Many international schools either currently have or are in the process of building an instructional coaching program. Instructional coaches are extremely valuable members of the staff because they usually have a division- or school-wide perspective on professional learning, and they have non-evaluative relationships with teachers across the school.
However, in some schools coaching is a huge success, and in others it fizzles out and fails in just a few years. What makes the difference? The reality is that a coaching program does not simply exist once schools hire coaches. There are structures and frameworks that need to be in place to create an environment where coaches can be successful, and a coaching culture can thrive.
As the host of the #coachbetter podcast, I’m fortunate to interview lots of school leaders, coaches, and experts in the field about what makes coaching work. Recently, I interviewed Joellen Killion, author of Coaching Matters, and my personal instructional coaching hero. In our conversation we talked about eight essential steps to build a successful coaching program. These steps can provide an opportunity for coaches and leaders to reflect on the process of building a coaching culture in their unique school context. Also highlighted in this article are quotes from #coachbetter podcast conversations I had with Diane Sweeney, author of Student Centered Coaching, and Laura Lipton, author of Mentoring Matters, which tightly align with this vision of building a successful coaching program.
1: Define Your Purpose
As with all programs in schools, it is essential to start with a vision and purpose for this work. Coaching is an easy word to assume others understand. Come to clarity around why this program is in place, what is the value, and what you hope to achieve.
Diane Sweeney notes that for coaches to be successful, “coaches need to get clear on your own beliefs and then disseminate during coaching cycles and to principals. Clarify what coaching is and what coaching isn’t to the whole division and then grade level.” (Cofino 2022).
2: Build Shared Language
Once you have a vision in place, begin to build shared vocabulary around the roles and processes that are part of this program. Joellen points out, “If I can describe it with specificity, it is far more likely to be achieved, than if I don’t have the capacity to be specific. More time on the what, and less time on the how. We do that backwards in schools. We spend a lot of time on the how without clarity on the what.” (Cofino 2022)
This may start with the coaches and leadership team, but this potentially new lexicon needs to be shared with all stakeholders in the school. This may be especially important if teachers, or the community, has had experience with coaching in the past, and this new vision for coaching differs than that previous experience.
3: Have a Hiring Strategy
Many times, the coaching program begins here: hiring coaches. If your school has coaches now, but is missing some aspects of the previous steps, it will be important to go back and define or refine those elements. Once vision and definitions are clear, you can begin to examine how to ensure you’re hiring the right coaches to meet the specific needs of this school at this time. Joellen highlights that it’s important to note that “the effectiveness of coaching is results for kids. The effectiveness of a coach is not results for kids. The person vs the action. It’s critical that we separate coaching and coaches.” (Cofino 2022).
Potentially even more importantly, this includes planning to support and develop them as coaches once they join your school community. Many coaches are hired directly from the classroom with very little coaching training. This puts unnecessary stress and pressure on those coaches who were likely very successful in their classroom but now have to learn an entirely new skill set.
4: Prioritize Coaching Responsibilities
Deciding what coaches will do each day will ultimately determine their ability to be successful in their roles. Considering how much scheduled teaching time is necessary may be a first step, but beyond that, defining which of the coaching roles they will prioritize is essential. For further research, see Joellen’s article, The 10 Key Roles of Coaches. It’s important to note that coaches shouldn’t be doing all 10 roles at the same time. As a school, you need to decide which two or three roles are most important and those become the priority for the coach at that time.
5: Train Principals
When coaches are hired, it is likely their direct supervisor, often the principal, that will have the biggest impact on their success. It is essential that the principals understand the purpose of coaching, the roles of coaches, how coaching is going to work, and especially their role in supporting coaches. Once all of that is clear, principals can also set clear expectations for staff in working with coaches.
Diane Sweeney advises, “if you’re not collaborating with your principal, you’re only going to be able to coach so many people so far.” (Cofino 2022). If the coach and principal are not in alignment about the role, it’s going to be a real struggle for coaching to be successful (as those who are in coaching positions without leadership alignment already know all too well!).
6: Schedule Coaches
As you are building a coaching program you need to think about where and how coaches work, who they work with and what their time is spent doing. These are all essential questions to answer so that you can decide how that time is put into the calendar for the structure of the school day. We all know that what gets scheduled is what happens. So, it is essential to put time in the schedule for coaching to happen as a regular part of professional learning and curriculum planning.
As Joellen points out, “If coaches are doing non-coaching related work, before you know it, the resource of coaching is lost, yet the investment of coaching is still present without seeing the benefit.” (Cofino 2022)
7: Build a Culture of Coaching
To create a successful coaching culture, you need to create an environment where teachers want to be coached, where coaching is respected and valued by teachers and school leaders. In this process, it’s essential that the implementation of your coaching practice is consistent. Diane Sweeney notes, “Coaching needs to be consistent. Teachers need to know that there’s a predictable structure to this work.” (Cofino 2022).
As your program develops over the years, you’ll need to refine and adjust based on the growth of the school. You’ll need to figure out what’s working, and then assess what’s missing and what needs to be tuned up, on a regular cycle. This also includes identifying who is going to be responsible for making it happen.
8: Evaluate Coaches
Develop an evaluation system for coaches and the coaching program so that everyone is clear on what the expectations are, and there is a framework in place to conduct evaluations. In a #coachbetter interview with Laura Lipton, she points out that “in evaluating the success of a coaching program, remember to separate the act of coaching with the coaching program.” (Cofino 2022) Those are two separate things!
As coaches and leaders work together to design an instructional coaching program that truly supports teacher professional growth in a way that is sustainable and personalized, it is essential that all of these factors are considered. No matter where you are in your coaching program development, one coach can take the lead and start having these essential conversations. Coaching is such a unique and valuable position in our schools, it’s worth the time and energy to make those programs grow and thrive. The impact coaches make on professional growth and student learning goes far beyond the individual teachers they work with. Investing in coaching is investing in student learning!
If you’re ready to dig deeper into this process, please feel free to watch my free workshop, Three Secrets to Creating a Thriving Coaching Culture. And if you’re looking for in-depth professional learning designed for international school instructional coaches, join us for the next cohort of The Coach Certificate & Mentorship Program. In this academic-year-long online certificate program & course, you’ll learn how to build a thriving coaching culture with a mentor and a global community for support!
Cofino, K. (Host). (2022, Jan 26). What Makes Coaching Work with Joellen Killion (146). [Audio podcast episode]. In #coachbetter. Eduro Learning. https://coachbetter.tv/episode-146/
Cofino, K. (Host). (2022, Jan 12). How to Coach Reluctant Teachers with Diane Sweeney (144). [Audio podcast episode]. In #coachbetter. Eduro Learning. https://coachbetter.tv/episode-144/
Cofino, K. (Host). (2022, Feb 23). The Continuum of Practice for Instructional Coaches with Laura Lipton (150). [Audio podcast episode]. In #coachbetter. Eduro Learning. https://coachbetter.tv/episode-150/
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Kim Cofino has been an educator in international schools since August 2000. Having lived and worked in Germany, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan, Kim has had a variety of roles in international schools, including (her favorite) instructional coach. Now based in Bangkok, Thailand, Kim is the co-founder and CEO of Eduro Learning, which offers online customized professional development in a community-driven environment, including COETAIL, Women Who Lead, and The Coach Certificate & Mentorship programs. Kim is co-author of Your Connected Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers, as well as co-host of the #coachbetter podcast and YouTube series. Find out more about Kim at edurolearning.com.