Increasing Teacher Engagement in Coaching

Whether it’s the beginning of the school year, or somewhere in the middle, engaging teachers in coaching is an ongoing process that requires intentionality and perseverance. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins uses the term the ‘Flywheel Effect’ to describe how organizations get and maintain momentum. He writes, “No matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. In building a great company or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond” (Harper Collins, 2001). We can apply this very construct to building a culture of high levels of engagement in coaching. It’s not really about grand proclamations that we now have an instructional coach as much as it is about advocating, celebrating results, and being clear about what the process entails. Let’s break each of these ideas down into concrete actions.

Advocate for Coaching
Coaches shouldn’t be expected to advocate for their own work. A better approach is for the principal to take on this role. In the article, Pave the Way for Coaches, Heineke and Polnick write, “We have seen too many administrators who have abdicated this administrative task, expecting the coach to explain his or her role to the faculty. Consequently, in our experience, teachers step into the vacuum left by passive administrators and exert their own influence in shaping the coach’s role” (Learning Forward, 2013). Here are some ways principals can be strong advocates for coaching:

  • Speak from the heart about why coaching matters
  • Set the expectation for teachers to engage in coaching, but also provide choice in what that looks like
  • Make connections regarding how coaching and school improvement efforts fit together
  • Create a culture where coaching is for all teachers, rather than just for those who are struggling  

Celebrate the Impact of Coaching
Data is an important vehicle for engagement. An example is 4Ocean, an organization that cleans trash from oceans, rivers, and coastlines. As I wrote this, their website announced that they had cleaned 19,892,592 pounds of trash from our waterways and coastlines since 2017. Sharing this data reinforces the value of the work they do. We can do the same with coaching.

Our first step is to create a plan for how data will be collected in the first place. We use the Results-Based Coaching Tool because it allows us to collect data around both teacher and student learning. While it can take some time for coaches to understand how to navigate this tool, it is essential if we hope to be able to celebrate the impact of coaching. To achieve this, we can:

  • Engage teachers in coaching cycles rather than drive-by coaching
  • Collect data throughout coaching cycles using the Results-Based Coaching Tool
  • Ask teachers to share the impact that was made with other teachers in the school
  • Synthesize the impact of coaching across a school or district

Paint a Picture of What the Process Entails
One of the easiest barriers to overcome is a lack of understanding around the processes for Student-Centered Coaching. This is often a simple reframe, especially if teachers have experienced teacher-centered coaching in the past. Here are some ways we can get clear around what it means to participate in coaching:

  • Describe what Student-Centered Coaching is and isn’t
  • Provide clarity around the practices that are used in full and mini cycles
  • Share options for how and when teachers can engage in coaching
  • Get clear about how coaching cycles will be scheduled as well as how much time they will take

A Final Thought
It can be easy to get frustrated if teachers aren’t finding the time for coaching cycles. When this is the case, we need to avoid reverting to merely serving as a resource provider and thus eliminating opportunities to collect data that reinforces our work. Consider if 4Ocean simply stated, “We clean oceans” and didn’t have the data to back up their work. While they may be making an impact, how would we know? This is why we must continue to push for deeper coaching through cycles. 

The bottom line is if participation is lacking, it’s time to work in principal and coach partnerships to get that flywheel going. As Jim Collins writes, “You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster, and with continued great effort, you move it around a second rotation. You keep pushing in a consistent direction. Three turns … four … five … six … the flywheel builds up speed … seven … eight … you keep pushing … nine … ten … it builds momentum … eleven … twelve … moving faster with each turn … twenty … thirty … fifty … a hundred. Then, at some point—breakthrough!”

8 thoughts on “Increasing Teacher Engagement in Coaching”

  1. Hi Leanna and Diane! So many great reminders in this post–I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the conditions that underpin deep teacher engagement in my school so this really resonates. Luckily, I work in a school where coaching is just baked into the culture and we try to be intentional about celebrating impact. However, a couple months into the school year, many historically enthusiastic and engaged teachers reported they weren’t finding joy in teaching, so I’ve added a new question to my coaching cycle launch meetings: simply, “How we work together to make coaching joyful?” It’s been interesting to see how this question has brought a spark to coaching, and in turn, teachers’ practice.

  2. Hi Diane,
    As a principal of over 20 years, I have been following your work and I use many of your tools with my staff. I have found that teacher engagement comes when they TRUST you (as an administrator) are there to help and not to harm. It is a hard balance to find, but one that can happen.

  3. Jennifer and Penny, I’m so glad this resonated with you. It definitely sounds like we have some real work to do with principals… I promise we will get there!

  4. Beautifully written and absolutely needed! The coach and administrator must have a strategic plan centered around student learning and measured using data!! Coaching is for everyone! We are stronger together and the coach needs that support! I absolutely love the part about speaking from the heart on why coaching matters! Communication is key!!!

  5. Penny…it hits the nail on the head at my school as you will see tomorrow. I am hoping when Leanna returns that she can meet with principals and have them share. There are some whose coaches are being well utilized. And then there are those, like me, who are simply a resource or substitute.

  6. Encouraging article, Diane! Coaching is hard if there is no advocacy, and the coach should not have to do all the marketing for themselves. The principal is the key player. Unfortunately, many of our principals just don’t “get it.”

  7. This article comes at a perfect time. We just came back from winter break and I get the sense that teachers want to isolate themselves now more than ever. Your comparison of coaching to 4Ocean serves as a reminder to get the effective work we’ve done so far this year out there to other teachers in the form of data. I will share this with my principal.

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