Instructional coaching is an excellent way to support teachers in their continuous improvement practices, especially given the speed of change in school policies and environment. Indeed, research shows that job-embedded coaching is the most effective type of professional learning for teachers.
Why, then, do some coaching programs fail to produce desired student learning outcomes?
In this post we will elaborate on the second pitfall and recommendation shared in the overview post “Common Pitfalls of Coaching.”
Pitfall #2: Putting the coaching program on auto-pilot.
Designing a thoughtful instructional coaching program is important before coaches get into classrooms, but it’s just as important to reflect on and revise the program throughout its implementation. It is so tempting to set a goal, put a professional development plan in place, and wait for the results to come in at the end of the year. But school life is hectic, and every day thousands of distractors vie for teachers’ attention. Administrators must keep their own and teachers’ attention on student-centered professional development efforts in order to continue making progress toward those important school improvement goals.
One way to maintain attention is to set bite-sized improvement goals that are measurable every few weeks or months. Over time, these incremental steps become sizeable advances toward the bigger goal. It is important to measure and celebrate these incremental achievements, not with major evaluations but instead with simple surveys or checkpoints that relate to the selected instructional improvement goal. For example, it could be a single question answered weekly that asks how many times that day a teacher reflected a student-generated question back for the class to solve. Of course, it is also critical to gather data and feedback at each program milestone in order to ensure that the effort is working as intended and providing the support the teachers need to meet the improvement goals, and these milestones will require more formal measures.
Another way to maintain attention on a professional development effort is to include updates about it in formal communications, as well as to ask for feedback on the effort informally during hallway conversations. Teachers simply need to know that the administrator is invested in the success of the professional development program, and will support the teachers in making improvements.
Recommendation #2: Support the implementation of a coaching program by setting short-term SMART goals, collecting data, and analyzing efforts frequently.