How Coaching Helps Teachers Grow

On Wednesday evening, November 16, twenty five people gathered at UVEI to talk about instructional coaching as a tool for supporting teachers’ continuous improvement. In attendance were school leaders interested in finding new ways to support teachers’ growth. There were teacher leaders who wanted to learn new and better ways to support their colleagues. There were teachers trying to find new resources in their quest to keep getting better. And there were community members who wanted to hear more about UVEI’s work.

This is a topic that the faculty at UVEI has been focusing on for some time. Persuaded by research suggesting that instructional coaching is a good way to address many of the limitations of traditional professional development in schools, the UVEI team spent a year engaging in a design study to try to improve our model for instructional coaching. While coaching was already a strength at UVEI, we wanted to build our skills further. We hoped that a refined model for effective coaching could be the foundation for better training and support.

We learned a lot over the course of the year. The coaching model that emerged (proudly built on the shoulders of giants in the field) emphasizes:

  • Creating a feedback loop, in which the learner sees their own practice and desired practice clearly, learns productive ways to move forward, and takes action.

  • Structuring conferences intentionally to move practice and support productive action.

  • Shifting stances flexibly between instructive, collaborative, and facilitative approaches based on the learner’s needs.

  • Encouraging the learner to become reflective, analytical and metacognitive about their own practice.

  • Fostering equity by bringing attention to the range of student needs.

  • Using a repertoire of coaching language and questioning strategies to foster the above.

We shared some of our areas of greatest learning, including our new-found awareness of the importance of emphasizing the teacher/learner thinking, goals and commitments over coach-driven suggestions and analysis. We also shared our renewed commitment to coaching for equity, an area that we felt we did not satisfactorily address through our study.

The evening closed with a lively conversation during which participants discussed their plans for advancing their own coaching skills and for distributing instructional leadership in their schools. As for UVEI, our mission is to build the capacity of schools by helping them to support continuous teacher development. With this goal in mind, we plan to further develop coaches through practice embedded, collegial, and competency-based learning opportunities. We also plan to host (free) forums for those working as mentors and coaches where participants will have opportunities to talk with colleagues and work through dilemmas. If you are interested in learning more, improving your coaching or joining in, please be in touch with us!

Commentary by Page Tompkins 

Page Tompkins is UVEI's Excecutive Director and a member of the Program Faculty.