Coaching Labs: Collectively Expanding Our Vision for Coaching

Guest post written by Keith Schoen

I will never forget the coaching conversation I had with a second year teacher early in the fall of 2018.  We had been struggling for a few weeks to increase student talk. After our visit to a model classroom at the Ewing Marion Kauffman School in Kansas City, Missouri, we stepped out the front door and enthusiastically began to recount what we had just seen in a student seminar.

On the twenty minute drive back to our school, Guadalupe Centers High School, we recounted many strategies we had never thought of or seen before. It was clear our worldviews had been expanded. We reached our student talk goal just a few days later because our vision for what was possible had changed.

In this conversation, another idea solidified for me. My worldview as a coach needed to expand as well. My vision for coaching was boxed in by my own learning and my own environment. I needed a strategy to see, share, and refine ideas of what was possible as a coach with other coaches from different schools.

In the spring of 2019, twenty-five coaches from across Kansas City and myself have started a journey to expand and refine our coaching practices by using a model for coaching labs from Diane Sweeney (2011). Sweeney writes,

“Coaching labs provide coaches with the opportunity to meet with a small group of colleagues and observe a fellow coach who acts as a lab host.  The goal of the labs is to provide coaches with time to observe one another’s practice, as well as time for rigorous reflection. All participating coaches walk away with new ideas and tools for their own work.”

We borrowed the coaching labs protocol from Sweeney’s Student Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and Principals (Corwin, 2011) because it honors the practice of the coach, and ensures everyone leaves inspired and ready to apply next steps.

Our most recent coaching labs have been at James Elementary School and Sumner Academy. At James Elementary we observed host principal, Dr. Mary Bachkora, and host coach, Melissa Zirkel, practice their instructional coaching model.  Six coaches from three different schools listened as the hosts explained their co-coaching approach and we learned as we asked clarifying questions.

We then took notes, reflected, and wondered as we observed classrooms and two coaching conversations with teachers from their school who graciously agreed to participate in our learning. As the coaching conversations ended, the important work of sharing our objective observations, asking clarifying questions, and planning next steps began.

At James Elementary School, coaches came in with differing perspectives. Coaches had a myriad of experiences with coaching models from The New Teacher Project, Leverage Leadership (Bambrick-Santoyo, 2018), The Impact Cycle (Knight, 2018), and Student-Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and Principals (Sweeney, 2011).

Through seeing and sharing, hosts and participants came away with unique next steps related to:

  • increasing teacher choice in the coaching process;
  • building partnership between coaches and principals;
  • defining precise next steps at the end of a coaching meeting;
  • maintaining a focus on students;
  • finding new urgency for being in classrooms as a coach;
  • molding coaching to meet the unique needs of all teachers.

All educators, like these coaches, are longing for a place to find connection, a place to share ideas and get feedback, and a place to grow and create for the common good of schools and students. Using Sweeney’s coaching labs as a model, my colleague, Joe Pistone, and I hope to build the Kansas City Education Collective, where educators can leverage face to face, right-fit, lateral learning experiences to improve their practice and students’ lives.

Our coaching labs started small in November of 2018, when Joe and I hosted and facilitated a coaching lab at Guadalupe Centers High School in Kansas City. At the end of this lab, coaches were enthusiastic about building a grassroots ecosystem of coaches that learn from one another by observing each other in practice. With the energy of the group inspiring me, I began to reach out to coaches asking them two questions.

  1. Would you like to host or attend a coaching lab?
  2. Do you know any other coaches that might be interested in joining us?

With just a week of emails and phone calls, we had nearly thirty interested coaches and four schools willing to host coaching labs. The Kansas City Education Collective is facilitating these labs, but the learning is only possible through the openness of host schools and the enthusiasm of coaches from participating schools in the Kansas City metro area.

Schools Participating in Coaching Cycles through the Kansas City Education Collective

Hosting SchoolsParticipating Schools
Guadalupe Centers High School
Blue Hill Elementary
Sumner Academy
Guadalupe Centers Middle School
James Elementary
Hogan Preparatory Academy
Osage Trail Middle School
Buckner Elementary
Symington Elementary
Fire Prairie Upper Elementary
Guadalupe Centers Elementary
Elm Grove Elementary

We will continue to facilitate more coaching labs in the 2019-2020 school year, and hope to facilitate labs around other topics as well. This spring, as we continue to learn about coaching together in two more coaching labs, I hope we find that the change we need often lies outside our own ideas, our own environments, and our own school’s model for coaching.  A collective vision of what is possible, gathered from observing each other across schools, will lead to better outcomes for educators and students.

I look forward to sharing more about coaching labs in Kansas City. Keep an eye out for my next post, later this spring, with more information about the protocol and the facilitations moves that make coaching labs run smoothly.


Keith Schoen has been working as an instructional coach since 2015.  Keith has worked as a teacher, team lead, and coach at Guadalupe Centers High School for the past five years. Keith is also the co-founder of the Kansas City Education Collective which works to provide supportive, face to face, right-fit learning experiences for educators across Kansas City. Keith holds a Masters’ in Multicultural Education with TESOL from Eastern University, and has presented in Missouri’s Powerful Learning  and Learning Forward conferences on coaching and professional learning.

Contact Keith:
[email protected]
Twitter: @edcollectivekc