Three Moves for Coaching Outside of Our Grade Level or Content Area

Written by Rachel Jenner

The idea for Ted Lasso was novel: an American football coach plucked out of his country and comfort zone and plopped into the world of English Premier League soccer (or football, as the rest of the world knows it). The questions, doubts, and uncertainty were rampant. In his first press conference, he quite literally learns that soccer is played in halves (not quarters) and it can end in a tie. Not to mention, he has so many culture gaps: he calls tea “hot brown liquid” and doesn’t comprehend the UK geography. One reporter asks, “Is this a joke?” While we can learn a lot from this quirky comedy, an interesting connection is to the idea of coaching when things aren’t terribly familiar…such as outside of our grade level or content area. It’s tempting to think that coaches have to know it all to be successful, but Ted Lasso has taught us the opposite.

Move #1: Be Curious
Ted asks lots of questions and is comfortable not always knowing the answer. Because he knows his weak spots, he shows up as a learner and, in his own words, is “curious.” Coaching outside a familiar grade level or content area forces us to maintain the same type of learner stance and ask lots of questions about the learning that is happening in the classroom. This clearly positions the coach as partner instead of expert – and aides in building partnerships that are truly collaborative.

Move #2: Embrace an Asset-Based Perspective
Ted also believes in the power of identifying what’s currently working and using that as a base for a solid foundation for growth. He encourages the gruff Roy Kent to use his bristly nature to become a champion for the underdog. He embraces Nathan Shelly’s ideas for strategy, leading to the equipment manager’s promotion to an assistant coach. Coaches can promote an asset-based mindset by staying focused on our student learning targets, look for evidence of what students are doing in their learning, and discuss how we might move that student learning forward together. This mindset also extends to teachers. As coaches, we assume positive intent and make sure to keep the teacher in the driver’s seat, ensuring that they retain ownership and choice throughout a coaching partnership.

Move #3: Use Strengths-Based Feedback to Co-Construct Next Steps
While Ted may not have had soccer knowledge, he did have coaching knowledge. He knew the components of discipline and teamwork because he was a good coach. Those coaching skills transferred directly from football to soccer. And while an instructional coach may not have been a teacher in a particular content area, good instruction and good pedagogy transfers. Throughout coaching conversations, coaches can draw on our previous teaching experience and what instructional strategies or pedagogy might transfer to the content area in front of us. This doesn’t involve coaches telling teachers what they should do, but putting ideas on the table and seeing what might transfer or what might work, if adjusted.

Sentence Stems for Co-Constructing Next Steps:

  • What would it look like if we tried …?
  • What are some ways we could incorporate …?
  • What are some possibilities for student interaction?
  • How can we build on the success from yesterday?
  • Based on the student evidence, what might we try next?

In Closing
Coaching outside of our content area requires a shift in thinking – just as it did for Ted Lasso and the community around him. But the shift is simply that: a shift. Let’s stay curious, not judgmental, and embrace the mess of learning together.

Rachel Jenner is a Practitioner Consultant & Digital Content Developer on our team. She is currently a high school instructional coach at a technical education center in Virginia.