Build and Foster a Culture of Coaching - Digital Promise

Build and Foster a Culture of Coaching

A coaching program more effectively sustains and scales up when the district and its schools foster a culture of coaching. But what exactly is a “coaching culture,” and how can district leaders embed this in their everyday environment?

A coaching culture simply means that teachers have had the chance to understand and accept that there are regular reflection, practice, and feedback opportunities in their workforce that are designed only to support them in their individual learning and growth without any evaluative purpose. In other words, coaching culture is about the principle of partnership. The beauty of this coaching partnership lies in developing an environment where teachers feel supported in their growth by one another and by their coach and administrators. In such a setting, there is a focus on continuous learning through inquiry and transparency, rather than performance, judgment, and self-protection. There is regular feedback—up, down, and across the school/district—grounded in a shared commitment to helping each other improve and the shared goal of boosting students’ achievement. Such an environment, fueled first by leaders willing to model vulnerability and take personal responsibility for their shortcomings and missteps, makes teachers feel safe to try new things. Results matter in this setting, but failures and shortcomings are treated as critical opportunities for learning and improving.

Tips for success:

  • Districts should ensure that every teacher experiences conversations around coaching as part of regular meeting agendas. They need to consistently communicate to teachers that the purpose of coaching is to provide consistent opportunities for non-evaluative feedback and continuous learning.
  • Administrators should also model the process of working with a coach to learn something new in their own practice. Said a DLP1 coach: “I think things are contagious, especially from the top down. So if you have district leaders who are really excited and really in tune [to] what [coaching] is about and the changes that it could make, I think that trickles down to each campus administration level, and then ultimately [to] the teachers. And of course our students benefit.”
  • Administrators and coaches can encourage a growth mindset among their staff by celebrating teachers who tried new strategies, tools, and approaches. This might take the form of encouraging teachers to share their success stories or their testimonials within and across schools in newsletters, on social media, on the school/district website, or at departmental or school board meetings. When testimonials come directly from teachers, they garner more trust. That said, leaders should keep in mind that word-of-mouth success stories alone will not appease teacher concerns about trying new things. Rather, the power lies in including the context of the how and what behind the success.
Spotlight: Principal Modeling Vulnerability to Foster Coaching Culture

Aligned with the messaging of his DLP coach, a principal in a suburban school in Texas stressed the importance of modeling trust and vulnerability. “Doctors have people observe them all the time and give them feedback,” the principal explained. “Well, it’s the same thing here. If we’re not in your classroom giving you feedback, you’re not getting better as a teacher.”

To emphasize to his teachers that they were all partners with a common goal, he offered to role swap and teach lessons while teachers observed him and took notes. “There is something deeply satisfying about watching your boss do your job and then be able to talk to you about the lesson that you put together,” said one teacher. “Asking, ‘I attempted to do this, what could I have done better?’...So it really very much is a partnership.”

This principal’s teaching exercise is an ideal example of modeling vulnerability. “I put myself out there. I was really vulnerable,” the principal admitted.

1DLP refers to the Dynamic Learning Project pilot coaching program and research study that took place from 2017-20.
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