One of the things I’m enjoying most about being on our coaching team here at ISB is the opportunity to openly share our challenges so that we can all work together to improve our practice. This week we had our first book club meeting to discuss the first chapter of Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives edited by Jim Knight.

To facilitate our conversation, we followed the Final Word protocol. Each of us selected a particular section of the text which stood out during our reading, and following the protocol process, discussed what was so important about that statement in a round-robin format. Although we all selected different sections, they seemed to have a common element: how to move beyond simply supporting teachers to increase their comfort level within our curricular areas to implementing changed practices with all faculty members to improve student learning.

The section of the book that we ended up focusing on the most was about Coaching Heavy and Coaching Light. The author of this chapter, Joellen Killion

assert[s] that there are two kinds of coaching – coaching light and coaching heavy. The difference essentially is the coaches’ perspective, beliefs, role decisions, and goals, rather than what coaches do… Coaching light occurs when coaches want to build and maintain relationships more than they want to improve teaching and learning. From this perspective, coaches act to increase their perceived value to teachers by providing resources and avoiding challenging conversations. (p. 22)

Coaching heavy, on the other hand, includes high-stakes interactions between coaches and teachers, such as curriculum analysis, data analysis, instruction, assessment, and personal and professional beliefs and how they influence practice… Coaching heavy requires coaches to say “no” to trivial requests for support and to turn their attention to those high-leverage services that have the greatest potential for teaching and learning. Coaching heavy requires coaches to work with all teachers in a school, not just those who volunteer for coaching services. Coaching heavy requires coaches to seek and use data about their work and regularly analyze their decisions about time allocation, services and impact. (p. 23 -24)

Reading this section I realized that often times I am coaching light, but not always because of a decision I’ve consciously made. I am hyper-aware of the anxiety level most teachers have when dealing with technology, which often results in focusing more on making teachers comfortable with the tools than initiating difficult conversations about changing practice. I wonder if this issue is specific to those of us working in the technology area, or if it’s really just the same as coaches helping to implement a new math, reading or science program?

I do believe that those difficult conversations are much easier once you’ve developed a trusting relationship and that only happens when teachers feel supported. Killion mentions that it often takes coaches a whole year to move from coaching light to coaching heavy because of all the ground-work required to build trusting relationships, but that they can also get trapped into coaching light indefinitely if they are not careful.

I’m wondering now, how can coaches tell when it’s time to move from coaching light to coaching heavy? I’m also conscious of the fact that those deeper conversations don’t always have to happen in a formal setting, they can be quick snippets in the hallway that build upon previous sessions or discussions over lunch or even in a social setting. Do coaches keep track of where they are with each teacher, as you would with a class of students, so that you have a running record of what step to take next?

The other issue that jumped out at me was that coaches are required and expected to work with all teachers. This directly contradicts my long-held belief in working with the willing. Perhaps I simply need to adjust that to: we should start with the willing, but know that eventually we do have to work with everyone. I do still firmly believe that to work with everyone, with the focus on improving student learning (which may entail changing teaching practice), requires clear and transparent communication from administrators about our roles and purpose.

Perhaps the most reassuring sentence (for me) in this particular set of paragraphs is that coaching heavy requires coaches to say “no” to trivial requests for support in favor of more meaningful actions that will have a deeper impact on student learning. One of the biggest challenges for me has always been saying no. I like to believe I can do everything, and that I can make everyone’s job easier by supporting everyone, everywhere at any time. It’s important for me to remind myself that this only ends up diluting the impact I can make on both student and teacher learning. I need to remember that I am in control of my time and that I need to prioritize which tasks I undertake on a daily basis. Letting my day get carried away with the little things is not fulfilling my role, and it’s not helping my school move forward. (Maybe I should post this above my desk?).

Saying that a coach’s role is to support teachers misleads teachers. A coach’s primary responsibility is to improve student learning. (p. 27, point #3)

Reading this, I wonder what most teachers would think. I know that I have often been referred to as a “support” person or a “resource” person, and to be honest, I never felt the term was quite right, but I didn’t know why. Now I do. A “resource” is something to be used (or not) and then tossed aside. A “resource” is not something that might cause you to change deeply held beliefs or to re-evaluate your practice. A “resource” is not challenging. If teachers see us as “resources” or “support” people, they will not understand the work we are trying to do or how we fit into the school’s vision and purpose.

By making observations, stating their point of view, and inquiring into practice, coaches erode stagnant practice and unchallenged routines to spark analysis, reflection, and appropriate change. In this role, a coach is not about change for change sake, but rather for continuous improvement and fine-tuning to meet clearly articulated goals. (p. 13)

All too often it feels like teachers view technology as yet another swing in the pendulum of education, something they have to adopt because it’s the “cool new thing,” but not because they really believe in the impact it can have on student learning. It’s reassuring to me to see that other instructional coaches face this same dilemma.

One of the most difficult conversations that seems to come along frequently in technology is when teachers want to replicate what they always do (for example, a poster) “on the computer” because it will look cooler to the parents (or to their administrators) – not because of the potential that technology might have to offer. I’m thinking that effective questioning strategies, as part of coaching heavy, are what can move the conversation along from substitution to transformation. I’m also wondering if distributing a LOTI survey can help begin to plant the seeds in teachers’ minds about the different levels of technology implementation?

Final Thoughts

Once again, I am impressed by the value of looking at other, more established, fields in education to understand more deeply and improve my practice in the area of technology facilitation. Considering we’re only on the first chapter of the book, I’m sure coaching is going to provide a lot of room for growth!