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Which Teachers Should You Coach?

December 5, 2009

In my last post, I suggested that coaches work with the teachers in their “pool.” How does one determine the pool of teachers to work with?

Start by looking at the total number of potential teacher partners. Those who coach full-time in one building might expect to work with up to 25 teachers at a time in a deep coaching relationship. Of course, this number is approximate; the actual number that is practical will depend upon whether the coaching is done with individual partners, one at a time, or with teams of teachers, as well as a variety of contingencies. But I find that, in general, coaches become overwhelmed if they try to work with more than 25 people at a time.

So, if you have 25 or fewer teachers in your building, then they are all in your pool and you will want to connect with each of them in a coaching partnership.

If you have more than 25 teachers in your school, then you need to determine which of those teachers will be in the pool that you focus upon. How to do this? Actually, I encourage you not to do it alone but to collaborate with your school leadership team. This team is experienced (and, I hope, skilled, otherwise you will need to do some shepherding) at looking at the big picture and at using a variety of data. Ask the team to focus particularly upon the school staffing pattern and a range of student data to determine where you could best focus your efforts.

How might a leadership team identify a pool? Here are some examples:

  • In an elementary school, the team might determine that the primary grades have a good deal of support with Reading Recovery, Title I, teaching assistants, or other resources, and therefore use that staffing pattern to suggest that the coach’s pool will be the teachers in the intermediate grades.
  • In a middle school, the team might recognize that English Language Learners have been assigned to one “house” per grade and therefore determine that a coach should work with teachers in those houses.
  • In a high school, the team might find evidence that students are struggling especially in the courses that are writing-intense and conclude that the teachers of such courses should comprise the pool with which the coach works.

Of course, new teachers, whether new to the profession, the building, or the grade/subject taught, are likely members of the pool.

Note that I did not give an example in which teachers who are considered by the leadership team to be weak or ineffective would be the ones in the pool. If this were the case, teachers would not want to work with a coach because it would be like publicly saying they were unsuccessful. What’s more, coaching is beneficial to a wide range of teachers. Also, it is not the role of a school leadership team to assess individual teachers; that is a supervisory task.

Once a pool of teachers is identified, ask the chair of the leadership team or the principal to explain to the staff how and why the pool was developed. This prevents teachers from wondering why you are engaging them in a coaching partnership.

I encourage you to begin a coaching conversation with each of the teachers in your pool. Of course, you will likely interact with teachers not in the pool as well, but make them a secondary priority and keep your work with them less intense than a typical coaching relationship. Also, consider revisiting the make-up of the pool part way through the school year, to determine if any changes should be made.

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