Coaching for Impact- Three Findings From the Field

At the core of most professional development efforts seems to be the desire to move people beyond what they know or learn (information) to what they do (implementation).  Instructional coaching has two critical roles; 1) moving new learning into practice; and 2) going deeper into the feelings, beliefs and assumptions of the individual than typical professional development.  As it relates to implementation of best practices, coaching helps to move educators from a place of compliance to a position of personal commitment and from novice to proficient users of the new learning.

Coaching for impact- moving adults toward selecting and implementing best practices because they genuinely believe its merits and not because they are told to do so- can seem like a complete mystery because there is no magic formula.  Coaching is a practice that varies based on the individual needs of the person being coached.  No matter how complex effective coaching may be, our research, study and experience in coaching has led us to believe these three things for sure:

Great Teachers Do Not Automatically Make Great Coaches

Often leaders and teachers possess great technical know-how, expertise and content knowledge but  are place in coaching roles with limited or no training on how to be an effective coach.  Adequate training and intentional practice of coaching skills are especially important for instructional leaders because almost everything they should accomplish in their work, including and especially increased student achievement, has to be done through other people. 

Coaching is crucial to instructional improvement and requires a specific set of competencies, skills and behaviors that must be learned, practiced and developed over time.  These skills and behaviors include but are not limited to: practicing active listening, posing powerful questions that invite and promote thinking, providing non-evaluative feedback, and developing authentic, trusting relationships.  Although these skills may be intuitive to those who successfully navigate other school-based roles, they must be honed and developed with immense intentionality to appropriately coach adult learners.

Effective Coaches Focus On the Best In Others

Elena Agular says it best in her book The Art of Coaching:

“A transformational coach is a master at uncovering a client’s assets.  It is almost as if we wear glasses that make a person’s strengths pop out in Technicolor while everything else fades into shades of gray”.

Effective coaches strongly believe in the potential of others to improve and in their own ability to unlock the potential of others by operating from a strength rather than deficit approach to individual and collective growth.

Effective coaches understand that their primary role is to connect with others, not to correct them or fix them.  And, that a crucial goal of their role is to assist others in discovering the answers, gifts, talents, and strengths they already possess.

An effective coach becomes skilled at taking the adult learner’s agenda and moving it toward action. If a coach is not comfortable releasing the autonomy to the client to determine solutions and action steps, it is safe to say the coach has not made a clear distinction between the role of coach and other roles such as consultant, mentor or even supervisor.  Effective coaches work to focus the reflective conversation, not to dictate it.

The best coaches leave their clients thinking “wow, I know more than I realized” and not just “wow, my coach sure is smart!"

You Don’t Have to be “Bad” to get “Better”

Coaching is a continuous learning model that is appropriate for everyone who touches the lives of children- not just as a corrective action for subpar performance and not just at the classroom level.

Whether focused on school-wide improvement efforts, differentiated improvement for individuals, or both, we believe that everyone has room and potential to grow.  Everyone can be more effective at what they do by regularly taking time to reflect, self-assess and apply what they have learned to future actions.  We do not learn just by doing; we learn by thinking about what we are doing (McKay, 2013).

The success of our students depends on our willingness to routinely reflect on whether our practices are best serving each of them and to consistently hone our craft until we can say with certainty that we are.

Follow us as we continue to explore what it takes to coach for impact.