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A Story about What Coaching Can Do

cover_smaller.jpgMy book, The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation, is now available!

This week I'll be sharing excerpts of it, starting with this selection from Chapter 1. From The Art of Coaching:

The best way to describe how coaching can transform schools--through improving teacher practices, addressing systemic issues, and improving outcomes for children--is by offering an example.

Karen, a young white woman, was in her third year teaching English in an urban middle school. Before I started working with her, I had been warned that she was "not good with Mexican kids." One principal had already moved her out of his school, and her new principal, whose student population was 80 percent Latino, was very concerned. I found Karen to be well intentioned, able to create engaging lessons, and capable of building good rapport with students. She was also eager to receive coaching.

A significant percentage of Karen's eighth graders were several years below grade level in reading. Karen agreed to explore her students' skill gaps and selected Angel, a Mexican-American boy, as a focal student. She hoped that digging deep into what was going on with one student would reveal insights and practices that could be applied to other struggling students. Angel was bright, well liked, and had a stable home life; his parents had both graduated from high school in California. He was also goofy and frequently off task in class. Karen had no idea why Angel read at a second-grade level.

As a first step, I coached Karen in using a set of reading diagnostics. She discovered that while Angel had a tremendous mastery of a set of sight words, and therefore could read some text, he could not decode multisyllabic words. Karen dug deeper, finding that Angel struggled with the sounds of certain phonemes. Karen identified the precise skill gaps that made reading difficult for Angel. Now it was just a matter of filling those gaps. Angel leapt at the offer of extra help and extra homework, regularly skipping recess and coming in after school; Karen was enthusiastic about supporting him. In the course of six months, Angel's reading advanced three grade levels.

In an end-of-year reflection with me, Karen revealed that initially she had thought that Angel was "just lazy." She looked at the boy's photo, which decorated the outside of his file. "I really thought he was just a lazy boy," she admitted. She was embarrassed by her previous beliefs and that she'd fallen into believing stereotypes about Mexican immigrants. In our coaching, I carefully and intentionally pushed Karen to explore her belief system; I challenged it and helped her shatter an assumption that she held about some of her students.

I also coached the English department to which Karen belonged. That year, I facilitated an inquiry process to help teachers identify students' key missing skills and provide small-group and individual instruction to close those gaps. By the end of the year, these teachers concluded that it was an imperative to know, from day one, what their incoming students' exact gap areas were. They devised a process in which information could be gathered on students in certain achievement groups as part of the registration process. With these data, teachers could get a head start on planning to close these gaps.

As a result, my coaching led to a systems change--a change in how much teachers at one school know about their students, when and how they get certain information, and what they do with the information they gather. This change was initiated by teachers, welcomed by them, and resulted in a sense of empowerment about changing the outcomes for children. As evidenced by multiple measures, student achievement increased dramatically at this school for the next two years. This is what coaching can offer.

My book offers very detailed descriptions of what coaching can look like, explicit explanations of how to deliver effective coaching, dozens of tools, and more stories. Look for another excerpt tomorrow!

From: The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation, by Elena Aguilar. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013.

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The opinions expressed in The Art of Coaching Teachers 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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