Deepening Coaching Work
by Karrie Snider
Opening the Door to Deepened Coaching. The door to deepening coaching work is opened when a mutually-trusting relationship is well established, when teacher knowledge about the focus of coaching has increased, and when confidence in new skills and in one another has developed. As teachers accept coaches into their classrooms and their teaching "business", coaches work to remain responsive and targeted towards action-oriented goals. Coaches implement evidence based coaching practices with fidelity to continue strengthening and sustaining the coach-coachee dyad. All of these actions contributes to steady forward progress, leading to the development of confidence in self and the team.
Sophistication of Skills. As coaches deepen their coaching work with teachers, their conversations and planning move beyond surface-level knowledge, such as moving from learning about the topic, to understanding the mechanical aspects of the teacher-learning. Then, coaches can work to foster collaborative conversations that move teachers' thought processes towards more internalized and specialized knowledge. Coaches make this shift based off of evidence--how has the teacher met their goals? how can the thinking about this practice be expanded or deepened? what is the teacher's Zone of Proximal development? Teachers, as adult learners, bring with them to the coaching relationships their own prior learning experiences, which acts as a "zone of proximal teacher development" (Warford, 2011). Understanding a teacher's ZPD (e.g., Torres, 1996) may be beneficial in supporting the acquisition and implementation of teaching practices.
Shifting within the Coaching Dyad. As coaches continually reflect and assess their own progress as a coach, they can begin to see the movements in their own practices in relation to their teachers' advancement towards goals. Shifts occur in the coaching and in the teacher-learning. As the teacher's ZPD moves from adoption of new skills to mastery of them, coaches implement evidence based coaching practices to recognize and respond to the teacher's increased skill development. For example, if a coach is working to help a teacher develop or increase instructional practices for language modeling, a coach may initially help to establish knowledge about the skill. Based on content conversations (what is language modeling?), the pair may then move to a "how to" and "when to" phase--thus discussing the application of the new knowledge gained (when should I use language modeling?). Next, the teacher and coach may discuss and brainstorm all the possible contexts within the daily schedule to increase language modeling, test out these ideas, and reflect on what they have gathered, etc. Teachers then intentionally plan for using language modeling, embed statements, questions and advanced vocabulary in lesson plans. Teachers may ask for coaches to observe them and provide descriptive feedback. Teacher and coach reflect on lesson implementation and work to determine the level of success the teacher feels about the work. To deepen the work even further, coaches may suggest to conduct practitioner-inspired research about language modeling. Teacher and coach may use more sophisticated tools in their conversations and work together, such as an inquiry based research methodology. Teachers form questions about the skill they are implementing, they gather data, and deeply question their beliefs about the practice, and how they are actually internalizing the behavior so that it becomes automatic and effective within their teacher-child interactions.
Deepening your coaching work takes time. As coaches worked with teachers in Project ABC2, all coaches demonstrated deepening work with teachers over a period of 9 months. This was especially noted when teachers developed professional skills related to The Project Approach, such as conducting informative presentations for parents, organizing parent engagement events, teaching other teachers new skills, and presenting professional displays to an early childhood community of learners. Sometimes, coaches may feel their own pressures to "meet goals". In these instances, it is important for the coach to trust themselves and the processes of effective coaching. Coaching that is standardized, can also meet the individual needs of teachers.
In the following sections you can listen in on teacher and coach conversations. One coach presents a reflection protocol, using it as a guide to hold reflective conversations. One coach and coachee shares their coaching cycle conversations. Questions to consider: What about their relationship is evident in the video clips? What questions and feedback responses do you notice the coach uses in response to teacher's dialogue?