Moving from an ‘Opt In’ to ‘All In’ Coaching Model

There’s no question that teachers are pressed for time. In fact, this is one of the most common reasons we hear for why teachers may not engage in coaching cycles. The perception is that coaching cycles will ‘take’ too much time and coaches feel as if they are up drumming business. The good news is there are some strategies for how we can reframe this assumption and garner more interest in coaching cycles.

Shift to an ‘All In’ Coaching Model
An ‘all in’ approach implies that everyone engages in the hard work of doing what’s best for students. This means that we cultivate a school culture that embraces learning and growth. Doug Lemov identifies this as a ‘no opt out’ school culture. These high expectations are clearly articulated throughout the school so that teachers understand that engaging is expected.

It’s helpful for teachers to understand that coaching cycles are not something extra. Instead, it means that teachers will have a thinking partner to support their planning and teaching. We must live up to this promise by ensuring that coaching conversations consistently add value to teachers. This means that we can’t waste anyone’s time. We must be on our game during each-and-every coaching conversation. We owe this to teachers.

Provide Choice
Creating the conditions for engagement also means we have to steer clear of a compliance-driven approach. Compliance takes coaching from a place of inspiration and learning, to one in which teachers are there for all the wrong reasons.  The more that teachers can own their own learning, the more authentic their engagement will be. Much of this comes down to choice. We know it’s paramount for students to have choice, but we’d argue that it is equally important for adult learners because choice is about providing teachers with autonomy over their work.

Make it Relevant
We often hear questions about how to ensure that teachers will continue to implement what they learned from a coach. In other words, will there be traces of the work a few months later? We like to borrow from the work of Wiggins and McTighe and refer to this as ‘transfer’. Grant Wiggins famously said, ‘The point of school is not to get good at school but to effectively parlay what we learned in school in other learning and in life’. This notion of transfer also applies to teachers because we want what was learned to become embedded into daily practice, and to continue to help students grow as learners.

Creating meaning for adult learners is one of the most powerful ways to ensure that transfer occurs. In his famous TedTalk, Simon Sinek recommends that we begin any new initiative with the ‘why’. If we answer the questions, ‘Why is this important? Why does it matter for our students? And why should I care?’, then we are able to frame coaching around student learning.

What About Teachers Who are Resistant to Change?
You may be wondering how to address the issue of teachers who just won’t engage, no matter what we do. This is a legitimate challenge that many of us have experienced. You may be tempted to use a parenting strategy and say, “Do it because I said so!” But you know that this is probably not the most conducive way to build a learning community. Instead, let’s apply what we know about engaging adult learners and think in different ways about the reasons that might be causing reluctance. Here are some strategies that may be helpful:

  • Reinforce the notion that coaching cycles are designed to move student learning forward, rather than to fix teachers
  • Provide choice in how, when, and with whom teachers might engage in coaching
  • Probe why the teacher may be feeling resistant. Listen and try to address any concerns.
  • Remind the teacher that coaching cycles are a part of what teachers do in the school community

Build Energy around Coaching
Coaching is like a garden that needs to be continually nurtured in order to thrive. We find that one of the best ways to do this is to affirm and celebrate the work that is occurring. I’d recommend that you start the school year with a recap of all of the wonderful learning that occurred last year, and frame coaching for the year to come. Then as the school year progresses, share the impact that coaching is making on teaching and learning. This will go a long way in valuing the adult learners in your school. It will also set the expectation that coaching matters and that it’s absolutely worth our time.

© Diane Sweeney Consulting, all rights reserved.

1 thought on “Moving from an ‘Opt In’ to ‘All In’ Coaching Model”

  1. Our high school seniors at our three Maine Township High School District 207 high schools just graduated in May as perhaps the first cohort of students to attend high schools in which every teacher every year had an instructional coaching plan. Our coaching journey began in 2007 when we discovered that most of the teachers we had conventionally trained in cooperative learning weren’t actually implementing the strategy. The ones who were were our teacher trainers. Of course they were. Using that information we shifted to using a coaching cycle in addition to cooperative learning training. From there we added coaches as an “opt in” model. Seven years ago we reached an agreement with our teachers to pilot individual instructional coaching plans for two years as a lead up to “all in” coaching in 2014-2015. Now as we enter in to our fifth year of all-in coaching there are several take aways, but the most important is this: if you run a high quality coaching program with respected coaches, and if you insure that coaching does not influence teacher evaluations in any way, and if you find every possible way to provide all teachers ways to lead, your capacity will grow each year. Even most of our veteran skeptical teachers have come around, and we are close to having a population of teachers for whom the majority have only ever know instructional coaching as how we do business. We are really evolving into much of a personal learning framework for our adults, and that is exciting to see. I am passionate about getting to collective efficacy for our schools, and there is simply no way to do that without everyone continuing to learn.

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