simple as rapping on the table as a reminder or stating, “don’t forget norm seven.”
Besides being intentional about the environment, a team must also be sure that there is clear communication, positive attitude and valued contributions.
Transparency goes hand-in-hand with communication. Team members need to know what is really happening so they can make informed contributions to the conversation; not assumptions.
The author ends this article with the quote, ““Team leaders who step back to avoid conflict
are not living up to their obligation in allowing a diversity of thought and channeling it into productivity.”
Both of these resources provided helpful strategies in creating and maintaining an environment that thwarts unhealthy conflict in favor of productive. While this is a great foundation, all teams will eventually face moments of unproductive conflict.
Sometimes the best way to circumvent unproductive conflict is to continually redirect negative conversations. Negativity can act like a seed of conflict and when left unattended too long, it will likely rear its weedy head. Let’s look at a few moves you can make as a coach when a conversation turns negative. These are adapted from an article by Kathleen Kelly Reardon in the Harvard Business Review. She calls them the “R-List”
The first one takes a little practice, but I find myself using this one constantly; especially when working with teams.
Rephrase- When someone makes a negative statement, rephrase what they are saying in a less negative way.
If someone states, “We can’t spend time looking at student writing when we have so many essays to grade.”
A coach may respond, “I’m hearing that you see the importance of examining student writing as a PLC when there is time to do so.”
If a principal says, “We wouldn’t have so many behavior problems if parents were more involved in their kids’ lives.”
You may rephrase, “I’m hearing that you may want to look at providing more family engagement opportunities.”
The next move, request is all about my secret weapon question. In the role of a coach you should always assume positive intent. That said, when a negative statement is made without much thought, staying fixed in that positive intent can prove difficult. Coaches are still human! Whenever I feel a crack forming in my glass ceiling of positive intent I throw out one of the following two questions, “Would you clarify what you meant for me?” or simply, “Tell me more.” Often just asking someone to pause and think about what they had just said (and how they said it) is enough to get them to rethink what they intended to say.
No matter how high-functioning a team is, they will likely eventually encounter something that will challenge their dynamics. One challenge in education, is that teams are often very fluid, with team members moving grade-levels or schools. If allowed, change in membership of even one person can derail a historically successful team. Team make-up is not the only challenge, however. Sometimes teams are charged with a new challenge that requires them to approach each other differently. Whatever the case, this may be an opportunity for a coach to revisit a past success. When team membership shifts, the focus often becomes about people instead of the work. Taking time to remember a past success shifts the focus and brings new members into the fold--they will hear about the great work accomplished in the past and want to experience some of that same success. I had been working with a biology PLC for two years and they had developed into a model team for the entire school. They had a shared vision and leadership and held students at the center of every conversation. They didn’t shy away from data and were willing to have difficult conversations. About a year later the PLC lead approached me and asked if I could sit in a few meetings. I was happy to reconnect with the team, but was in shock about the tone of the meeting. The district had purchased a new curriculum and no one on the team approved of the selection. Essentially they were stalled out in their emotions. I asked if we could shift the agenda for the day and said, “This is not the first time this team has had to address non-negotiables they didn’t agree with. Can we think back to some of those.” The group recalled a few and I jotted them down on the board. Then I asked them to isolate one which was particularly trying to wrestle with. We talked through how they were able to incorporate the ask in a meaningful, even favorable way. At that point the group felt better-equipped to turn back to the task at hand.
Personal concerns can muck up the process so when summarizing a difficult conversation, you might steer clear of negativity by reorganizing the group’s priorities. There is an easy phrase to use here to bring the focus back to the goal. “Everyone seems to be in agreement with the WHAT, we are just struggling with the HOW.” At this point, if possible, I prefer to table the discussion for a future meeting. I will ask each individual to make a list prior to the next meeting of individual hows and team hows. Ideally, I will circle back to as many team members on an individually basis either face-to-face or virtually to speak through their individual hows so the next team conversation can be open and clear.
Alright, we’ve taken a look at four coaching moves you can use to refocus the attitude and hopefully avoid unproductive conflict. Below you will find two scenarios for you to think through how you might initiate a shift in the team’s thinking.
You’ve been working with a leadership team at a district for several weeks. Their data shows large and persistent achievement gaps in reading and math between their English proficient students and their students who are English learners. They have been charged with coming up with a plan in order to address this.
As they begin a discussion, one of the leaders says, “Of course our English learners are behind. The only time most of them speak English is at school; and even then, we are really lenient in allowing them to speak in their home language with their peers. I understand we are trying to be culturally responsive, but I don’t see how the gaps are ever going to close if we don’t start requiring them to use their English more.”
What coaching move might you try and what phrase would you use to initiate a shift in attitude and hopefully avoid unproductive conflict? (Rephrase, request, revisit, reorganize?)
You are working with a leadership team at a district as they engage in root cause analysis. One of the critical problems they have identified is that they have disproportionality in office discipline referrals between their white students and their Black and African American students. Specifically, for students in grades Kindergarten-4th grade, the Black and African American students in their district are 2.5 times more likely to receive an office discipline referral than the white students in their district.
As the leadership team hypothesizes potential root causes for this disproportionality, one of the leaders states, “It makes me sad that it’s always the students of color who are misbehaving...”
What coaching move might you try and what phrase would you use to initiate a shift in attitude and hopefully avoid unproductive conflict? (Rephrase, request, revisit, reorganize?)
I wanted to leave you today with one last expert on conflict: Patrick Lencioni’s work and the conflict continuum. Notice in the image that Lencioni illustrates that the optimal amount of conflict is directly on the border between productive and unproductive--this is why it is so difficult to coach around. It is like trying to find a needle (or elephant) in a haystack.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
To open a recent coaching session with a team of coaches I asked them to bring a picture they were willing to share of someone that was close to their heart but far from them in distance. I shared an image of my brother, sister-in-law and baby niece. They moved to Boston about a year ago, where Kingsley was born, and Google chat, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook have all been daily windows into their life. Other participants shared that they connected with grandchildren via weekly Skype calls or daily text. The room was aglow of smiles and bright eyes Each one had a story of a relationship that thrived in a virtual world.
I opened with this activity in anticipation to some resistance on the day’s topic--virtual coaching. In the past when I had breached the subject I often heard both coaches and coachees say they weren’t excited about the idea because it seemed to impersonal and cold. One exasperated coach exclaimed, “Coaching is all about the relationships!” This statement couldn’t be truer, so was that the gap? Was there a commonly-held belief that the virtual world was devoid of personal connections?
Perhaps unbeknownst to them, the coaches of our cohort had already debunked their own possible misconceptions. We live in a virtual world and are highly capable of managing and navigating meaningful relationships. In fact, many of the same tenures of successfully coaching someone face-to-face (trust & relationship building to name two) are the same in the virtual world. There are, however, a few reminders and new skills to smooth the transition. And while virtual coaching has advantages over face-to-face, it also has its pitfalls.
As with all technology, this field is constantly experiencing new updates and innovations. As you begin to consider which platform is best for you and your coachees, be sure to spend some time researching. I will briefly introduce two platforms that I have used. This is not to say that they are preferable to others, only that they are the only two I can speak to personally. For both methods, best practice is to commit to a coaching cycle inclusive of a pre and post conference; the only difference is that they will be conducted remotely.
The first method is called bug-in-the ear. During the observation stage of the coaching cycle, the coachee will set up a device to stream their lesson and wear an earpiece microphone. The coach will watch the lesson remotely and offer “reminders” to the teacher as the lesson progresses. The students do not know that a live coaching session is occuring.
I was working with one new-to-the-profession teacher who has asked for coaching around classroom management. He gave his class a set a set of instructions for an activity as released them to work, I reminded him to give some behavior expectations. He quickly stated, “Before we start, I want to remind you that you are allowed to work in pairs and that the noise level is a four. I will give one reminder for off-task behavior and then ask you to work alone.” A few minutes into the activity I reminded, “Give specific praise for students that are following instructions and expectations.” He began to move around the room, “I like the way that Zuby is asking her partner questions about the assignment. I appreciate the way Marquis and Jacob are speaking at a level four.” There were a few more reminders sprinkled throughout the lesson, but the class remained on-task and engaged. In the post conference the teacher was very upbeat, “I didn’t know if I would ever have a class in control.”
This method is definitely more directive and you will want to focus in on coaching questions and goal-setting during the pre and post conference. I prefer to use this method with new teachers to help them build confidence and visualize goals.
The second platform I used had educators record lessons and upload them to a secure website. On this platform a coach can watch the lesson and leave time-stamped comments and questions. Then the coachee can read the comments, watch their lesson and engage in virtual dialogue with their coach.
This platform worked well for a secondary ELA team that I was coaching. I was set to be on the campus once a week. Often I would show up at a classroom to find that it was a testing day, the teacher was out, there was a field trip or it was a writer’s workshop day which didn’t require a lot of coaching. When the platform was made available, teachers were able to check out equipment and record any one lesson during the week. In this sense, they didn’t have to work around a coach’s schedule and they could get feedback on a lesson of their choice. One teacher, who uploaded multiple lessons a week, loved the back-and-forth of the dialogue. I would ask, “What might you have done during the writing activity to provide a scaffold for you EL students?” She was very reflective, “I could have provided sentence stems for some, but I think others would have been fine just to speak through their thoughts first.”
It’s no surprise that nearly every resource speaking to virtual coaching lists trust as one of the principal skills of coaching. An article on the International Coaching Federation website by Clare Norman states, “Trust and intimacy, as well as coaching presence and active listening, can help create the right environment for our clients, giving them the best thinking experience possible.” In an interview, Jim Knight said that most people don’t turn down virtual coaching because of the cameras but rather due to the absence of trust. One suggestion, when possible, for building trust is meeting face-to-face with coachees for the first meeting. Meeting with building administration to ensure that they are on board confidentiality agreements is also essential. One thing to highlight is that the client is the sole owner of the virtual content, it is only shared with their permission. Some platforms even allow for the coachee to pull back the footage after they coach has provided comments. Interestingly, a number of virtual clients said it was easier to trust virtual coaches because they were one step removed from the school, and thus, school administration.
Likely the biggest difference with virtual coaching is a shift in your listening ability. Often times, virtual coaching will also include phone conversations. Suddenly facial and body expressions are no longer part of the mix and listening without visual cues is an entirely new skill. In education we often hear the expression “wait time” and speak to the skill of being able to sit in silence. When we are faced with silence in a face-to-face scenario, however, we can read the body cues of our coachee to determine the appropriate time, virtually these cues will not be available so you must use others. Sometimes this may mean paying attention to breaths and hesitations; and listening to what is not being said.
Rural districts are what first made me interested in virtual coaching. At the time I was working with one school that was 1.5 hrs from my house each direction. They were also the one of the furthest districts from a regional training center and over an hour to the nearest urban city. This mean they they had much less opportunities for support and the disparities were notable. They were too small (as many rural schools are) to have their own coach, so they contracted out. The problem was that my schedule required me to be on campus on Thursdays, but school doesn’t pause on the other days of the week. By using virtual coaching I was able to see the lessons, struggles and triumphs the teachers wanted me to see--be in Monday or Thursday.
Part of maintaining a relationship with a coachee/client requires that you check in with them. In the virtual world some argue that this electronic touch-base needs to be deliberate and intentional in order to maintain the same level of relationship that they would informally up close. In order to do this, I suggest setting a strict calendar and be consistent. I always start my day with check-in emails to virtual coachees. If I don’t, it is easy to push this task aside in favor of others.
Like any new skill, virtual coaching requires practice. I suggest practicing with an educator with whom you already have a high degree of trust. This will give you the space to get feedback and make mistakes. If you have a coaching colleague, why not record one of your coaching sessions (with permission of coachee) and get some feedback. Being in front of the camera will give you insight when you find yourself on the other end of the virtual stream.
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