This is the third in a series of posts co-written by myself and Kristian Still, an educator from the U.K. with whom I connected on Twitter. You will learn more about each of us and why we connected as you read the posts. He will be posting our writing on his blog as well.
After Kristian reached out to me, we exchanged a few DMs on Twitter, and then decided to expand our conversation in a Google doc. We each wrote down a few questions for the other person to answer. In this third post, you will be able to read the questions that he asked me, along with my answers. Stay tuned for future posts that include our reflections and more!
Questions for Amy:
- Can you describe your instructional coaching journey? Where did you begin and how did you end up where you are?
When I first began blogging, I wrote about my entire educational journey, which you can read about here. I got into instructional coaching as a teacher. I was fortunate that my principal was a mentor who supported by growth and development, and who recognized that I was a strong teacher able to support my peers. From them on, with each job change, I have continued to carry with me a coaching lens. I find that the best way to make an impact on teaching and learning is through personal relationships with individuals; coaching comes in when you have built those trusting relationships and can have honest conversations about successes and challenges in the classroom/school. Throughout my career, I moved from coaching my peers, to coaching teachers as their administrator, to coaching school-based coaches from a district-level position, to now coaching the administrators (assistant principals and principals) of a large district.
One coaching highlight that stands out in my career, was when, as a new principal, I was assigned a coach. This experience taught me that everyone can benefit from a coach, when it’s the right relationship. The first coach assigned to me was not a good fit for my needs at that time, and I was luckily able to request a change (because my entire district was receiving coaching at the time). My second coach was exactly what I needed, even when I didn’t know what I needed! She and I are still friends, over ten years later. It was through her coaching that I learned to be more reflective and purposeful in my leadership and in my own coaching.
- What do you see as the main professional growth opportunities for:
Teachers – In my current system, we are facing significant budget cuts, so we are limited in what we can and cannot offer in terms of professional growth opportunities. I’ve worked to encourage opportunities such as monthly district Twitter chats, annual Edcamps, and quarterly teacher leadership book studies. Most teachers are also part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) with peers from their school and department, so they have that time built in to their week or month.
School leaders – We prioritize the professional growth of our leaders. I facilitate monthly workshops for all 71 of our assistant principals (APs). In addition, the APs who are in their first three years on the job attend an additional monthly workshop with their smaller cohort; we’ve hired 30 new APs in the last four years! I also spend two hours a month coaching each of our first year APs individually, as part of their work they have to do to clear their credential. Our principals participate in monthly leadership development workshops and quarterly Learning and Equity Walks. In addition, each principal is part of a smaller network (up to 6 principals and a district level facilitator) which means monthly for smaller site visits, learning walks, and collaborations.
Site Leadership Teams (SLT) – Each of our school sites has an SLT, made up of a group of about 15 staff members representing the various departments and roles across the school (including a counselor and a Classified staff member). We bring the site-based SLTs together at a district meeting three times a year to further our team learning work.
- Now that you are coaching the ‘change gatekeepers’ in schools, the Principals, what do you perceive as the core aims of coaching?
I believe my work can help bring coherence across our district. It’s also important that we are shifting the role of principal and assistant principal into more of an instructional leader, responsible for observing, supporting, and guiding the teaching and learning of their school site. I want to empower our school leaders to build the capacity of others, so that the work can grow exponentially. For instance, if the principal empowers the assistant principal, the AP will then be able empower the teacher who is the leader of the department he or she oversees, and that teacher leader can actually coach his or her peers.
- Can you put your finger on the impact that ‘open to coaching Principals’ exert over those that step back from coaching?
This is an interesting question! I find that when a coach has success with one person (often one who starts as being open to coaching), he or she will share the success with others. When a more resistant educator (whether a teacher or a principal) hears a trusted peer say they found value in a coaching experience, some of that resistance crumbles, and the coach is often able to make inroads. The word of mouth stories can have a great impact on a coach gaining access to more people.
- What does professional-personal coaching (for teachers, aspiring leaders and Principals even) has to offer that superseded our UK Performance Related Pay, Performance Review model?
Until we started chatting on Twitter, I didn’t know anything about your model. Across the US, there has been much debate about performance related pay. Some states have versions of this, but I live in California and we do not have anything like it in education. We do have required evaluation systems, and all teachers in my district are evaluated on the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTPs).While these standards are a great framework for high quality teaching, I have found that evaluations, which are done based on one classroom observation every other year, are very limited in terms of their impact to improving teaching and learning. This is why I’m so passionate about coaching.
A teacher can set his or her own professional goals for the year, ideally based on wanting to grow in 1-2 areas of the CSTPs, and a coach can work alongside that teacher to help with growth opportunities. This can be driven by the teachers current strengths and the areas he or she identifies as wanting to grow in, which builds in buy-in and personal investment.
- Have you ever encountered the work of Dr Jill Berry? I think she would be #yourkindofleader?
No, I haven’t. But now I want to know more! I just found her on Twitter so I can start to follow her and learn more. On that same note, do you know the work of Elena Aguilar? She is one of my coaching heroes and a virtual mentor, through her amazing books!
- As we both seem to invest in reflection, how is this helped your coaching develop?
I write to reflect, which led to the creation of my blog and my to-be-published book on instructional coaching. I think this written reflection has helped me learn to slow down, to listen more, to practice my reflective questioning skills, and to be more mindful of presuming positive intent. My coaching has also helped developed my written content, as I write about experiences. Coaching new leaders led to my blog series on time management, which is something many coaches and leaders struggle with on a daily basis.
Posts in this series: