Michelle Marrillia

Michelle Marrillia has 15 years’ experience as a public school educator in Louisville, Kentucky. She facilitates professional development for implementing and sustaining professional learning communities.

Giving All Teachers the Coach They Deserve

Meeting the needs of every teacher can be a daunting task for even the most experienced instructional coach. While supporting new teachers is the gateway to establishing a rich and healthy school climate, elevating master teachers is essential to sustaining the culture of a strong and vibrant learning environment. During a time of high-stakes accountability and teacher shortages, it is more important than ever to have structures in place that assist and value the work of every teacher. So, how does a principal ensure that all teachers get the coach they deserve?

First, we have to change the way we think about coaching. According to Many, Maffoni, Sparks, and Thomas (2018) “team-orientated coaching is learning centric, grounded in collaborative team structures, and supported with a proven model of school improvement (the PLC process)” (p. 17). Coaches can achieve greater results by beginning with a team-oriented approach, followed by individual coaching for teachers who need more time and support.

Clearly articulated roles and responsibilities enhance the impact of the instructional coach and strengthen the collaborative teams of the professional learning community. Principals must then ask themselves, “What are the daily activities of an instructional coach in a PLC, and how can I work with the coach to define those tasks?”

The 5 Roles of an Instructional Coach in a PLC

Act as the point of contact

First, the instructional coach should act as a point of contact for the collaborative team facilitators. Working with school leaders, the coach can help build capacity within the PLC by creating a clear communication structure for the team facilitators and the members of the collaborative teams. A team facilitator increases the effectiveness of a collaborative team when provided the right training, resources, and feedback. Great school leaders understand that a key component of a healthy PLC is allowing facilitators to have opportunities to meet with the coach regularly to exchange ideas and have reflective conversations.

Provide professional learning

The second role is to provide ongoing formal and informal professional learning that aligns to the mission and vision of the school. Instructional coaches should strive to help teams see the connections between the team’s work and overall improvement of the school. A skilled coach will not only facilitate professional learning for like-content teams, but also initiate collaboration among vertical and cross-curricular teams to meet the goals of the whole school.

Monitor the work of teams

As coaches become familiar with the work of the teams, a third focus of the instructional coach becomes monitoring the work of the collaborative teams. When the coach is invested in observing teams and examining agendas and work products, opportunities for rich conversations become frequent and more authentic. This allows the coach to set the stage for a continuous feedback loop between the teachers and school leaders. Coaches can assist the school leaders in developing and maintaining a coaching mindset to support teaching and learning.

Ensure PLC fidelity

When coaches are valued by the teacher team, they can then ensure fidelity of PLC actions. As coaches seek to better understand where each collaborative team is on their PLC journey, they can consider what is necessary to support each team. “Just being a member of a team isn’t enough. Collaborative teams must engage in the right work” (Kramer and Schulh, 2017, p.22). A coach can help teams determine what products should be produced at each level of the PLC process, provide resources and help foster a community of reflective practitioners within the school.

Provide support

Finally, an instructional coach provides non-evaluative, non-judgmental support. The best coaches promote a culture that allows teams and teachers to take risks and ask for feedback on instructional practices. The work of the team becomes focused on how to apply what they are learning to future outcomes to improve learning for all.

When an instructional coach works with a team, the work becomes focused more on the group improvement and less on individual achievements (Many et al, 2018). Clearly communicating the role of the coach will help build trust, establish goals within the PLC, and ultimately make all teachers feel like they are getting the coach they deserve.  

References:

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T. W., & Mattos, M. (2016). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, a division of Solution Tree.

Kramer, S. V., & Schuhl, S. (2017). School improvement for all: A how-to guide for doing the right work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, a division of Solution Tree.

Many, T. W., Maffoni, M., Sparks, S., & Thomas, T. (2018). Amplify your impact: Coaching collaborative teams in PLCs at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Comments

Alexandra Blank

Michelle,
I think it's so important for schools to have instructional coaches. I believe it's unfair that all schools do not have this opportunity. First year teachers would benefit from them as well as seasoned teachers. It would be nice to have a non-biased source come into my school and provide non evaluative, non judgmental feedback. For teachers that do not have a collaborative team, this coach could be the liaison for that reason. I love that you wrote "we have to change the way we think about coaching". From my experiences, many peers of mine don't take coaching well. They think they are being criticized rather than positive suggestions and help being lent. I know that meeting the needs to teachers is difficult to do by principals but this coach can help with the process.

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