“Leadership is about empowering others to achieve things they did not think possible.” - Simon Sinek
In my last blog, I explained the ins and outs of coaching visits from the teacher’s point of view. Now let’s take the perspective of the coach. Whether you are a teacher-leader, a grade level peer, or a coach, there are a handful of things you can do to make these visits powerful growth opportunities for each of you. The first order of business? Embrace your opening-night jitters. I know from my own coaching experiences how key it is to go in confident because fear is infectious. Here are some other tips for success.
The Set Up
Name the mentoring qualities you aspire to. The first time I coached, I stood in a school hallway with my insecurities at full gallop: What if I can’t answer a question? What if the teacher thinks I’m arrogant? What if the students don’t take to me and the lesson falls flat? I now take those What ifs and turn them into goal statements. For example, I want to make sure the participating teacher knows she can trust me. I want to make sure my language reflects that I appreciate this trust. I want the teacher to know that I am a peer, not a superior. I’m also a teacher. I want them to know that I am there to be a mirror: someone able to watch and reflect back all that is already in place. I want to provide “next step” feedback that is focused, useful, and meaningful. Naming these qualities helped me organize my thinking about the language and actions that would get these goals across within the first moments of the initial visit.
Launch with the “I Go” phase. The gradual release model of I go-we go-you go is as powerful for us teachers as it is for young learners. So, before you schedule a coaching visit, teach in front of the classroom teacher. Teachers appreciate you taking that risk. And after you model in a classroom, talk with teachers about what went well, what didn’t, and what else you might do…No lesson is perfect. Model candid reflection, demystify your process, and make it known that you are growing and learning, too.
Figure out a focus for the classroom visit. When it is time to begin planning classroom coaching visits, ask the teacher—or teachers— for input. For example, you might ask questions such as: How are things going? What would you like to share? Is there anything new you want to try? Where do you want to focus? What would you like feedback on? Is there anything I can do to make this experience more helpful?
Decide on a model for the coaching visit and plan accordingly. Describe a few different models for coaching visits and together, you and the teacher select a model that best matches your goals.
If you are using a co-teaching model… you and the teacher will share the classroom teaching responsibilities. Work out who is doing what before the session begins. Plan together, as this supports the process and not only the “product.”
If you are using a gradual release model… it is best to focus on a “short & sweet” practice. Conferring is ideal! Here’s an example of how this might go: You confer with a student while the teacher observes. Quickly debrief. You and the teacher both confer with a second student (perhaps the coach mines and models and the teacher mirrors and mentors- find out more here). Quickly debrief. The teacher confers with a third student. Again, reflect and debrief together.
If you using an observation/written feedback model… the teacher will be the star and remain front and center throughout the coaching visit. Assure the teacher that you will be jotting notes for her eyes only, and related to the agreed-upon focus. Also emphasize that no special planning or prep is needed.
Double check to ensure that trust and confidentiality will be protected. Remind administrators and supervisors that you welcome their support, but not their presence during any part of the coaching (unless the teacher requests it). Confidentiality is an essential aspect of this process and necessary in building trusting relationships with colleagues.
The Classroom Visit
Ease any nerves. Quickly review the structure of the selected model. Remind the teacher that you are there to provide partnership, cheerleading, and support as needed. Let the teacher know that at any point during the classroom work, they can pause, chat, redo, whatever is needed. PS: This is also helpful to share with students before beginning; what a powerful message of teamwork, growth mindset, and the importance of risk-taking and continuous learning.
Remember that you are a visitor. The teacher is showing a great deal of trust by taking this learning risk. You have been welcomed into this classroom community. As such, try to make your actions, words, and tone reflect appropriate “social etiquette.” Super simple sentiments go a long way. For example, take a moment to smile and say hello. Quickly re-introduce yourself to the class. Be sure to say thank you before leaving.
The Debrief Discussion & Next Step Planning
Provide feedback during a debrief discussion, which can be done right after the visit or a short time later. You can do it via written notes as well. Here at Gravity Goldberg, LLC, we very much believe in working from strengths and providing asset-based feedback (check out this video).
Start with strengths. Our words can bolster our colleagues’ confidence and commitment to their own learning. Mine and mirror what’s in place and start by sharing that. This, in itself is meaningful and impactful. Build off these strengths by sharing a couple of prioritized, specific, and focused ideas for next steps.
If the “discussion” is happening on paper, keep it casual. When using an observation and written feedback model, be especially compassionate. I used to use a template (it almost looked like a graphic organizer) during classroom visits, but stopped because it seemed reminiscent of a formal administrator observation. Instead, I now start by writing the area of focus at the top of a piece of paper— this helps to keep my feedback focused on what the teacher has asked for. My feedback looks almost playful: I often use unlined paper and fun writing utensils (sparkly gel pens and thin, scented markers are my favorites). I sketch thought bubbles, arrows, and lightbulbs to connect observations and ideas. Finally, even if a face-to-face debrief discussion has not been scheduled, I try to find some way to follow up, even if it can’t be that day, so that I make sure the teacher feels heard and understood, and confident about next steps.
Make the feedback reciprocal. Grow your own practice by asking teachers for their feedback. The suggestions I have received from teachers have always been tremendously helpful. These words have shaped each subsequent partnership and coaching session. I often ask for face-to-face feedback. I also offer anonymous feedback options via pencil and paper or Google Forms. Here’s one example.
Follow up, follow through, and then step away. After a debrief discussion, prioritize and schedule time to continue talking, learning, and working together in the classroom. Sit side-by-side with teachers and study student work; notice and discuss observed changes and growth. Offer colleagues helpful resources and tools to support taking next steps—or better yet, host a “make and take” session and get it done together! When you sense teachers may feel ready to be an expert for other teachers, ask their permission to recommend them as a go-to person for other colleagues. One of the best parts of the job of a coach is creating space for others to grow and extend the learning throughout the building.
Every coaching visit is unique. I don’t always use the models, methods, and materials shared above. Just like in my work with students, each coaching experience grows from the shared goals of the participants. Please share your own celebrations, challenges, and resources so we can all support each other.