I recently attended a workshop on coaching sponosred by the Ohio Department of Education. The focus in the workshop was showing administrators how to successfully coach their staff in alignment with the Ohio Teaching Evaluation System (OTES). While there were some good discussions that took place and I was able to connect with some of my PLN, some of the parts of the workshop did not really hit home with me. That's not to say I didn't come away with anything either. I started thinking about coaching and what it really means in education and not just what it means while working with an evaluation system.
When I think of coaching in education, I immediately think of coaching and sports. Being a former teacher and coach, I truly believe that coaching is an extension of teaching in the classroom (especially if you have ever coached at the lower levels). Students are always looking to learn new things and grow to improve at what they are doing in any activity or athletic endeavor. As coaches & teachers, that is one of our primary repsonsibilities: helping students grow. As an administrator, it is no different with our staff. We need to help them grow and become better teachers, the same thing a coach does with his or her players.
Whether it is in athletics or education, great coaching can completely change an environment and culture. It has a big impact on the growth of a team and school. Below are some strategies to maximize the value of coaching as an administrator and teacher:
1. Embrace Practice
I always remember what legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden would say in interviews about the secret to his teams' success. Wooden always loved practices and didn't care too much for games. Even with winning all of the games that he did, he found more value in practice. In practice, he was able to teach and help his student-athletes grow. Coaching in education should entail the same philosophy.
As an administrator, let your staff try and try again. Provide them with feedback and get other teachers & students to provide them with feedback. The best place for teachers to realize if something works is in the classroom. As a teacher, use formative assessments as they are meant to be used: for practice. Provide feedback for formative assessments, not grades. Allow students to make improvements and practice. Teams don't prepare for games without practicing, so why would we assign grades without the proper amount of practice?
2. Effective Positive & Constructive Feedback
While an administrator or teacher provides feedback, as Carol Tomlinson states, it needs to be instructive feedback. Provide staff and students with guidance in your feedback. While the feedback is guiding, make sure it also includes how you feel what you witnessed. I know OTES doesn't want to include how the administrator "felt" about methods and styles, but that is a big part of coaching. Great coaches tell players all of the time "Great job!" or "Nice effort!" Teachers and students need to hear these types of comments. Coach Wooden would always begin with positive feedback when he was going to give some constructive feedback. I believe that is a great way to approach feedback as a coach in education.
As an administrator, provide feedback that allows teachers & students to get better. Show your passion! Teachers should do the same. Provide instructive feedback to students mixed with encouraging, positive feedback. Coaches who are constantly critiquing, yelling, and negative do not get good results.
Coaches at practice are constantly modeling for their players. Whether it is a drill or formation, coaches demonstrate to players what it looks like when it is done correctly. As administrators and teachers, we need to model what we would like to see in the building and in the classroom.
As an administrator, host professional development for your staff. Coach them on how to improve their craft with specific strategies & methods. Model how you want staff and students to look. If its using technology as a tool for learning, then as an administrator, you should be using technology to assist in your learning and others. If you want your staff to utilize social media for professional development, then you should be leading the charge. Teachers should also model for students. Make learning targets come to life in your teaching so students can have them come to life. Bring urgency and passion to the classroom so the students will do the same. Good coaching includes accepting responsibility for yourself and modeling that so it rubs off on your staff & students.
4. Have their Back!
You can watch any athletic event and you will see coaches fighting for their players. Sometimes its arguing with officials and sometimes it occurs in the media. It is important to show support as a coach. Good coaches always develop trust and relationships within their teams. It is the same in education.
Administrators and teachers need to encourage risk taking and innovative thinking. If a teacher wants to try something new, administrators need to provide the teacher with the resources to do this. If students find different ways to demonstrate mastery, teachers should share this with other members of the class to encourage forward thinking. Support leads to confidence and creativity in the school and classroom.
5. Encourage Educated Risks
Coaches are always trying new formations and plays. Depending on the situation, sometimes the plays are not practiced but yet implemented in games (don't try this at the Jr. High level of coaching - just saying). We can't continue to do the same thing all of the time because we will continue to get the same result. Our country's current state of education will continue if we do this.
As an administrator, let people in your building take chances, encourage others to do this, and recognize people who take risks. Failure is feedback. Allow teadchers to do this and get help from the students. As Dylan Williams states, "Making mistakes in learning is actually better than not making mistakes." Your building will grow because the culture will be based on creative thinking and trying different methods for the benefit of students. As teachers, allow the students to take the same type of chances. Focus on student learning. If that leads you to innovative practices, then take the chance and try new things. The term "outside the box" should not exist in education. Create an environment where there is no box.
Coaching is not easy. I remember my coaching days when I would teach all day and then go to practice for an hour and a half after that. I would come home drained. I was teaching during the day and then teaching during our practices. When you watch games on TV, you envision yourself coaching and say, "I can do that. I would be good." What you don't see are the number of things that come with a coaching position. The education field is similar. You need to do the behind the scene things to be a good administrator or teacher. You need to coach with the mindset of staff and student growth. Its work. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. Use the steps above to be the coach your building and classrooom needs.