Setting Up a Coaching Program for Success
Select an Effective Coach
When considering candidates for coaching positions, decision-makers and leaders should take into account that just as it has been argued that a teacher is the most important determinant of student learning, having the right coach in place can be a key factor in the degree to which teachers learn and transfer that learning to their practice. With that in mind, administrators can use the following tips when staffing a coaching position.
Tips for success:
- Consider whether the candidate is an experienced teacher. Teachers who participated in the Dynamic Learning Project pilot (DLP)1 described it as essential that the coach “has been in our shoes before.” Teachers need to see coaches as credible experts who can understand their point of view, empathize with job-related stresses and constraints, and draw from a wealth of instructional knowledge and skills in their collaboration with teachers. In our study, DLP coaches who had previously taught in the specific school where they coached had the additional advantages of familiarity with the school culture, knowledge of the needs of the specific student population, and established relationships with teachers on campus.
- Take into account the extent to which the candidate adopts a growth mindset in their work. A successful coach embraces a growth mindset and welcomes feedback from their teachers, peers, and administrators. Coaches support a culture of continual improvement when they themselves model the value of vulnerability, curiosity, and openness to change and innovation.
- Ask the candidate to describe their skills and experiences building trusting, collaborative relationships. Teachers describe the ideal coach as a strong communicator who is approachable, flexible, and supportive. “A good coach listens really well and really tries to get to the root of a problem,” said one DLP teacher. Teachers want a coach whose optimism is contagious and who motivates them to push through challenges while also respecting their autonomy and listening to their needs. At the same time, coaches should also be able to maintain strong connections with district and school administrators, collaborate with other coaches, and build relationships with students.
As part of coaching, it is not only teachers who engage in continuous learning and growth; an effective coach is constantly learning through their practice. By providing personalized one-on-one support to teachers, coaches have consistent opportunities to learn by researching solutions that are targeted for specific teacher challenges and contexts, implementing them in the classroom, and collaborating with teachers who bring their own knowledge and experiences to the table. Said one high school coach: "I am not afraid to tell teachers, ‘I don’t know, but I can learn that and then I can help you,’ or, ‘do you want to learn with me?’ I’ve done both of those."