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Coaching for Implementation

October 4, 2010

Lon is an educational coach at Hoover Middle School. He began the year with coaching conversations that focused on individual teachers’ challenges and interests, as identified by the teachers. Things were going great until his principal asked him to focus his coaching efforts on the successful implementation of the Marzano system for planning instruction. Lon was frustrated – his initial plans were being stymied!

It seems Lon is not the only coach with this dilemma. It is somewhat common for school leaders to ask coaches to focus upon a particular goal or program that is being implemented. My wish is that coaches could focus mostly upon teachers’ needs and interests, because that is job-embedded coaching at its purest. However, coaches like Lon do not need to panic.

First, let’s look at the difference between teacher-focused coaching and school-goal/program-implementation-focused coaching.

  • Client: The client in teacher-focused coaching is, obviously, the teacher. With school-goal/program-implementation-focused coaching, the clients are: the teacher AND the goal or program AND perhaps the leadership team at the school. Coaches can still partner with their teacher clients but must consider other clients as well.
  • Starting question: An effective question with which to start the teacher-focused coaching conversation is: When you think about the learning you want your students to do and the teaching you want to do, what gets in the way? An effective question for the school-goal/program-implementation-focused coaching conversation is: When you think about implementing _______, what gets in the way? In the latter situation, a coach still invites the teacher partner to start where she is, but the focus is narrower.
  • Sign of success: Teacher-focused coaching is successful when the teacher has met an individual goal or solved a problem. School-goal/program-implementation-focused coaching is successful when the school has met its goal or the program is successfully implemented.
  • Process: The cycle of coaching in teacher-focused coaching usually follows the path of Problem-Understand-Decide-Try. In other words, coaches help teachers to identify a problem, understand it deeply, make an informed decision, and try something different. In school-goal/program-implementation-focused coaching, the initial step is to start with the school goal or program and then identify a problem blocking teacher partners’ ability to implement it. The rest of the cycle follows the same pattern of Understand-Decide-Try.

As this comparison indicates, coaching that focuses on a school goal or the implementation of a program is not entirely about teachers. On the other hand, teachers are still key to the coaching process and the conversation is job-embedded to the extent that teachers address their own concerns, challenges, and needs in relation to the school goal or program.

Savvy coaches can include other topics in their coaching conversations. For instance, Lon had a short chat with teachers at the September staff meeting in which he told them that he would begin the next round of coaching conversations by asking what was getting in the way of their implementation of the Marzano planning process. But he also told them that, after a cycle of coaching for implementation of the Marzano process, he would then invite a cycle of problem solving that was open-ended. In the third cycle, he would ask again about the Marzano process, and so forth.

Lon’s colleague Debbie at Eisenhower Middle School is taking a slightly different approach. She is asking this modified Question at the start of each coaching cycle: When you think about the learning you want your students to do, the teaching you want to do, and the use of the Marzano system for planning that teaching, what gets in the way?

When coaches are asked to coach for a particular school goal or implementation of a program, their work becomes more complex and perhaps a little less responsive to their teacher partners. However, coaches can continue to do good work that helps teachers build capacity to help students be more successful.

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