Student-Centered Coaching in the Classroom: It’s Where the Joy Is

Written by: Diane Sweeney, co-author of Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves (Corwin, 2016)

After a recent presentation at a coaching conference, a young man pulled me aside and said, “This coaching stuff is harder than I expected. I’m thinking about going back to the classroom.” It felt like a confession, and I wasn’t sure what to say. So I asked, “Tell me about your work. What does it look like on a weekly basis?” He explained that most of his week was spent working with PLCs, and the rest of the time he was writing curriculum. He was barely spending any time working with teachers in their classrooms, so it was no wonder he was feeling disconnected and unhappy. Nobody becomes an educator so they can sit in meetings all day long. We had to get him back to where the action happens. We had to help him find some time for coaching in the classroom.

Making Time for Coaching in the Classroom
It can be hard to prioritize where coaches should be spending their time. Important work can occur during well-structured and well-facilitated PLCs, and the need for curriculum development is always there. The key is finding a balance so that coaches are also able to support teachers to move student learning forward. One of the best ways to do this is through coaching cycles.

I like to think of coaching cycles as ‘classroom-embedded’ professional learning because so much of a coaching cycle occurs right in the classroom. Working in this way shifts coaching away from talking about the work, to doing the work. When a coach and teacher begin a unit with clear goal for the students, and then work together to make sure the goal is met, then coaching is grounded in student learning.

Components of Coaching Cycles:

  • Aligned with a unit of study
  • Approximately 4-6 weeks in duration
  • Include a minimum of one co-planning conversations each week
  • Include one to three co-teaching sessions each week
  • Ideal size is between one to three teachers

Process for Coaching Cycles:

  • Set a goal for student learning
  • Unpack the goal into a set of student-friendly learning targets
  • Co-plan and co-teach on a weekly basis
  • Determine if the goal was met, and what other work is left to do

What Coaching in the Classroom Looks Like
Classrooms can feel like private spaces. This feeling may lead to a hands-off approach when working in classrooms. In these situations, coaches may awkwardly sit in the back of the classroom wondering how to ‘coach’ the teacher as the lesson occurs.

The opposite approach are coaches who take over other teachers’ classrooms. This means the coach is spending a lot of time modeling lessons while the teacher observes. While we see the value in some modeling, it can easily become too much when it is the only strategy a coach uses.

We’ve also seen coaches who end up at a table working with a small group of students. In this case, the coach is isolated from the teacher. While she may be helping out a group of students, her ability to coach the teacher is diminished.

We advocate for a dynamic partnership when we work together in the classroom. For this to occur, the lesson is co-planned so that the teacher and coach understand the learning targets and instructional practices that will be used. The following coaching moves are designed to create these partnerships. While you might not use each of these in a single lesson, the goal is to move in and among them so that learning is happening for the students and adults. For more information on these moves, check out Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves (Sweeney and Harris, 2016).

Coaching MoveWhat It Looks Like
Noticing and NamingDuring the lesson, the teacher and coach focus on how the students are demonstrating their current understanding in relation to the learning targets. As they work with students, the teacher and coach record student evidence to be used in an upcoming planning conversation.
Thinking AloudThe teacher and coach share their thinking throughout the delivery of a lesson. By being metacognitive in this way, the teacher and coach are able to name successes and work through challenges in real time.
Teaching in TandemThe teacher and coach work together to co-deliver the lesson. The lesson is co-planned to ensure the roles are clear, that the learning targets are defined, and that the teacher and coach both understand how the lesson is crafted.
You Pick FourThe teacher identifies four students that the coach will pay special attention to collect student evidence. The coach keeps the learning targets in mind while collecting student evidence. This evidence is then used in future planning conversations.
Micro ModelingA portion of the lesson is modeled by the coach. The teacher and coach base their decision about what is modeled on the needs that have been identified by the teacher.

Let’s Not Forget, Coaching Can Be Fun
The best place to be is in the classroom. Losing that connection will no doubt take away from the joy of being a coach. Recommitting to coaching cycles may involve coming up with plan with your school leader to rework your schedule. Or it may be that you need to set a goal for yourself to try out a cycle with a trusted colleague. Lastly, a little bit of norm setting with teachers may help you reframe your role as a co-teacher, co-thinker, and co-planner. If you’ve lost it, you’ll be amazed how much energy you get from working with teachers and their students to dig into the wonderful world of learning.

© Diane Sweeney Consulting, all rights reserved