Tips for Launching High School Coaching Cycles

By Thomas Ferrebee, Learning Coach at Nido de Aguilas

It’s where coaching cycles go to die, right? The halls of high schools are full of savvy teenagers looking to bust a teacher for having a coach: What’s up mister, why do you need a coach? Not doing your job right? Add the college-bound pressures of content mastery, and high school cycles can appear daunting. Here are two tips for positioning the coaching cycle as an opportunity for professional learning through inquiry into student learning.  

Tip #1 – Co-Plan How You Will Introduce Your Role and the Process
If introductions to a coaching cycle are left up to the teacher, it might sound something like this, “Students, let’s welcome Mr. _____ to our class.  He is an expert in teaching and learning and will be working with me over the coming weeks.” This kind of introduction should leave a sinking feeling in your coaching heart. Instead, it’s important to see this as a chance to introduce yourself and make the purpose of the cycle transparent to students.

An approach that reframes the role of coach might sound a little like this: “Hey folks, I’m _____, a learning coach here at your school. How many of you have had a coach in your class before? No? All right, your teacher and I are going to be learning together around how you read and decide whether to use sources in your research. We will also be co-teaching the class periodically across the coming month. You’ll see us moving around the classroom together and talking about this goal based on what we see in your learning. We’ll also be asking you some questions that will help us respond to where you are as learners.”    

A good introduction frames the coaching cycle around a spirit of inquiry with all of our students. With young adults, it’s even more important that the introduction removes any assumptions that coaching is about evaluation. Lastly, it includes the opportunity for students to understand their role in the process.  

Tip #2 – Co-Plan into Co-Teaching
It’s important to bring a list of Co-Teaching Options to your co-planning sessions. Many high school teachers have limited experience ceding classroom control to a co-teacher, especially in upper level courses. A list of options can relieve some of those uncertainties and open up possibilities in subject areas where content expertise can leave a coach relegated to an observational role.  

“Noticing and Naming” or “You Pick Four” are good default co-teaching moves that allow teachers to get used to co-teaching in a cycle.  Especially in the first few co-taught lessons, teachers that are new to cycles are sometimes hesitant to make significant changes to the flow of instruction. I like to look for opportunities to take a more public role in the lesson. “Teaching in Tandem” and “Micro Modeling” put the coach front and center as a vulnerable member of the class. In upper level classes it can be fun for the coach to play the confused learner. This role opens possibilities to model thinking about the learning target.  Teenagers are often slower to trust an outsider than an elementary aged student. They need a few opportunities to build trust in the coach, and co-teaching options provide different levers for building trust.  

In Closing
High school cycles need not be daunting for the teacher, students or coach, and these strategies help open a conversation about “our kids” with the teacher and “our learning” with the students.  For them to become rich, cycles need to open and be co-taught in ways that grow trust in the coach and process. Coaching cycles move quickly and these tips help ensure that they get off to a good start.

Tom Ferrebee currently resides in Santiago, Chile with his family. He works at Nido de Aguilas as a learning coach and enjoys the kind of dialogue he finds when partnering with teachers in coaching cycles. For the previous seven years, he taught high school English, ran a student writing center, and served as a literacy coach in Bogotá, Colombia, at Colegio Nueva Granada. He loves working at the nexus of different cultures in international education.

Twitter: @TomFerrebee