Call It Collaborative Coaching

Think about the last time you got feedback from someone about how you were doing on the job. Who was it from?  What was the context? I know the last five pieces of feedback I got were from: a grantee, a program officer, two program officers together, a peer, and my boss. Most of the feedback was in a meeting or a one-to-one and completely on the job. I have a whole community of coaches sitting around me in the office and beyond the office walls that I call on—and who call on me—to hold me accountable for my work.

At the Foundation, we’ve been thinking a lot about how teachers get feedback and the role of coaches and coaching. The most common model right now is to have a cadre of coaches centrally organized or at the site level.  Coaches get distributed to schools that need them based on student achievement, or if there is enough money, each school might get one or two coaches with specific expertise.  But coaching is not embedded into the fabric of the community of learners. The coach has to be all things to all people in some ways, too.  Is that reasonable to sustain?  Could there be another model?

We’re seeing a very different coaching model emerge that focuses more on coaching and feedback as a collaborative learning experience. The focus is on shifting to a culture of coaching, developing coaching skills across a broader set of teachers rather than the traditional one-to-one coaching approach.  Some of our Innovative Professional Development (iPD) sites are taking on this issue.

But this approach takes time and requires a very different use of staff.  We are working with some of our iPD sites, to find more time during the school day, and they are beginning to figure out this new model and make it work. By building highly efficient master schedules, iPD sites are able to set aside a team of expert “Plus” teachers that are not included in the daily schedule.

Some weeks, the Plus teams work with students while their regular teachers are receiving professional development for the full day. Other weeks, they become a coaching team, free to work with colleagues in coaching roles, to co-teach or work with students or even to free up teachers to work as coaches.

This model allows coaching to become the norm, rather than coaches.  In this model, everyone is a coach. While teachers work together in iPD, they coach one another, using lesson study to guide their work as part of a continuous improvement plan.

This model allows a much broader range of content area expertise, so teachers can get very targeted support that fits their specific needs. It’s individualized in that way, but distributed across many people that might know what the teacher needs.

The coach becomes part of this team, in some sites. But does that mean coaching is diminished?  No, quite the contrary!  In fact, the number of coaching days available in schools using this model dramatically increases. In one district, teachers are receiving four times as many days of coaching. There are as many as eight Plus teachers in a school, free to coach over half of their time, which is a far cry from the one or two instructional coaches that a school typically gets.

So regardless of the model, coaches and coaching is evolving in important ways to bring teachers into leadership roles and to have serious conversations about their practice and ways to better support their students. We’ll be studying these models as they emerge and looking for impact, efficiencies and ways to make the promising models sustainable.

– C.