A Common Language for Coaches

May 15, 2011

A Common Language for Coaches

Coaching has become a common word in school reform, it seems. There are leadership coaches, instructional coaches, data coaches, assessment coaches and more.

“They have been a centerpiece of the intervention for schools that need improvement in Michigan,” said Barbara Markle, assistant dean for k–12 outreach in the College of Education. “However, we have not had a common de?nition and language around coaching.”

At least, not until last fall when Michigan State University began providing a professional development program for all educational coaches across the state, no matter their specialization or background. It’s called Coaching 101.

The MSU Of?ce of k–12 Outreach is leading the initiative with a $1.6 million grant from the Michigan Department of Education and a state-instituted challenge to train all Title I–funded coaches prior to the 2011–12 school year. Meeting that goal will likely take longer, but coordinators say the program has already made great strides toward uniting a large and in?uential group of educational leaders around shared principles and skills.

One of the major goals of Coaching 101 is to shift participants’ thinking from how coaches do their work to what it means to be a coach. All effective coaches, program coordinators attest, provide support for educators based on fundamental knowledge, skills and dispositions that can help build capacity in schools, and ultimately lead to improved student achievement in the classroom.

Much of the training focuses on what happens during one-on-one conversations between coaches and teachers about how the school can improve. Coaching is not about going into schools and “?xing things.”

“Many coaches become ‘experts’ too soon and it’s not effective because the teacher or principal has not had a chance to develop their own thinking,” said Diane Jackson, director of Coaching 101. She said facilitators for the program teach coaches how to build rapport, set a positive, growth-focused mindset and, most of all, be active listeners.

“To be completely present with a person without thinking of your own personal agenda is very dif?cult. These skills take practice.”

Coaching 101 participants attend an orientation followed by an intensive three-day training session, which includes mock conversations, self-observation through video and an assessment required to determine their continued employment in the ?eld.

Additional sessions, or academies, come later depending on whether the person needs additional training in particular areas. Coaches can also check their own progress online using the 5d assessment of instructional awareness, an instrument originally developed by the University of Washington.

About 400 coaches, from the new to highly experienced, will complete the core program this year. MSU works with intermediate and local school districts that employ coaches to identify participants.

“Coaching 101 has been a good way to start creating some coherence of thinking and bring everybody together,” said Andrew Rynberg, a leadership coach for the past six years.

“For me, it’s very succinctly described the actual components of what I do. Once I associated speci?c terms with the behaviors I was using, it made it more clear which strategies I should employ to make sure conversations materialize into something of practical value for the principal and their school.”

The College of Education’s Of?ce of k–12 Outreach has been developing and implementing programs for instructional coaches since 2003, when

it created the abcs (Alliance for Building Capacity in Schools) consortium in response to the Michigan Department of Education’s plan for assisting high-priority schools.

In 2007, the of?ce launched the Michigan Coaches Institute which continues to prepare academic coaches assigned to work with principals of schools that have not made Adequate Yearly Progress for several years. Those principals participate in a partner professional development program called the Michigan Principals Fellowship.

Markle said Coaching 101

builds on the research knowledge and experience MSU has been accumulating.

“When schools are successful and no longer in the Principals Fellowship, they are just heartsick to lose their coach. But that’s the price of success,” said Markle. “Our goal is to develop experienced educators who know how to create capacity in schools that will result in long-term, sustained improvement.”

(Coaching 101: www.micoaching101.org)