When Should I Launch Coaching Cycles?

Written by Diane Sweeney and Leanna Harris

We are all grappling with what to expect when school returns. One thing we know is that this school year won’t be normal. This means that coaching won’t be normal either. If we fail to acknowledge this simple fact, then we fail to be responsive to what’s right in front of us…a pandemic that is shaking the very fabric of our lives.

In the first few weeks of school, whether it’s virtual or in person, teachers will be focused on building community in the classroom, supporting students with technology, setting norms with classrooms and families, and ensuring that all students have access to learning. While much of this occurs in a normal school year, it will be even more important as schools revamp their structures and procedures to maintain the safety of the community. Given this new reality, many coaches are wondering when and how to launch their first round of coaching cycles.

We anticipate that some teachers will be eager to start coaching cycles as the year begins. If this is the case, we’d say to go for it. Yet we also expect that others won’t be quite ready for this type of work right off the bat. In these cases, it may feel like you are in a holding pattern, circling an airport and waiting to land.

While we aren’t giving up on the importance of coaching cycles, we want to acknowledge that this year, it may take a bit longer to get there. In the same way that high quality teaching means being responsive to the needs of the learner, we know that our coaching must be responsive to teachers as well.

What Else Can I Be Doing?
The following list includes four ways that we can engage as a student-centered coach while waiting to formally launch coaching cycles.

  1. Engaging in mini coaching cycles
  2. Engaging in co-planning and co-teaching, just without the coaching cycle
  3. Attending PLCs, department meetings, etc.
  4. Planning units of study that will be taught virtually, in a blended fashion, or in person

Mini Coaching Cycles
Mini coaching cycles are a great way to stay student-centered without jumping into a 4-6 week long coaching cycle. A mini coaching cycle usually takes about two weeks and includes the following steps; 1) choose a learning target to focus on, 2) collect evidence of student learning related to the target, 3) use the evidence to co-plan a lesson, 4) co-teach the lesson, and 5) reflect on whether the students met the target and plan next steps.

Co-Planning and Co-Teaching
Another option is to engage in co-planning and co-teaching sessions either virtually or in person. This is a way to take the work deeper by identifying what the teacher would like the students to know and do, and then create a path to get there. The following coaching moves and language stems are helpful frames for any student-centered coaching conversation, especially when co-planning and co-teaching.

Student-Centered Coaching Moves

  • Use student evidence to ground coaching conversations
  • Work with teachers to assess where their students are before deciding what to teach next
  • Help teachers differentiate learning based on students’ needs
  • Craft student-friendly learning targets with teachers
  • Co-construct ideas with teachers, rather than telling them what to do
  • Maintain a learning stance and carry an asset-based mindset towards teachers and students

Language Stems for Student-Centered Coaching

  • What do you hope students will learn?
  • Let’s look at the standards and see if we are on the right track.
  • What is the learning target for the lesson?
  • What might the formative assessment look like?
  • I’m wondering about…
  • What are you trying to accomplish and how can I help you get there?

PLCs and Department Meetings
When participating in PLCs and department meetings, the key is to stay student-centered. Rather than joining a PLC and taking the stance of a resource provider, you could take the stance of a student-centered coach. This means that instead of just offering help through resources and ideas, your support takes the form of asking probing questions to uncover what the students need to know and do, and what it will take for them to be successful in their learning.

Unit Planning
Coaches can collaborate with teachers to plan how they will deliver instruction through unit planning. This includes discussions around standards, technology, and assessments. In the blog post, How Hyperdocs Can Transform Your Teaching, Jennifer Gonzalez provides an example of a unit that is housed in a technology-based hub. This means students must be more independent as they move through the learning. Teachers can benefit from working with a coach to develop and teach using these types of systems.

Some Resource Providing is OK, But Don’t Get Stuck There
With the sudden shift to remote learning this spring, many coaches spent their time serving as resource providers. This included helping teachers set up online libraries, figuring out the learning management system, and making sure that students had access to the necessary technology. At the time, it made sense given what teachers were facing, and it still may be necessary to play this role with a new set of challenges as the school year begins. The issue arises when this is the only role that a coach plays because it will diminish the impact of the coaching program as a whole.

A strategy to help us avoid getting stuck as resource providers is to allow ourselves a few weeks to serve in this role and then put a date on the calendar for when to shift to more student-centered work. This creates some accountability without too much pressure. Additionally, we recommend for coaches to closely analyze how they are spending their time. This can be achieved through time audits and calendar reviews. If a coach isn’t doing work that impacts student and teacher learning, then it’s time to make some adjustments.

It is also important to communicate what your day-to-day work will look like to teachers. Rachel Jenner, a coach on our team, has created two videos that will be shared with the teachers in her high school. The first will be used as the year begins. In it she introduces herself, shares her coaching beliefs, and offers a variety of ways that she can support teachers during the beginning of the school year. The second will come a month or two into the year when she is ready to share how she will take her coaching work deeper. The idea is that this two phased approach will help teachers understand how her role will shift away from mostly resource providing as they get further into the year.

In Closing
There is no question that coaches need to make a measurable impact on teaching and learning. Yet we must also be sensitive about the current situation and be prepared to respond to teachers needs in this challenging time. While we are providing options for how a coach may wait to kick off cycles, we hope that before too long, coaches will be back to making an impact in this way. In the meantime, they can still focus on working with teachers in ways that are student-centered and support everyone’s learning.

This blog post is included in our new course, Launching Student-Centered Coaching. For more information about the course, please visit https://www.dianesweeney.com/online-courses/.

© Diane Sweeney Consulting