How can coaches and administrators facilitate sustained coach-teacher collaboration?
A sustained approach in coaching serves as the cornerstone for the execution of three other tenets of effective coach-teacher collaboration (i.e., partnership, personalization, and active learning). When coaches and teachers have the chance to collaborate regularly and continuously over a period of time, it provides them with the necessary time to establish a shared vision, expectations, commitment, and responsibilities. A sustained approach also helps coaches build a deeper understanding of teachers’ needs, style, and attitude, and therefore more effectively differentiate their support. Moreover, frequent and consistent practice, feedback, and reflection time helps teachers accomplish complex, long-term goals with multiple checkpoints, and become better aware of what they have learned and how they will apply their learning. Research on the Dynamic Learning Project pilot (DLP)1 shows that the more coaching activities are sustained and intensive, the more likely that teachers adopt new teaching practices at a higher degree of quality.
We recommend four strategies that administrators and coaches can consider to facilitate sustained coach-teacher collaboration:
1. School/district administrators should ensure that coaches have sufficient time for coaching.
It is critical that the coach’s role be protected to ensure that the majority of the coach’s time is spent directly with teachers for the purpose of coaching. While coaches may be responsible for a variety of tasks both within and outside the classroom, coaches should not be weighed down by administrative or teaching tasks that are not related to their main coaching responsibilities.
Tips for success:
- Before assigning a coach tasks that are unrelated to their coaching responsibilities, verify that coaches will still have adequate time to collaborate with teachers. “The most significant support my principal can provide is removing barriers to my schedule that will impact my time and ability to coach teachers,” one DLP coach said.
- Stay informed about changes to a coach’s schedule and responsibilities throughout the school year. Clear and consistent communication between coaches and school/district administrators throughout the year will help them evaluate the coach’s schedule and workload, and better define their boundaries of work. Additionally, sharing information with the rest of the staff concerning the coach’s roles, responsibilities, and schedule will help them understand how to also respect the coach’s time.
- Consider a coaching load that allows for sufficient coach-teacher interactions. DLP research suggests that full-time coaches can typically work most effectively with nine or 10 teachers at a time during a 6-to-10 week coaching cycle. This coaching load allows full-time coaches to spend four-to-five hours of their day directly spending time with teachers.
2. Coaches and school/district administrators should leverage the power of teacher leaders.
At smaller schools, coaches are more likely to be able to provide sustained support to a larger proportion of teachers without sacrificing their depth. However, in larger schools the dilemma of depth versus reach can be more pronounced. In some of the DLP’s large campuses, teachers who were coached for longer periods sometimes referred to themselves as “fortunate,” recognizing that not all of their colleagues were able to benefit from the same amount of support. At the same time, even on small campuses, demand for the support of a coach can exceed supply.
Tips for success:
- On all campuses, large or small, teachers who have already received coaching support are a resource to bridge this gap by serving as teacher leaders. By offering their knowledge and experiences in team meetings, sharing resources and tools, and opening their classroom doors to their colleagues for observations, these teacher leaders can extend the reach of the coach while also building coherence and collaboration across grade levels and departments.
3. School/district administrators should protect teachers’ time for coaching.
Our data shows that during a 6-to-10 week coaching cycle, a teacher should be able to spend at least 30 minutes one-on-one with the coach every week to see the greatest value. School and district administrators should assure teachers that time spent with their coach during the school day will be protected.
Tips for success:
- In secondary schools, teachers are typically able to find time to meet one-on-one with their coaches during conference or professional development periods when they do not have students in their classrooms. In those cases, school/district administrators can protect coaching times by ensuring that teachers are not pulled away from meetings with their coach for other responsibilities, such as lunch duty or covering other teachers’ classes.
- In elementary schools, where teachers are much less likely to have dedicated periods during the day for one-on-one meetings, employ strategies such as planning coach-teacher meetings to take place while students are engaged with another staff member (e.g., being taught by the librarian), or having two coached teachers take turns combining classes for an activity while one teacher slips out to meet with the coach. Where resources permit, consider using substitute teachers to cover classes When strategically used, substitute teachers allow teachers to be absent from the classroom from time to time in pursuit of school betterment initiatives that would otherwise be unattainable. For example, in one DLP district, elementary school principals hired an additional part-time teacher to serve as an ongoing substitute who could fill in for different classes to facilitate accessibility to coaching for teachers. Because the part-time teacher was embedded in the school and certified, she was familiar with both teachers and students and qualified to teach district-mandated lessons that were coherent with the overall pacing and structure of teachers’ lessons.
4. Coaches and teachers should establish shared goals and an action plan.
Having shared goals and an action plan to use as a coaching roadmap helps ensure regular and continuous interactions in the coach-teacher collaboration. Shared goals are important in coaching because they give the teacher and coach a common place to start the coaching work. Once the goal is established, coaches and teachers need an action plan in their collaboration to ensure that the bulk of their time together is spent on high-leverage activities. When teachers feel that every interaction with their coach is bringing them closer to realizing their goal, they are more likely to prioritize time for collaboration and keep momentum moving.
Tips for success:
- To facilitate this regular and incremental approach, coaches should structure their schedules so that they are able to meet one-on-one and/or visit the classroom of each teacher in their cohort on a regular basis. The DLP coaching model, for example, encourages coaches to dedicate the majority of a coaching cycle to a “meet, visit, meet” cadence. In this model, coaches aim to meet with each teacher one-on-one and visit each teacher’s classroom at least once a week. When a coach and a teacher take time to establish a common understanding of the goals and the specific next steps, they are more likely to hold one another accountable and maintain sustained momentum in their collaboration. “We can take a tiny task starting out and then we can keep adding things to that each week that she comes in. [In this way,] I can understand the entire approach….She’s there step one, step two, all the way through to the final product,” said a high school AVID teacher who participated in the DLP.