This special #coachbetter episode is the first in our short series on Coaching in Practice featuring coaches and their coachees to more deeply explore what coaching looks like from both perspectives. Kim meets with Megan Holmstrom and Jordan Benedict. Megan is an experienced instructional coach and Jordan, now currently a coach, was her coachee when they both worked at the American School of Dubai. This conversation is a reflective and insightful look at how coaching is perceived by teachers, what coaches can and should do to build successful coaching relationships, and the long term impact that coaching has on both the coach and the coachee. If you want an inside look that shares both the perspectives, this conversation is a “must listen”!
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Megan, as a coach, how did you approach and develop your relationship with Jordan?
What did that feel like for you, Jordan?
Background: American School of Dubai (ASD) took time to build a coaching culture. Hired as the first set of coaches (Math, Literacy, Secondary). Took time to set up culture as arrival. What does it mean to be coaching? The primary purpose is to partner with teachers to reflect on the impact of their decisions on student learning.
As new coaches, invited to build relationships, focus of PK-gr 5 in Elementary School and 6-8 in Middle School. Jordan was department chair so important \to build a relationship with him. Because the culture was set, it was easy to get into classrooms. Went into lots of classrooms, present at weekly meetings. When walking into classrooms, looking for “who’s doing the math”; “are students the author of ideas?”
Focused on: are we focusing on the students, and putting students in the drivers seat? Some of the things were teacher centered. There was an energy and commitment to learning. Sometimes we teach the way we’ve been taught. There were great things that were going on, and opportunities for a coaching partnership, wanted to lift that up.
Thought was “What is the shift I’m hoping happens?” Anchored in National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), 8 goals for teaching. Looking for those opportunities and noticed was that he was driving the instruction from a point of excitement. Thought about the teacher teaching long enough so that the students were invited to explore first. So the students became the center point, instead of feeling like the teacher had a lesson plan. “How do we create that messy space where learning drives what happens next? How can I help Jordan change his practice?”
It was totally threatening. Had always gotten good reviews from students and parents, students always got good test scores. Tons of justification for not having a coach. There was a protectiveness about the way to teach math. Took awhile to trust that the coach was an expert as well. Student teacher programs just don’t prepare you for the calibre of teaching in international schools. Just because successful in Wisconsin doesn’t mean same at the level of international schools. Took a year to take that leap of faith, because hadn’t ever changed my practice that much before. The gateway for building trust was in the department work. As a new leader, needed someone to help with that leadership role.
I knew in general from work done in LA, that it would be threatening because secondary teachers are content experts. They’re looking at test scores, feedback from parents, students, teachers, tracking in maths. Labels that happen naturally. It’s always going to be a little threatening. That’s the essential trust that needs to be built. Let’s look at the practice of teaching and learning, and look at the question you’re interested in. “What are you looking at most in your practice?” “What’s your “brain itch?”” Always doing that, everyone is thinking about their teaching and their learning. Elementary School teachers much more open. It’s unique to math in some ways, it’s common in coaching.
Group / Department work was an easy win. Easy to connect as a group of colleagues and friends. Very eager to partner with him and his classroom. Did things around professional urgencies. “How can I get in to a coaching partnership?” Team and Director were very purposeful and school created this understanding that this was part of culture. It became a question to the teacher, “What’s your question to uncover during coaching?”
How did you work together? What was the process like?
Supreme confidence in my content and the metrics at my disposal. When she came in I wasn’t always sure what she was looking for, or looking at. I’d only ever had someone observe for evaluation. That’s partly what made me so nervous.
She would script students and questions. And then follow up with mediative questions. My initial reaction was that she was trying to lead me down a specific path. It was frustrating. She came in right away. I know people are going to feel threatened, I’m going to reach out and go to classrooms anyway. Always a conversation starter. So appreciative that she kept coming. And to other math classrooms as well. We believe in ourselves, but we also believe in professional growth. I started to realize that having a thinking partner would help me grow. Her perpetual insistence into my classroom, feeding me resources, looking at things without asking me to change anything, because less threatening. It took me a while to realize that I had the choice to take action, and that it was non-evaluative.
- Go into classroom
- Keep going in
- Scripting / taking data
- Sharing resources
- Looking at things without asking the teacher to change anything
- Asking mediative questions
How do you push teachers along without a timeline / expectation? Questions were: here’s the observation, here’s the teacher move. How can we change the problem to promote teacher explanation or understanding? Pose a thought prompt, rather than a check or measure. I was holding these really general impactful changes over time. I wasn’t expecting change at a specific state. We were playing with frames of what coaching could look like too… Biggest piece of qualitative data at the end of year one was that we should go in early and more often. Consistent theme. Move to learning questions, looking at progressions of learning over time. Targeting specific things weren’t as important as looking at the holistic practice.
This isn’t Megan’s work, this is what we know is impactful on student learning. From the math teaching practices, let’s pick a question. Early in our partnership, it wasn’t something I would do early. Now it’s always presented early on. I start with Teaching & Learning beliefs and then go to research-based practice that we know has an impact.
I did not know they were on her mind. They helped me grow as a researcher, they connected me to the gurus and research I was not connected to. I started becoming familiar with critical people and resources. A lot of Megan’s work was to get me aware of these practices and resources. She gave me things that weren’t from her. And connected me to things that allowed me to be an active contributor. I didn’t know they were there, but I know she introduced me to them.
How did the relationship develop? What was the outcome?
I recognized that I needed leadership coaching. Once I realized she was non-evaluative, I started inviting her to pre-plan all of my department meetings. I was the youngest teacher AND department chair. We had great people that needed to be a cohesive 6-8 department, K-8, and then eventually K-12. Through those conversations it prompted me to take more leaps of faith.
We organized classroom walk throughs in the second year. I realized on the day that my lesson was observed, the feedback was that the students were doing the work. That was a moment that I realized that this relationship had affected me as a leader, but also as a teacher because the comments they were giving were so different than a year earlier.After that they started to recognize strengths of mine, and started nudging me in that direction. Kept nudging me saying “do more, do more” That coaching partner brought out talents that I thought was a side thing. That’s where our relationship is now. Megan Skypes me in to other schools and connected to conferences, etc. Now it’s a very reciprocal relationship.
We adopted the work of Joellen Killion. She did a lot of coaches coaching coaches work. She names many roles that JK includes: Research, planning, brainstorming and listening, classroom visits, data analysis, data coach. We had a superintendent at the time who really believed in servant leadership. The main goal is to pull the leadership from others. I see purpose from each person’s potential. My ego is out of the room, I worry that the coach could inadvertently come in with ego about what needs to be changed. I’m there to serve, to bring their work and their areas of expertise to the forefront for them.
What did you learn from this experience that would be relevant for other coaches and teachers?
Purposeful work around building a culture of coaching. You have no idea where the relationship will go, the teachers’ particular path will open up other unexpected opportunities. I’m learning every time I’m in their company. I see it as a reciprocal relationship. Leadership was on board, relationship and trust was essential, can’t script the rest of it. Have to keep leaning on each other.
Coaching is a partnership approach, but in the end the teacher is ultimately the decider. You need to adapt your model to match the teacher. You never know the way the teacher is going to want to work. It was a very adaptable model, which is something coaches need to be ready for. To allow the classroom teacher to be the ultimate decider so they can come to a place of autonomous growth is essential. I had to take the leap. I got to a place where I don’t feel that pressure any more. It’s hard to just “take a chance” and having a partner to think that through and take risks together.
Why is coaching so valuable in the education profession and how can schools make coaching a priority?
Highest level of impact is co-teaching & coaching.
Article: Research Alert: Instructional Coaches Got Game (ASCD)
Podcast: There is No Mountaintop to Teaching (Steve Barkley
The question then becomes, why wouldn’t we do this? What are the success stories and anecdote we can share to demonstrate the impact. Model and implementation cocused heavily on research. Relationship is key. Coaching is personalized, we meet teachers where they are
Value of personal and professional satisfaction of having a coach. If I’m not growing, I can’t imagine I would feel as much professional satisfaction. I am more satisfied with my work because I’m taking risk and trying new things. Losing some of that isolation you can feel if you’re the only one teaching a course. If you feel yourself growing it makes you love your job even more, and if you have someone doing that with you, it make you love it even more.