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What Is Professional Development for Coaches?

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

This week I'm sharing excerpts of it. Today's selection comes from Chapter 15, "What is Professional Development for Coaches?"

The Importance of a Team

For a couple years, I belonged to a team of transformational leadership coaches in the school district in which I worked. Our manager was a brilliant master coach and every week we gathered for reflection and professional development. We used structures and protocols (many of which I'll share in this chapter) to learn, to push each other's thinking, and to refine our coaching practices. We delved into book studies, conducted action-research, engaged in inquiry cycles and developed curriculum for administrators. Our team space also provided the kind of relief and rejuvenation that we needed in order to do our work--the emotional support was invaluable and impossible to garner elsewhere. I became a transformational coach through this team, with the partnership of my coach-colleagues.

My hope is that all coaches have an opportunity similar to what I had. Coaches are by nature reflective, we relish interpersonal exchanges, and most seem to have an incessant yearning to learn. But the majority of coaches I have come across work in isolation--either at a site or deployed around a district. Coaches clamor for our own PD, supervisors nod their heads in agreement, but very few opportunities or structures exist for coaches in schools to develop their practices. In order for coaching to be maximized and to deliver on its potential, coaches will need formalized, systematized structures in which to learn together. As the field of coaching develops and as the education community recognizes the impact that coaches can have on student learning and school transformation, I hope to see robust, on-going professional development for coaches. This chapter attempts to contribute to this end...

Focusing Coach Professional Development

Professional development for coaches must focus on refining coaching skills. Deepening a content coach's knowledge of specific instructional practices and curriculum is important for content area coaches, but they also need to learn coaching skills. If a coach is an expert on early literacy practices but knows nothing about how to get a reluctant teacher to try them out, this knowledge is useless. A content coach must also learn how to engage teachers in conversations about the equity issues that surface in their classroom and about how to interrupt those inequities. These are not skills that most of us inherently have and as soon as we begin coaching, we recognize the need for a vast skill and knowledge set.

Ideally, coaches would work together in teams under the guidance of a master coach. However, if these conditions don't exist, coaches can partner with and support each other. Coaches can establish structures such as peer coaching to learn from and support each other. This chapter offers many ways for coaches to reflect on our practice and improve our skills.

Professional Development for Coaches

To plan PD for coaches we follow the same steps as when planning PD for any other adult learner. First, we need to know what kind of coach we're developing--which coaching model will be used and how the coach's work will be defined. We also need a way to assess a coach's skill set and knowledge base. Finally, we need to identify which learning activities could best help a coach develop her practice.

Start with the End in Mind

In order to design a professional development program for coaches we need a comprehensive definition of a school-based coach. While we have standards that describe the skills and knowledge components for students, teachers, administrators, and teacher leaders--there is no general equivalent for coaches. (A set of standards for middle and high school literacy coaches has been created--see the Recommended Resources in Appendix E.) Therefore, first we need to articulate the requisite skills, knowledge, capacities, and perhaps dispositions for coaches working in schools.

The International Coach Federation (ICF), the world's largest nonprofit coaching organization, offers a useful starting point. Although not grounded in an education context, this organization's Professional Coaching Core Competencies identifies a lengthy set of foundational coaching skills and dispositions that all coaches could work toward refining. However, school-based coaches need an additional set of competencies that reflect the context in which we work and a commitment toward a transformed education system.

In Appendix C I offer a Transformational Coaching Rubric for self-assessment and reflection and as a framework for professional development. This rubric proposes a set of essential competencies and establishes a starting point for a discussion on what an education coach should know and be able to do. A coach could use this in a variety of ways: to reflect on her own capacities and identify areas of growth, to support a peer coaching arrangement, or as an evaluation tool with a supervisor.

With a rubric or set of coaching competencies, a coach can identify her strengths and areas for growth. The following section describes activities that can help refine a coaching practice. These incorporate various aspects of coaching including the practical and technical, questioning skills, and techniques to develop a grounded and calm presence.

The rest of this chapter has numerous suggestions for activities that coaches can engage in. The book also has the coaching rubric that I use. Let me know what you think of these ideas and resources!

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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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