Some schools and districts have large coaching departments and are committed to one approach to coaching. They invest deeply in a practice, training their leadership, their coaches, and their teachers in what coaching might look like.
I don't work within a big coaching department. I am a coach of one. Additionally, I've never been one to throw myself fully behind one approach to anything. My brain is thirsty for connecting ideas: finding the intersections of theories and practice from multiple frameworks. Perhaps, this is why I find great joy in being an EAL specialist in cotaught situations. It is a delightful challenge to merge all that we know about second language acquisition to content/grade level outcomes. The same can be said of my coaching.
What is grounding my coaching practice? I am constantly seeking the "just right" zone for a coachee between directive and facilitative coaching. This explanation by Elena Aguilar was really helpful for me about when to use which mode. Directive coaching is what many people think coaching is; the coach tells you the strategy and gives you the resource and the coachee tries it. Of course, (I say of course-but really this was a hard earned lesson in my early coaching work) this is minimally effective if it is the default modus operandi. It creates walls that prevent the more vulnerable work of reflection. It doesn't help the perfectionist teacher and can at times breed resentment.
Facilitative coaching requires a different set of skills. At the very core its listening deeply and using questions to facilitate thinking. Don't let that fool you though. It's not easy work. In growing my own coaching practice who have I turned to learn from?
First, I was so lucky to have the opportunity to take a Cognitive Coaching seminar with Bill and Ochan Powell. I wasn't a coach then, still an EAL co-teacher and curriculum coordinator, so the lessons for me were early. From this I learned about the concepts and moves of pausing, paraphrasing, and questioning. I learned about the idea of self-efficacy and craftsmanship as what we work towards in our coaching conversations. I got to see what it looked like.
Later, I learned about the work of Jim Knight, particularly his work around developing an Instructional Playbook and the Impact Cycle. These were the practical moves that created the day-to-day work of coaches. They helped me get organized and get systematic with my approach.
I am influenced by the work of Zaretta Hammond. She does not shy away from real conversations around racial equity and their direct connections to classroom instruction. She discusses the coach's role in service of this charge. I'm not interested in any coaching that doesn't develop greater educational equity and doesn't develop a racial literacy lens. She looks deeply at all the opportunities within one lesson to maximize what we know about the brain and our kids.
Finally, I am most greatly influenced by the work of Elena Aguilar. Her approach to transformational coaching emphasizes not just building trust, which all the aforementioned models do, but really how the behaviors (ie: instructional decisions) one makes are impacted by beliefs and ways of being. For me, this is infinitely helpful because this type of coaching acknowledges the feelings that come up within coaching conversations. It challenges me to listen to seek to understand in deeper ways. And it is never yielding in looking for the roots of what impacts our day to day decisions as educators. She extends this work to coaching for equity as well. Her work continues to challenge me, as I think about what my coaching is in service of and how to practically keep that at the heart of my day to day.
Again, I have never been the type of person to subscribe to one approach or one way of thinking. My brain is thirsty for connections. My coaching practice is grounded in the constant dance of trying to apply all that I have learned.
I love witnessing multilingual children thrive in classrooms that facilitate language acquisition while nurturing deep intellectual curiosity while tending to social emotional needs, while being just playful. This reminds me of why I coach. Making space for educators to pause, reflect, strategize, and find (or rekindle) their joy is a great privilege.
Last post I unpacked some of the misconceptions about coaching. There are so many reasons that teachers put up walls around their practice: burnout, perfectionism, very real time crunches, and not to mention pandemics! Engaging with coaching does ask us to slow down. Because the main role of a coach is about carving out space for thought partnering and reflection.
It is about....
There are so many misconceptions about coaching. Often times, it is considered a vertical move for classroom teachers with expertise and a large instructional toolbox to become a coach. This misconception immediately sets up the coach for missteps in their coaching practice. (It is worth noting that coaching requires a unique set of coaching strategies-just because you are a strong teacher does not mean you have what you need to be a strong coach). Additionally, it is a misconception that also contributes to classroom teachers being cautious, guarded, or even armored up to the idea of coaching.
Another misconception is that the coach is solely a resource provider. Although this is an element of the role, it cannot be the only one. It only furthers the aforemationed misconception that oftentimes causes teachers to armor up. It also overemphasizes a problem/solution lens of what coaching is, rather than carving out the time for reflection, building deeper understandings about our own practice and student learning, and resilience.
Coaching asks of us to slow down. There are a thousand reasons to not feel like we can slow down given all the realities of teaching today (during a pandemic!) and yet given all the realities of teaching today how can we not?
I'm a Language and Literacy coach. I'm learning everyday. More soon...
Recently, on a teams I serve on we were asked to take a 'Needs Inventory". The idea was, that the better we know ourselves, the better we can communicate our needs, the better we can know our teammates therefore the better we can work as a team and collaborate.
This particular "Needs Inventory" (there are different ones out there) you could have a need for power, love, fun, and freedom. I scored with having a strong need for freedom, followed closely by fun. Each team member actually had a different set of needs. The inventory was a catalyst for some important team learning but it got me thinking;
How has my need for freedom and fun served me as an educator?
I know that I always struggled with mandated, prescriptive curriculum. It never felt quite right, never quite fit for my students or me. I have always struggled working on teams that wanted everyone doing the same lessons and sequence. It always seemed to take the creativity out of the profession.
This compass, with a need for freedom, served as my due north when it came to differentiation and later project based learning. Years before I had the skills to do differentiation well, I was making attempts. Making (mostly) mistakes. Trying new strategies to ensure that the variety of needs in my classroom were being (or attempting to be) met.
I was ok with the messiness of different learning experiences happening in every corner of a classroom. I was ok with the not all kids doing the same thing. I was ok with the noise and the mess. Kids saw the efforts. Kids saw their needs being heard; even if the learning experience wasn't always quite right. I always wanted to do well, but my need for freedom allowed me to reject the "whispers" of perfectionism that so many teachers armor themselves with.
Differentiation wasn't an event...something I did once a semester to say I did. Differentiation was a stance, every lesson, every day. It was a stance of my classrooms and now a stance of the professional developments that I conduct.
Now of the original team members that I spoke of in the beginning of this post, our needs and ersponalities are all needed to ensure our team runs well. We need the person whose need is power in order to help us meet deadlines and finish projects. We need the person whose need is love to help us take pause and realize that we are in the business of humans not widgets. We need the person whose need is fun in order to make us laugh and not take ourselves too seriously even in the pressure cookers of schools. And we need those whose need is freedom to help us keep our eyes on the horizon of possibilities.
Back by popular demand! Join me this September for "The Co-teaching Adventure: Sharing the Vision for Educational Equity for Multilingual Students in the International Classroom" as part of the ASIJ Learning Series. This workshop will be a two day dive into the co-taught classroom. As requested, this workshop has been extended into a two day exploration. This workshop isn't just for EAL specialists, but co-teachers to explore together. Instructional coaches and administrators are also encouraged to join us. Looking forward to seeing you this September.
I am an EAL specialist, coach, and educational consultant that is dedicated to building a more transformative educational landscape that honors linguistic diversity and challenges societal paradigms.