Districts are increasingly investing in coaching programs to improve teacher practice and student outcomes. However, merely providing schools with the funding for a coaching position is not enough. To maximize the return on the investment of coaching, our research on the Dynamic Learning Project (DLP) shows that districts need to take an active role in eliminating barriers to effective coaching and foster a culture that encourages teachers to innovate their practice. Here are two concrete ways that districts can remove roadblocks and set their schools up for success.
District leaders should adopt a coaching model that explicitly includes the vision and targeted outcomes of coaching, as well as the roles and responsibilities of coaches, school leaders, and teachers. As one DLP coach explained, doing so “has allowed everyone on the team to be on the same page. We now have a common language and set of expectations.”
Without such a framework, coaches may not know where to focus their efforts, and teachers may misunderstand the coaches’ role. The framework not only provides coaches with clarity around their role and responsibilities, but it also supports positive teacher-coach relationships and helps school and district leaders plan strategically for the success of the program (e.g., coach workload, tools and resources that coaches need to ensure successful implementation, etc.).
Tips for success:
Our research shows that ongoing professional development is critical to coaches’ growth and confidence in their coaching skills. In addition to coaching resources and training, coaches benefit from access to ongoing mentorship. Said one DLP district leader: “Everyone needs a coach.”
Often, when expert teachers transition from the classroom into a coaching position, they become isolated in their role. Coaches’ mentors can serve as indispensable thought partners who build capacity for strategic problem-solving. “Having a mentor is like having a lifeline. She is there to guide me, to listen, to make suggestions. She supports me and celebrates the successes along the way,” one DLP coach said. “Everyone needs a coach, but every coach needs a mentor.”
In addition to mentorship, our research indicates that coaches benefit from active participation in professional learning networks inside and outside their districts. Participating in and developing a professional learning network helps coaches become inspired and learn from a wealth of sources, develop familiarity with new tools and resources, and collaborate with people on common challenges.
Tips for success:
When districts support the classroom coaching program from the start, it is more likely to gain buy-in from the schools and teachers. Adopting a research-backed coaching model, aligning it to district goals, and planning for ongoing professional development for coaches are ways the district can set its schools up for success with classroom coaching.