Today we’re chatting with Liz Cho, Principal of Teaching and Learning at Korea International School. In this conversation we talk in depth about how Liz and her colleagues have built a cohesive coaching culture throughout the school. From examining the research, to reflecting on school-based practices, to hiring the right staff, and building understanding among admin and teachers. We cover every stage of the development of the coaching program at Korea International School.

Featured Guest

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Show Notes

Started teaching in the US. taught 5 years in DC. English teacher, taught for 12 years in the classroom, COETAIL grad, Masters in Admin, 4th year full-time admin. Currently in Korea, Director of Curriculum. Principal of Teaching & Learning at KIS. 1200 students.

Director can mean various things in various contexts. Principal has no confusion, clear connotation, clear representation of what that role is. Curriculum, HR and Tech are all labeled as Principal, all part of SLT. 

Came in and started the coaching program. Hired coaches instead of an assistant. Started with 5 part-time coaches (part teachers).

163 teaching staff. If we really value teaching and learning, and the research that goes along with learning sciences, it’s tough work for one person to do. So, in order for teachers to be practitioners that reflect on their practice, a coaching program is essential.

Vision: To create a school where collaboration is a thing that we do. Reflect on our practices and are constantly growing from and with each other.

Brought in Cognitive Coaching, all teacher leaders invited & paid for 30 people. The more people are familiar with our vision…. All principals were there. I believe in order for the program to work, the whole idea of coaching is ambiguous, so I wanted to make sure I had coaches that were fully capable and competent in what they’re doing. Not just a coach in title.

Coaches are not evaluators. Because they’re in the classroom and teaching, that makes a huge difference in building trust and empathy with teachers.

Part-time Coaches with block schedule: every other day they teach, every other day they coach. Half-time with an elementary coach doesn’t work. Now ES coach is full-time (now 4 coaches). Each coach can work with all divisions. Good teaching is good teaching and good coaching is good coaching

Teachers can book coaches on coaching days. People start to gravitate towards their strengths. Math teacher coach is working on standards K12.  We started to see patterns of teachers naturally gravitating towards their forte. But they’re not coaching just content. They’re coaching with pedagogical, assessment, differentiation needs. Every teacher feels like I have 4 coaches to work with.

We’re calibrating all the time. We make sure the messaging is consistent. Building a model to guide the team and teaching leads about coaching. Because we’re on the same page as an admin team, it allows logistics to work. All department heads invite coaches to team meetings so there’s a record of who is dropping into which team meeting. When we say we’re there to support you and help you, we’re really there.

What inspired you? What resources helped you determine how this was going to work within your system?

12 years as a teacher in the classroom. I’m passionate about tapping into what teachers need because I was hungry for that as a teacher. There were times when I was frustrated because I felt like there was a disconnect between teachers and admin. I switched to admin because I wanted to know what was happening on the other side. What are the things I can do to bridge the gap that I experienced? How can we bridge that gap so we can truly build their capacity?

I got hired because they wanted to re-build a culture of the school. They wanted to connect people. I was hired to build that professional capacity. I can’t do anything I do alone. I need a team and collaboration. I’m so excited to be on a team that’s willing to try. It’s not “my initiative”, as it is aligned with research and feedback from teachers. We’re able to build something like this because there is pre-planning and a vision that we have, and we have the research to support that.

The barrier is if you don’t have a team that can make these decisions. It’s really important to know what kind of team you’re looking for and who you need to find in order to build that.

Were there any challenges you had to overcome? Or were principals on board from the beginning?

In the center of the belief statement of our coaching philosophy: “collaborative educators working together to accomplish a common mission.” Having that clarity makes it hard for any principal to disagree.

What would you encourage coaches to do to help their school leaders to get on board?

First thing: see if they know the mission. What are we going for? Find common ground. Find an irrefutable point and get them to see that. That’s why coaching skills are important. It’s not about me and it’s not about you, it’s about the students and their learning. In order for us to get there, let’s find the common ground. Get them to see why you are there together.

Building off of that, how do we impact student learning? Take the focus off of you and me and him or her, but about the learners and the learning community at the school. What are we doing that will help impact student learning in a positive way so they can be the better version of themselves?

Add a third point about research & data & feedback from teachers

You have to try. If that were not going to work, you wait out your contract.

If you have teachers that are not on board. The teachers that you have are still your responsibility. We have a responsibility to try to make them the best version of a teacher they can be, and if that doesn’t work, document it. 

How can we build our program so that it’s robust and when teachers leave it still endures? It can’t be about you. “You’re not that important” Your work should last beyond your tenure at a school. It’s about the work that is genuine for students.

Did you have any challenges in this process?

We work with human beings, they are complex, and our work is not easy. What we need to do is gain their trust. We are working with 168 staff. Coaching the coaches. This is a lot of work. After a year we realized our three pillars are: empathy, safety & reliability. The challenge is the reality of what it’s like to work with human beings. Just because a leadership team has a vision, doesn’t mean that it’s smooth sailing. Some teachers just try to outlast the leaders… Humans are hard. That’s the hardest part of the job. The more you practice, the better you get.  You have to talk about and practice coaching. You have to work together.

I look for people who are ok with ambiguity, precision in what you do is really important, but you have to be adaptable and flexible. Coaches schedule times with each other to have a coaching conversation. They’re realizing that a lot of people come to them for consultancy and collaboration is not compliance. When it’s really a coaching conversation, they still need to keep that skill up, the fluidity between consultant to coach. They practice those skills together. Liz gets together with them once a month and models what a meeting should be. We talk about what training up they need. You need educators who are reflective and naturally willing and wanting to do that. Like any athlete, coaching is a skill you need to practice.

Trying to permeate this color, and offer as many opportunities to practice.

Do you have any strategies for helping teachers / coaches recognizing the need to grow?

Connect with them on a personal level. You have to earn their trust and mean it. We’re all humans, you can’t force something on someone who is not ready for it. You have to find the things that they are doing really well. So that what you say they will trust. So in their teaching they will be vulnerable. Your attempts to work with them are genuine.

Be human, build trust, build rapport. And through that you can create a relationship.

Level Up Your Coaching with The Coach!

If you are ready to dive deep into your coaching practice, to help you #coachbetter and build a thriving coaching culture in your school, please join us for our next cohort of The Coach!

Wherever you are in building a coaching culture in your school, The Coach will give you the strategies, skills and tools you need to make coaching a success and will empower you to confidently apply instructional coaching strategies in any situation – from building a coaching program, to having coaching conversations, to being a leader in your school community. We facilitate only one cohort each academic year so we can offer individualized support for each participant.

Coaches of all levels are welcome: you’ll start the program with a self-assessment to determine exactly what the next steps are for you!

Registration for our next global cohort opens once a year – check the website for details!