5 Ways Coaching Can Transform Your School
By: Kristin Daniel
In the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about coaching. I recently designed and facilitated the GOA course Coaching Innovation with twenty participants from independent and public schools and all with various roles as coaches or faculty leads. As we dove into the content, participants began to share their experiences of coaching and the various barriers to starting a coaching program. I began to think, how can we better create space for coaching pedagogy to exist on our school campuses?
I called a friend and former colleague of mine, Jessica Hanson, an instructional coach at The Overlake School in Redmond, Washington. Jessica is in her fourth year as the leader of a coaching program at Overlake where, as of this fall, each faculty member has gone through at least one coaching cycle. Coaching is a part of the culture of Overlake and Jessica is the reason why.
Jessica and I met when I was the Learning Specialist at Overlake. We spent a lot of time talking about teaching and learning. Last Friday, she and I had a conversation about the transformative power of coaching.
The conversation reminded me that coaching works because it’s about relationships and trust. Here are five of the highlights from our conversation.
- Teaching is deeply personal: Jessica believes in relational coaching – coaching that is built on trust, rapport, and an authentic relationship. Before she begins a coaching practice with a teacher, she ensures she has a relationship with that teacher. “Teaching is personal and in many ways tied into our identities”, she explains. It’s difficult to have someone come into our classroom, our space, and “peak under the hood” of our teaching, as she puts it. Jessica begins each coaching relationship with a teacher by asking, “What are your hopes, dreams, fears, and personal goals?” This is intentional. The work the two then dive into is framed by the teacher’s own goals, not someone else’s goals or initiatives being placed upon the teacher. Coaching works because it values and honors that teaching is personal and starts with a personal relationship.
- Coaching skills create equity between two colleagues. On Jessica’s whiteboard in her office she has these words written: “compassion”, “humility”, and “genuine inquiry”. The words are reminders to be more of an anthropologist in her work, a data gatherer that checks assumptions and opinions at the door, and to let compassion guide her work. Elena Aguilar recommends that coaches practice “expansive listening”, listening from a place of genuine interest, authenticity, and openness. Being a better listener means asking questions that invite others to share. Questions that are framed by warmth and kindness. And finally, a good coach, like Jessica, ensures she has truly understood what the other person has said and her own perceptions have not altered the words of the teacher. These are skillsets are valuable in providing a space where a teacher feels supported and open to personally and professionally grow.
- Coaching has led to more conversations about pedagogy. When a school culture begins to shift towards a focus on teaching and learning growth, conversations shift. People begin to be more transparent about their practice, to seek support, and to invite others in. Coaching “is changing the way we have these [teaching and learning] conversations everywhere on campus by the habit formation of sharing your practice. It’s much more ingrained in what we do now”, says Jessica. Teachers feel more open to share what they’ve learned and how they want to improve with one another.
- Look for the “through lines.” As a result of Jessica’s work, she often sees patterns arise across campus or what she calls “through lines”. She describes through lines as the areas of connection or themes across the campus. The through lines may be areas where larger initiatives may be needed to help and support faculty. In creating through lines, Jessica asks herself, “Where are their pockets of professional growth and innovation? And how do I connect those people?”. The through lines help to create a sense that faculty feel heard and valued throughout the school culture.
- Change takes time. Jessica reminds us that “coaching is a long term commitment”. Teachers will be resistant to changing their practice when it doesn’t feel relevant to their work with students in their classrooms. To really improve student outcomes, we all need to recognize that behaviors change slowly. “Changing habits doesn’t happen when you get inspired by hearing an amazing speaker. That’s great, and we need to be inspired, but real change won’t happen that way”.
So how do you build a school culture that promotes a coaching program? Find your tribe. We can not change a system alone, but we can with others. According to Jessica, “It is hard to change a school culture as an individual. The more people you can get that speak your language, spread the word, spread the ideas, the stronger your position will be as a change agent”.
Every educator should be a change agent, changing the lives of their students, their classrooms, and their schools. So start a conversation about coaching on your campus today and give that change a coach.
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