Coaching for Educators
Regardless of your philosophy about educating young people, there is one principle upon which everyone agrees: the teacher makes a significant difference in student learning. This difference isn't just about delivering a lesson. It's also about the ability of a teacher to respond to the widely varied needs of students within the school setting. This is complex and multi-faceted work, and most teachers need support in developing the kind of reflective practice that can respond to this demanding role. Educational coaching can provide this support and guidance as teachers strive to improve student achievement. MSU's Office of K-12 Outreach has been a leader and innovator in training educational coaches for more than a decade and continues this valuable work with Coaching 101, a program they developed for MI Excel, the Statewide System of Support for Title I Priority and Focus schools.
Educational coaches must be highly skilled in active listening, posing powerful questions, and providing structured feedback through the one-to-one coaching conversation. These professional conversations provide opportunities for teachers to explore their beliefs, assumptions and pedagogy. The coaching process is a solid structure for holding conversations, and coaching skills bind that process together.
In the context of education, teachers' beliefs and expectations are critical to changing the educational landscape. They must believe in their own ability to impact learning, and in the student's ability to achieve proficiency. Through the coaching conversation, teachers' beliefs are explored through the process of mediation. Mediation is defined as the intentional influence of thinking and feeling through the posing of powerful questions by the coach. A skillful and well-intentioned coach can mediate teachers' thinking to help them believe in their capacity to transform their practice, clarify specific goals, and build their capacity to increase student achievement. This transformation occurs one conversation at a time.
"Educational coaching isn't just 'talk,' says Dr Diane Jackson, program director for Coaching 101. "It's about action and forward movement. When we coach, we want people to notice where they are and where they want to be, and learn the skills to not only change their practice, but to reflect on and evaluate whether those changes are working."
In this section of K-12 Connect, we explore topics around the various types of educational coaching.
“Is That All You Have To Say?”
Conversations between individuals require skillful listening skills. Closely associated to listening is the essential skill of paraphrasing. Decades ago, the skill of para-phrasing was used in therapy, counseling, and conflict resolution. The skill was a “parroting” of the speaker’s words and was related back to the speaker in ‘I’ statements, such as: “I hear you saying…” or “I feel that you…” This way of paraphrasing never seemed effective in moving a conversation forward because it sounded awk-ward to the receiver and it was more about “I” (the listener) than “you” (the speaker).
When you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.”
J. Krishnamurti (1969)
"...all communication is filtered through our listening. It is shaped by our biases, experiences, intentions and interpretations."
Gary Bloom (2005)
Educational coaches understand that listening requires the internal skill to totally focus on the coachee and what is going on in the coachee's world. Listening deeply with acceptance and empathy allows the coach to truly understand the coachee and is also an initial step in building trust. The ability of the coach to listen with integrity for words and emotions leaves a space for the coachee to reveal concerns and shape goals during the coaching conversation. When a coach is fully present as both a listener and observer, a great deal can be learned about the coachee.
"Masterful coaches inspire people by helping them recognize the previously unseen possibilities that lay embedded in their existing circumstances."
Robert Hargrove (2003)
The term coach has been widely applied to various roles and functions in many schools as well as in the field of education. The role may include a resource provider, an expert in subject or technical matter, a presenter of information, or one that manages and directs groups. The Michigan Department of Education defines an educational coach as one who mediates thinking, clarifies goals, and builds capacity. To assist schools in developing a coherent understanding of the varied roles or "hats" that an educational coach might wear, the Coaching 101 training program has examined four distinct roles: coach, facilitator, presenter, and consultant. A deliberate intention underlies each role that supports teachers and school personnel in reaching their goals.
When participants leave Coaching 101 Foundations Training, they leave with a series of reflection questions to help them to guide their work. Questions might include: What might support look like? When do I transition to an expert and support the content,? How do I coach within the structures of the building? How do I network with the other coaches in the building? What will success look like for me? How do I foster continuous improvement of my skills? How does my coaching increase student achievement? How do I build a relationship with the teacher so that we see each other as partners in the work? The goal is to move from reflection to action to provide professional support.