In a previous article, I shared big-picture visioning steps to build a thriving coaching program at your school. Having those long-term plans in place to develop a coaching program is the first step but once you are hired as a coach, and once you have coaches in your school community, how do you start making those plans into reality?
Over the past eight years of working with coaches and school leaders to develop coaching programs in schools around the world, the number one question I get asked is, “Now that I have the job, how do I get started as a coach? Where do I start? What do I do to begin to build a coaching culture? And how can I make an impact as just one coach in a school?”
When making the transition from a classroom role to a coaching role, there are so many different new responsibilities, and you need to transition your perspective from the micro view of one classroom or department to a whole division or whole school. Although you’re still focusing on improving student learning, you’re now looking at it through the lens of teacher professional growth.
In my work with coaches in The Coach Certificate and Mentorship Program (and based on my own personal experience as a coach for over a decade in international schools), I have found that there are 10 steps that will start the ball rolling and enable you to see where you’re able to make the biggest impact so you can adapt, adjust, and refine from there.
In this article, I’ll be sharing the first five steps, focused on finding clarity in your coaching program. In the next, I’ll share how to get started building a community to create a coaching culture. Together, these 10 steps have worked for many coaches in many schools around the world, and if you’re feeling like something is not moving in the right direction, it may help to increase your awareness of and attention to one of these elements.
Step 1: Focus on building relationships
Relationships are the foundation of everything: build them with teachers, with your school leaders, with support staff, and with department heads. When you move into a coaching role, you no longer have the luxury of “only” working with the people on your team or in your department. As a coach, you need to think about how you will connect with all stakeholders in the school community. Being proactive and strategic about how you build these relationships, document the conversations and connections that you have, and continue to cultivate them is essential.
So many future coaching cycles, great parent connections, or new school initiatives can begin because you spent time cultivating relationships with all stakeholders. As Joellen Killion, senior advisor of Learning Forward, says, “All models of coaching are valuable. Coaching light is coaching for relationships. Coaching heavy is coaching for results. Results can build relationships just as relationships can build results.” (Cofino, 2020)
Step 2: Be intentional about being visible
It can be easy for teachers to develop a perception that coaching is a “desk job” or “mini admin.” To counteract that misconception, be intentional about being visible. Be where teachers are, in their classrooms, on duty, in the staff lounge, the lunchroom, and in team meetings (if you can). Help them see that you're part of the school community every day. This will go a long way toward building relationships, as well.
Develop specific strategies to be intentional with your time to ensure that visibility is structured into your day as a coach. Focusing on a small strategy like this can have a big impact (as my own coach often says “small hinges open big doors”).
Step 3: Make a mindset shift
One of the potentially challenging parts of becoming a coach is realizing that you were not hired to create “mini-mes.” Even if you are an expert in your field and you were doing amazing things in your classroom prior to becoming a coach, the goal is not to create an “army of you” (sorry, Bjork). Coaching is about listening and supporting others’ growth, not “fixing” or making everyone just like you.
The beautiful thing about making this mindset shift is that you’re no longer hung up on the outcome of coaching conversations. You are walking the path with the teacher, but you don’t need to be personally invested in the specific journey it takes to get there (as long as student and teacher safety are assured). You can be a thought partner and an idea inspirer without holding an attachment to which ideas get adopted. This is about teacher growth, not compliance.
Step 4: Take time to articulate your vision or philosophy
Because we all have our own preconceived notions of what coaching means, it’s essential to define what it means in this context, for this school, at this point in time. Taking the time to clarify what your vision for coaching is will help you not only align with your school leader but also be consistent in your communication with your coaching partners.
Once you have your own vision clarified, clearly define your role and align with your school leader so you're both working towards (and expecting) the same outcomes. In my work with coaches and school leaders around the world, the majority of any potential issues with coaches or a coaching program stem from a lack of clarity around the role, its intention, purpose, and expectations. If you can come to alignment early on with your school leaders, you will prevent many of those potential “downstream” challenges.
To quote my coaching superhero, Joellen Killion again, “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).
Step 5: Use a needs assessment to determine your services
As coaches, we likely have ideas for the kind of support we would like to provide teachers. However, you’re far more likely to see teachers coming to you for coaching if you start by uncovering exactly what they think they need support with, as well as the language they use to describe it.
When you start communicating your services to teachers, be sure to include the outcome of the needs assessment so that you are directly targeting your teacher's perceived needs. You can always include more than what they identified, but when you give teachers what they ask for, they will be more likely to seek you out for support.
Another advantage of conducting a needs assessment first is that you will be able to tell how teachers describe the support they would like. As a coach, you may have more specific language to describe the work you do, but if this vocabulary isn’t how teachers describe it, they might not recognize it as the support they feel they need.
In my work with the Phoenixville Area School District in the United States, conducting a needs assessment was a huge turning point for their coaching program. Several years later, their team has doubled in size and their coaching program is flourishing. As K-12 instructional coach, Ashley Martin, mentioned on a #coachbetter podcast conversation, “It’s been amazing to think back to where it started and to see the layers adding on as we grew. It all started with the needs assessment that we did with you in The Coach.” (Cofino, 2020)
Aligning your services and language to what teachers recognize they need, and how they describe it, is the first step in helping teachers see working with you as a valuable investment of their time.
Once you have clarity around your role and how it fits into the school community, along with exactly what your coaching partners need, you’re able to move forward and take action. That’s what I’ll address in the next article in this series!
Instructional coaching is a hugely valuable and influential position for schools, but it’s complicated and complex to get it right. In international schools, we often see these positions come and go due to a lack of clarity and consistency in both vision and implementation. Hopefully, these articles will start a dialogue about the positive impact coaching can have in our schools so we can begin to see these positions have more longevity, along with clearer expectations and implementation.
If you’re ready to start your journey into instructional coaching, make sure to check out our free workshop, New to Coaching.
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, Nov 22). Building an Intentional Coaching Program with the Coaching Team at PASD (178). [Audio podcast episode]. In #coachbetter. Eduro Learning. https://coachbetter.tv/episode-178/
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.