I've started a new coaching book called The Art of Coaching - Effective Strategies for School Transformation by Elena Aguilar. In the introduction Aguilar writes "Coaching requires an ability to see something that is not yet - but could be - in existence, and the willingness to surrender to the process and trust that a worthwhile product will emerge".
So what has to happen, what has to be in place, for coaching to be transformative? On our PD 3.0 R&D task force we have been studying coaching as one way of improving professional learning. We know that teachers need to be improving their knowledge and skills all the time, and we also know that it takes around 50 hours of PD to improve a teacher's skill so that it has an impact on student learning. The traditional model of a few days of PD/orientation at the start of a school year, and a fews days of PD spread across the year in a sort of "spray and pray" model, is unlikely to have much impact in teaching practice. Coaching, however, offers an alternative.
Aguilar writes "coaching can build will, skill, knowledge and capacity because it can go where no other PD has gone before: into the intellect, behaviors, practices, beliefs, values and feelings of an educator. A coach can foster conditions in which deep reflection and learning can take place, where a teacher can take risks to change her practice, where powerful conversations can take place and where growth is recognized and celebrated."
Why is coaching so successful?
- It encourages collaborative, reflective practice, allowing teachers to apply their learning more deeply, frequently and consistently than teachers working alone.
- Effective embedded professional learning promotes positive cultural change which can affect the culture of a school.
- It promotes the implementation of learning as the likelihood of using new learning and sharing responsibility rises when colleagues, guided by a coach, work together and hold each other accountable for improved teaching and learning.
- It supports collective leadership: coaching uses the relationships between coaches, principals and teachers to create the conversations that lead to behavioral, pedagogical and content knowledge change.
- It promotes a collaborative culture where everyone feels ownership of and responsible for leading improvement efforts in teaching and learning. Also, through attending to the "social infrastructure" there can be deep changes in school climate.
How can you tell if a teacher is ready to be a coach?
Aguilar believes a coach needs to have been an effective teacher for at least 5 years before becoming a coach. They must also have strong communication skills, in particular listening, and high emotional intelligence.
How can you tell if a school is ready for coaching?
Research points to the importance of effective leadership (fostering the vision or mission, instructional foci, creating a collaborative culture etc) In a school with ineffective leadership coaching won't result in whole-school change. I'm interested in this as at a previous school when the management wanted to bring about changes we were told that it was simply "re-parking the cars in different places in the car park." Now I've come to see that this cannot possibly lead to transformational changes (which the school badly needed). Here's a great quote by Danah Zohar that embodies what is needed:
Most transformational programs satisfy themselves with shifting the same old furniture about in the same old room. But real transformation requires that we redesign the room itself. Perhaps even blow up the old room. It requires that we change the thinking behind our thinking.