In my role, I support the instructional coaches that our district provides to each school site. This year we are focusing on in-depth coaching cycles in our professional learning to enhance the impact this role has on improving teaching and learning.
There are various definitions and interpretations of coaching cycles out there. I chose to define coaching cycles for our purpose as:
- Teacher and coach establish a mutually agreed upon focus.
- Coach employs the gradual release of responsibility over the course of the cycle, beginning with modeling, moving into co-planning and co-teaching, and then observing to provide feedback, all around the agreed upon focus.
- Coach follows up with observations after the coaching cycle to continue to support, provide positive reinforcement and feedback around the focus.
In our work, we stress the importance of selecting a research-based focus that will enhance the teacher’s instruction, and thereby the students’ learning. While teachers often want and need support with individual programs or initiatives, in order for coaching to have a long-term impact, a coaching focus must be grounded in pedagogy.
There are some critical elements that must be in place before a coaching cycle like this can be planned or initiated. These elements include:
- A trusting relationship between the teacher and coach
- A coach with strong instructional, content, and pedagogical knowledge
- A schedule that allows the coach to spend extended periods of time with a single teacher
- Time for the teacher and coach to debrief and co-plan together before and after each day of the cycle
The element that was most surprising to our coaches was the follow-up at the end of a cycle. It is so important to check back in with a teacher after the official cycle has ended to ensure that the teacher has maintained the instructional skill that was taught, modeled, and practiced throughout the cycle. The teacher needs positive reinforcement if the skill is evident one, two, and even four weeks after the cycle. Equally important, the teacher needs explicit feedback if the skill is absent during these check-ins. If we believe that coaching can impact instruction, we must ensure our cycles include follow-up opportunities to gather data and provide ongoing support for long-term impact.
How do you define coaching cycles?
What experience do you have with coaching cycles as a teacher or a coach?
What advice might you give to a coach trying their first coaching cycle?