Considerations When Launching a Coaching Initiative
Coaching is an effective way of developing the skills and capacities of teachers and leaders and there's a growing pile of evidence demonstrating that it can have a positive impact on student learning. I dream of seeing well-trained coaches working with every educator in every school. But while coaches need intensive initial training and on-going professional development, there's also a whole lot more that they need in order to be effective. What they need is to work within an articulated coaching framework which has been communicated to all teachers, administrators, coaches and anyone involved with curriculum, instruction and staff development.
What is a Coaching Framework?
A coaching framework is an articulation of the purpose of the program, the ways in which it works, its intended outcomes and expectations, the skills of its coaches, and its theoretical underpinnings. A coaching model helps guide and direct the actions of practitioners and participants, as well as those monitoring and evaluating the program. It also helps to align and manage expectations about what the coaching program will accomplish. An articulated coaching model sets its practitioners up for success, as well as ensures a greater likelihood that the program's clients will be successful, and that the communities they serve will be positively impacted.
What Goes In a Coaching Framework?
A strong coaching framework includes the following elements (which are really just elements of any effective initiative or program):
1. The Current Reality: A description of the current reality in which the coaching program is being launched. This includes reflection on existing coaching programs and their strengths and weaknesses.
2. A Vision Statement: This articulates what you want to see from a coaching program. It describes a compelling future and is a basis for assessing the current reality.
3. A Mission Statement: This helps us establish priorities and guide decisions. It reflects the fundamental purpose for the coaching program.
4. Core Values: These are the collective commitments that guide behavior of those implementing the coaching program. They describe how you will have to behave in order to fulfill your mission and realize your vision.
5. Program Goals: This is the way in which we will mark our progress. These describe the measurable changes you want to see as a result of your coaching program. These can include changes in teacher practice, client satisfaction, teacher retention, student learning and student experience.
6. Theories of Action: This describes how we're going to do what we're going to do in this coaching program. A theory of action is stated as an "If...Then..." statement. For example, "If coaches received professional development in working with adult learners, then they'll have the necessary knowledge to support their coachees."
7. Coaching Model: What kind of coaching will be implemented--Cognitive coaching? Instructional coaching? Curriculum coaching? Transformational coaching? There are many different kinds of coaching as well as different understandings of what these models are.
8. Coach Capacities: These describe the baseline skills, dispositions, and attitudes that all coaches will demonstrate. These can be--or can inform--a job description.
9. Coaching Actions: These are operational behaviors that all coaches will demonstrate. What can we guarantee that all of our coaches will do? Which coaching behaviors will we see consistently from coaches? How will we define a coaching cycle?
10. Program Development: How will we build our coaches' knowledge and skill set? Who will provide PD for them? Who will monitor the work of the PD provider and support him or her?
11. Program Evaluation: How will we monitor and evaluate coaches? How will we monitor and evaluate our coaching program? When and how will we gather to reflect on our coaching program and who will participate in this process?
12. Communication: With whom do we need to communicate regularly about our coaching program? Which structures will we use to communicate about our coaching program?
13. Administrative Support and Alignment: Will principals have any input into the coaching program? How will they understand and be informed about the coaching program? How will they be supported to support coaches and teachers who participate in it?
Conditions Necessary to Realize the Potential of Coaching
I have seen many well-intentioned site-based or district leaders launch a coaching initiative without articulating the necessary components of a coaching model. The result is that expectations are murky, coaches get caught in the middle and struggle, teachers are unclear and sometimes suspicious, and ultimately, the promise of coaching isn't realized.
In the last year, a great deal of my work has focused on supporting leaders to articulate their frameworks for coaching so that they can make the most of this powerful form of professional development. If you're launching (or overhauling) a coaching program, start with the above components of a framework in order to strengthen the foundation. If your coaching program isn't working as well as you'd like it to, reflect on which components of a framework your school or district hasn't yet articulated--and start there.