Student-Centered Coaching Cycles

Effective professional development requires continuous support that can best be delivered by a school-based coach. By now many of us are familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s supposition from the book Outliers about how much time it takes to become good at something. He writes, “The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for expertise: ten thousand hours” (2008, p. 39). 

The complex task of teaching takes time to learn. Some may argue that excellence can only come with years of experience. Yet there is too much at stake for our young learners to have to wait on their teachers to gain enough experience to become effective. So we create opportunities for teachers to engage in professional learning, which serves as the “practice” that occurs in mastering other types of tasks. However, despite major financial resources invested in such learning opportunities, we know that often very little of it leads to a change in instructional practice, let alone increased learning for students. 

If the outcome of coaching is improved student learning, then coaching has to be in-depth and sustained over time. This requires a coach and teacher (or team of teachers) to determine where the students are in their learning, design and implement instruction that is differentiated, and modify the instruction to ensure that the students meet the standards. One way to provide the necessary support is by organizing coaching into cycles to create a structure that allows for sustained collaboration over a period of time. These coaching cycles provide a framework for designing ongoing and in-depth work with teachers. They occur in the following stages.

Stages in a Student-Centered Coaching Cycle

When our coaching work is episodic and feels like we are always helping “one person, one time, with one thing”, we call this drive-by coaching. It is more relationship and resource-driven, and it’s difficult to have a significant impact on student or teacher learning. When we provide time and focus through coaching cycles, it enables real learning to occur.

Coaching cycles have the following characteristics:

  • They involve in-depth work with a small group, a pair, or an individual teacher
  • They focus on a goal for student learning that is driven by the standards
  • They last approximately 4–6 weeks, and are typically tied to a unit of study
  • They include at least one weekly 30–45 minute planning session to analyze student work and design instruction
  • They include 1-3 times per week for the coach to be in the classroom to co-teach (notice and name, think aloud, teach in tandem, you pick four, or micro-model)

A Final Thought
Teaching is hard work, and there is no step-by-step manual that explains how to be a master teacher. In order to improve our craft we must put in the time and intention, always with a focus on outcomes for students. Student-Centered Coaching Cycles provide a platform to engage in this kind of professional learning. The coach is a partner in supporting teacher and student learning, and the structure ensures in-depth collaboration. Coaching cycles are the bedrock of Student-Centered Coaching, upon which meaningful and measurable learning is able to take place, and in the following chapters we will discuss a variety of things to take into account in order to make them happen.

Gladwell, M. (2008) Outliers. Little, Brown, and Company: New York: NY.

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