The Importance of Having a Coaching Model

Something that has become apparent to me in the course of my coaching work is the importance of having a model to guide a coaching team.  I am lucky to work with a team that is now entering its tenth year.  Our model, which is based on teacher-determined goals, has allowed the work we do to grow and be understood in the schools we serve.  This may seem basic, but after attending a coaching workshop this past week, I realize that many of my colleagues in other districts do not enjoy that same clarity of purpose among the faculties they serve.  I had taken for granted the value of our well-defined model as something that everyone in this business has.

The difficulty of workshops/conferences solely devoted to coaching is that everyone has their own way of doing it—and everyone believes theirs is right.  The presenters may recognize the necessity of customization, but in the end, there is no one right way to coach, though there are some standards of practice.  For example, in most models, there is a belief that a coach’s duty is not to “fix” teachers, but instead to work from a strengths-based model.

In my instructional coaching PLC, we have taken up the book Switch, by the Heath brothers.  They use the model of the elephant and its rider created by Jonathan Haidt as a unifying model for their work.  The book is intended to focus on change, but as I’ve been reading, I feel like they also are discussing the work of developing a model.  For our purposes, at least for this post, we will look at some of the ideas in the chapter, “Scripting the Crucial Moves.”

The idea is that you focus in on the things that have to happen, and think of the behaviors that will create the necessary conditions for them to occur.  So, if your plan is to make a million dollars, you must realize that’s not a plan, but an outcome or goal of specific behaviors that facilitate that outcome.  For Albemarle County Public Schools, our goals for the instructional coaching model were:

  1. To foster a culture of collaborative, reflective, and public practice

  2. Support the continuous improvement of curriculum, instruction, and assessment

  3. Partner with teachers to actualize professional goals

To do these things, there are specific behaviors that will contribute to realizing these goals.  Some of the behaviors we decided to embrace as a framework are:

  • Ensuring that time spent coaching involves as much side-by-side work as possible with teachers in our schools. (you can’t do 2&3 without this)

  • Understanding that we are not the instructional leaders in our buildings. (if we own the instructional change, then it leaves with us when coaches change, so 1&2 are not met)

  • Trusting teachers to own the goals they develop. (this means they are driving, so their successes are theirs, not the coach’s 1,2,&3)

  • Maintaining trust by honoring our firewall of confidentiality between admin and the work we do with teachers. (mostly 1, because a positive culture is not built around suspicion and fear)

  • Affirming the work of the model above the work of the individual coach. (if coaches are operating similarly, then the service we offer is not wholly dependent on one specific coach. This contributes to the longevity of the model)

Overall the goal is to provide some sort of “moral” compass for the work.  We make so many decisions everyday, that to provide the team members with some general concepts to base the rightness of their decisions simplifies the daily workload.  It also gives us a clear-cut response when our work is questioned or we are asked to do something that does not fit our mission.  For example, an admin asks, “Could you lead a PD on X?”  Since I am not an instructional leader, I would say, “I am a supporter of teachers, and work with them on individual goals, and X doesn’t fall in line with the model we (coaches) work from.”  See?  There’s not a decision there, but a clear cut response that prioritizes the work, and if the coach were to buckle and say okay, the coach would know they were working outside the model.

So to close, you should definitely check out the upcoming podcast I’m releasing where we’ll talk with Albemarle County educators about how the model we use came about and is persisting.