Why Invest in Coaching?

7 Dec

This year, my school began a professional development initiative focused on small-group instruction in reading.  Eleven teachers signed up to participate in voluntary coaching centers with a literacy coach from the New Teacher Center.  Our coach, Allison, will meet with each teacher four times this year, watching a small-group reading lesson and then debriefing with the teacher.

Teachers were brave to sign up.  No one knew exactly what these coaching sessions would look like, and they could have looked like this:

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But fortunately, they didn’t.  Allison is supportive and competent, and she’s helped to link our professional development sessions with actual classroom practice.

When we began, I knew the coaching sessions would be important, but I underestimated how crucial they would be in building positive momentum.  They impact classroom practice in a number of ways:

  • When you know someone is coming in to observe you, it pushes you to implement a strategy that may have felt too difficult or time consuming to take on.
  • The pre-conference allows you to focus on the purpose of your lesson, what you want students to learn, and how you’ll know if they learned it.  The idea that we should have not only a key learning objective, but a way of knowing if students met the objective, is something we often lose in the hubbub of day-to-day teaching.
  • The debrief after the lesson provides space to problem solve and to think about next steps.  On my own, I’m frequently frustrated by the feeling that I’m not quite sure where to go next with my students.  A coach, especially one with content area expertise, can provide you with support and guidance.
  • It provides some much needed positive reinforcement.  Trying something new is hard, and it often feels difficult and painful.  Since we so often teach in isolation, it’s difficult to tell if we’re on the right path, or royally screwing up.  A good coach will help you to see what’s working about what you’re doing, and make you feel a little more safe and confident in your work.  Then she’ll push you to do better.

The last point might be the most important.  The learning anxiety involved in taking on a new initiative can be huge.  A sense of being overwhelmed can shut a person down, and it’s hard to grow and stay positive in that situation.  Allison has done a remarkable job of making teachers feel competent and successful, which in turn gives them the energy and strength to continue to work and grow.  Some teachers are more confident than others, but I think we all appreciate a supportive ear and a helping hand.

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