How to Make Sure Coaching Sticks

Written By: Leanna Harris

A district leader recently reached out for help with an issue that her coaching team had been encountering. She shared that while the coaches were doing a great job getting into cycles, they were wondering how to ensure that the work took hold. In other words, they wondered how to handle situations when teachers returned to how they had been teaching after a coaching cycle ended.

The issue she raised is a common one and the response lies in reframing the question. Instead of asking, “HOW do we get teachers to continue with the work we’ve done together?” What if we asked, “WHY aren’t teachers continuing with the work we’ve done together?”

If we don’t understand why teachers aren’t following through, then we’ll perpetually be in a place of checking in, dropping hints, or trying to push our way back into cycles with them. If we notice that our initial effort didn’t take hold, we might question if these attempts will ultimately lead to real change. This may leave coaches feeling frustrated because the fruits of their labor isn’t having as big of an impact as they had expected. Additionally, it can seem as if they are taking on the role of holding teachers accountable, which takes them out of their lane as coaches. Despite our best intentions, this often makes teachers feel like our job as coaches is to “fix” them – undermining the strong relationships and good will that coaches have worked so hard to build.

So what might we do instead? If we really want to get to the root cause, we must start by holding up a mirror to our own coaching practice. We can do this by asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Did I work with the teacher in a way that gave them ownership and choice?
  • Did I create opportunities for reflection and for the teacher to do the “heavy lifting”, or did I do all the hard work?
  • Did I partner with the teacher in ways that built their capacity to do the work without me?
  • Do we have clear evidence of student growth to create value for what we’re doing?
  • Did we allow enough time and repetition for them to really see the benefits of what we were doing and to make the work their own?
  • Would this teacher feel like the coaching was done ‘with them’ or ‘to them’?

If our answers to these questions reveal places where we took too much control or did all of the work, instead of creating ownership for teachers, it’s likely that this is why the work isn’t being sustained.  

The good news is we can use this opportunity to take stock in our coaching and plan how we partner with teachers in the future. Taking a more reflective approach can feel like a daunting task. But the truth is that when all of the pieces referred to in the questions above are in place, we rarely find that teachers aren’t following through. Rather they end cycles feeling energized and excited about what they and their students have learned throughout the process and that they have the capacity to keep moving forward with the work.

In Closing
As educators, we are trying to shift the conversation from “was it taught?” to “was it learned?” This puts  the onus on teachers to make sure that learning actually takes place, and to make changes when it does not. Similarly as coaches, we must take a reflective stance to consider the role our own actions play in the outcome of our coaching work, and make adjustments in our practice when we aren’t finding the results we would expect to see.

Leanna HarrisLEANNA HARRIS is the co-author of Moves for Launching a New Year of Student-Centered Coaching (Corwin, 2022), The Essential Guide for Student-Centered Coaching (Corwin, 2020), and Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves (Corwin, 2016). She has worked as an educational consultant since 1999.