As classroom coaching grows rapidly as a form of teacher professional development, districts are increasingly outfitting schools with not just one, but multiple coaches, with each playing a different role.
For example, in one school we visited as part of our research on the Dynamic Learning Project (DLP), an early-career math teacher described receiving coaching around technology use from his DLP coach, content area coaching from a district-level math specialist, day-to-day mentorship on teaching approaches from a veteran math teacher, and additional (often conflicting) guidance from his department head. When asked how he decides whose advice to follow, he shrugged and responded, “I used to be in the military, so I listen to the person with the higher-ranking position.”
Unfortunately, in situations like these, it’s often left to the teacher to reconcile inconsistent guidance, which can lead to misunderstanding, weaken coach-teacher relationships, negatively impact the culture of collaboration within the school, and diminish the potential impact of coaching on teacher practice. However, this doesn’t have to be the case.
From two years of research on the Dynamic Learning Project, we know successful coaches deliver support that meets a teacher’s context, which means aligning support with overarching school goals and initiatives, including other forms of coaching and mentorship. When multiple coaches support the same teachers in a school, it is imperative that they understand the boundaries of one another’s work and consistently communicate with one another to ensure the support they provide teachers is complementary rather than contradictory.
So what can administrators and coaches do to ensure that these lines of communication remain open?
- Take stock. The first step in building open communication lines is ensuring that all stakeholders have a clear understanding of the coaching and mentorship initiatives, both formal and informal, available to teachers in the school. School leaders and coaches should collaborate to compile information related to each coaching role. What model of coaching does each coach use? What terminology do they use with teachers? What coaching timeline do they follow? How do they measure progress? Beginning to collect and compare these answers can illuminate areas where coaching approaches converge and diverge, and spark conversations about opportunities for alignment.
- Schedule consistent check-ins. Without a set routine for checking in to update one another on coaching success stories, challenges, and trends, coaches working within the same building can get caught up with day-to-day responsibilities and remain siloed. To prevent this, setting a recurring standing meeting will ensure ongoing communication. Additionally, tools such as a group text message thread or social media group can facilitate informal check-ins. When coaches establish norms around sharing resources and asking questions, it builds a culture of openness and collaboration.
- Bring teachers into the conversation. It’s important that teachers are aware of what types of information different coaches share among one another and what information will be kept confidential. This transparency builds both trust and efficiency. Teachers should also be encouraged to speak up when they perceive suggestions from different coaches as contradictory. Rather than approaching these contradictions with tension, they should be seen as opportunities for deeper reflection for both the teacher and the coach.
As one DLP district administrator said, “We want all of the team, whether they’re a content-based coach or they’re a digital coach, to all pull in the same direction.” To foster a cohesive system of support for instructional growth, district administrators, principals, and coaches need to encourage an aligned vision and clear communication.
The Dynamic Learning Project is now officially open to all interested schools. To learn more, visit DynamicLearningProject.com and fill out the interest form.