What’s possible when instructional coaching is interconnected, relational, and ongoing?

July 28, 2021

Instructional coaching
Professional learning

Interconnected: Supporting the Whole Person

Transformational instructional coaching offers a holistic approach to coaching that goes beyond simply solving problems. It addresses the whole person, not only the behaviors an educator demonstrates in the classroom—such as instructional practices and learning design—but also an educator’s beliefs. Together, coaches and educators can identify the mental models, knowledge, and experiences that impact an educator’s decision-making. In addition, by addressing ways of being—emotional intelligence, resilience, and disposition—coaches can gain more context for who an educator truly is, how they “show up” in the learning environment, and how the educator’s students and colleagues experience them.

“The art of coaching is doing, thinking, and being: doing a set of actions, holding a set of beliefs, and being in a way that results in those actions leading to change. These are the three things that can make coaching transformational.”

Elena Aguilar in The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation

Coaching lenses support the holistic work of addressing behaviors, beliefs, and ways of being. Through intentionally choosing from among these lenses, instructional coaches can use reflection, planning, and conversations to better understand complex situations. Coaching lenses help instructional coaches identify key assumptions and questions to shape the work they do alongside educators. Some examples of coaching lenses include change management, inquiry, and systems thinking.

Relational: Centering Slow Conversations

Instructional coaching is built on relationships, beginning with the dispositions of the coach. A coach must interrogate their own attitude, emotional state, and how they show up in service to others. By starting with themselves, coaches create the conditions to offer vulnerability, which nurtures trust and accountability while strengthening their ability to have important conversations with educators.

Coaching conversations are at the heart of instructional coaching. They include active listening strategies, such as utilizing coaching question stems to encourage discourse and reflection.

SLOW listening also helps coaches to center the educators they work alongside and create a more participatory experience rooted in reflection, encouraging the listener to:

  • Soak in what they hear;
  • Learn and appreciate with intention;
  • Orient themselves in the story of the speaker; and,
  • Wonder and think with the speaker.

Building relationships and engaging in impactful coaching conversations prevents transactional interactions and decreases the perception of instructional coaches as enforcers, reporters, or evaluators. Instead, the coaching process takes time and continued effort, where the coach’s role isn’t just trying to get someone to do something different(ly). While coaching may need to be directive at times, it’s more than merely solving problems. A coach helps someone find or uncover new understandings, consider the impact of these understandings, and transform their own ways of being and practice.

Ongoing: Using Cycles for Focused Reflection and Growth

Instructional coaches often engage in coaching cycles that are participatory and value-driven; the work of coaching cycles consists of surfacing realities, recognizing impact, and creating new practices inside a job-embedded structure that can be differentiated for each educator’s learning focus. More than just making educators do something different for novelty’s sake, coaches assist their colleagues by raising their awareness about opportunities, challenging their assumptions of what is actually happening and why, and helping them reflect on their impact on students and the related outcomes. By working with educators over a series of cycles, coaches can help them reflect on behaviors, recognize patterns, and build new instructional routines.

Instructional coaches utilize a number of coaching strategies to create new practices, offering both facilitated and directive guidance. This might mean coaxing understanding with a light touch so that educators arrive at their own conclusions or might mean firmer nudges toward new behaviors, beliefs, and ways of being. And perhaps, most importantly, transformational instructional coaching affirms success and emphasizes the building and boosting of confidence.

The Value of Possibility

Interconnected, relational, and ongoing coaching creates transformational learning experiences for educators because they focus on what’s possible. Through small, incremental steps and big thinking, instructional coaches enable the educators they work with to feel supported as they take risks in their teaching and learning practices. Discovering and trying new approaches, developing personally and pedagogically—many educators embrace these chances for supported reflection and intentional professional growth. They can find more fulfillment and feel more impactful in their practices and ultimately, their work with coaches fosters wider school improvement and stronger student achievement.