Four Options for Student-Centered Coaching: Coaching Cycles, Mini Cycles, Co-Planning Units, and Co-Planning Lessons

Feeling effective as an instructional coach depends on having systems that work. Any coach will tell you that one of the things Covid affected the most were those very systems. Many coaches felt like they were set adrift as classrooms became empty, teaching moved online, and many teachers were overwhelmed.

We realized pretty quickly that we needed to explore how we could continue to provide support that didn’t demand a full coaching cycle. This led us to wonder what coaching might look like if it was a bit less demanding but was still student-centered. That’s when we began advocating for three additional structures that included; mini coaching cycles, co-planning units, and co-planning lessons. 

What Now? 

As we continue to move through Covid, we’ve observed that these additional offerings have allowed coaches to be more responsive while also staying student-centered. For example, in Battle Ground Schools (WA), the instructional coaching team has created a menu that is based on all four structures. They understand that while they are broadening the processes they use for coaching, they are working hard to ensure that student learning remains at the center of each and every coaching conversation. They are also working to deepen the principals’ understanding so they can be an advocate for coaching. This has occurred through school-based consultancies that we’ve been organizing with the principal, assistant principal, coach, and district-level leadership. Getting on the same page has facilitated a process where the school leaders frame the options for coaching among their teaching staff, set clear expectations for participation, and cheerlead when teachers engage in the process. 

Let’s Dig Deeper into the Four Structures

Full Coaching Cycles: Still the most important structure for Student-Centered Coaching, full coaching cycles provide the coach and teachers the time it takes to make a measurable impact on teaching and learning. Full coaching cycles include the following components: 

  • Occur over 4-6 weeks
  • Are standards-based and typically align with a unit of study
  • Include co-planning and co-teaching that involves student evidence
  • Take place with individuals or teams
  • Are measured using the Results-Based Coaching Tool

Mini Coaching Cycles: Mini coaching cycles follow the same process as a full cycle; they are just smaller in scope and include the following components:

  • Occur over 1-2 weeks
  • Usually focus on narrower goal or learning target
  • Include co-planning and co-teaching 
  • Take place with individual teachers
  • Can focus on classroom behavior or engagement

Co-Planning Units and Lessons: Co-planning can offer immediate relief to teachers because it provides them with someone to think through their lessons or units before they are used with students. While we miss the opportunities to coach in the classroom when we are co-planning, it can provide coaches with the chance to build relationships in a way that may lead to full or mini coaching cycles in the future.

The protocols on the right from Student-Centered Coaching from a Distance (Sweeney and Harris, 2020) provide the steps in the process for co-planning units and lessons.

A Final Thought

Expanding the structures we use has certainly been necessary during Covid. Since we aren’t quite out of the woods, we hope these options will provide coaches with expanded opportunities for how they work with teachers. We also hope that coaches will find many more opportunities to engage in full coaching cycles in the future, as these are truly the way we can most effectively impact teacher and student learning.