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Coaching as Professional Development: A Powerful Change Accelerator

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With all the attention being paid to improving student performance and the assessments designed to measure that improvement, trying harder and doing more is the first response. Sometimes, it is the only response. For students and teachers alike, after school sessions, tutoring, and practice are replacing exciting and engaging learning.  The attention paid to what is happening in classrooms, that teachers need to change some practices, and the hyper-focus on the standardized test results have raised stress levels. Leaders have found themselves steeped in the teacher evaluation process, pointing out weaknesses and setting goals for improvement as a year-end practice. This type of focus can leave everyone, leaders, teachers, and students feeling disheartened.   

In schools, mentoring programs are often instituted in order to assist new teachers and new leaders to the profession, a new role, or to the school and district. Those with experience apply or are selected as mentors. Minimal training is typically offered. The expectation is that those who know how to do their job well can mentor others well. Content area coaches were an extension of this model. Many schools provided these experts to advise and guide in specific areas.

Learning is a complex process for children and adults alike. Grit, tenacity, stick-to-itiveness, all essential in the learning process, live in children and adults who feel empowered, energized, and valued. Although teachers can create an environment in which the students feel these three, it is unlikely to be sustained if the adults, teachers and leaders alike, themselves are not.  So, we have begun paying attention to the development of coaching cultures.

Decades ago, Stephen Covey differentiated between inside out and outside in change. Education has been trapped in the latter. For schools to change from the inside out, we need to turn the deficit model upside down without sacrificing the need for us to be in a change cycle. Grounded in a reality that acknowledges we are not serving all children well, perhaps a strength based approach would get us farther. If we begin to look for, value, promote, and get excited about what is done well, could students, teachers and leaders be more open to growing, become more engaged learners and creative in practice? Will that give us the results we hope for?  Isn't it worth a try?

Changing mindsets is no easy task. We can encourage leaders to embrace the art of personal reflection, to lead collaboratively, communicate for transparency. But how can professional development build greater system wide self-efficacy as a change strategy? Some districts are turning to professional coaching as an answer.

An intentional process, these facets must exist in order for coaching to be successful.

  • Coaching is characterized by trust, open and honest conversation, skilled questioning and deep listening, sincere reflection, and feedback, requiring a mutual investment of time and of presence.
  • Coaching benefits both the coach and those coached.
  • Selection of coaches is a process that deserves carefully developed criteria and transparency.
  • Ongoing training and developing for a learning community of coaches insures greater success.
  • Not every successful teacher or leader can be a successful coach.  Not everyone is equally coachable.
  • The process, goals and roles within a coaching model must be well defined.
  • The creation of a coaching culture takes intentionality and plans for sustainability.  It establishes a growth culture for adults and students alike (Myers, 2015).

No matter the pressures under which we return to school for the next year, leading away from the deficit model is a common aspiration. It is not a one person job.  Personal growth and capacity building invites the need for a restorative, trusting, confidential relationship, one in which listening and shared reflection precede planning and goal setting. Coaching relationships are rooted in confidentiality, trust, honesty, and reflection.  They are one on one and they are well defined in regard to purpose and timeline. The relationship between coaches and the coached develops over time.

Professional development has become a design for learning of how to do things;  how to schedule, how to evaluate, how to integrate curriculum, how to teach to the Common Core Standards and how to prepare student for standardized tests. Coaching as professional development, however, is the avenue into the aspects of leadership that are rarely otherwise developed.  The personal unfolding of strengths and understandings, the capacity to create environments in which people feel safe and want to experiment with new ways of doing things, the ability to remain gentle in a rough and tumble state of affairs, all have deeper roots in a coaching culture. 

We aren't just talking about coaching for teachers. If a culture is to be established all are involved ....leaders, too. And, yes, we need boards of education who support the concept that one is never done growing in our business. If professional athletes and musicians need coaches, why not superintendents and principals who are at the top of their game but find themselves in a new situation or a new crisis or want to learn how social media can help the district? There is vulnerability associated with learning but getting certified doesn't mean we are ready for everything that comes at us for the rest of our professional lives. Incorporating coaching as a professional development option won't work for all, but, for those who are willing to enter this relationship and process, it can be a powerful change accelerator.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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