Does Your District Need a Coach? How ICSM Makes it Work

Districts across Michigan who applied for the Early Literacy Grant or the Literacy Coaches Grant this month may be wondering the same thing: How do I pay an experienced Coach in my district the $37,500 allotted  to support multiple buildings and dozens of teachers targeting literacy instruction and assessment?

I won’t claim to be a magician, but I’ve been working with teachers in a variety of school districts for the last two years, and I can give you my best summation of the key factors that have helped make my coaching work run smoothly, and how to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Hire a Contractor: Too often, districts (including principals and teachers, themselves) want to yank a highly-effective teacher from the classroom and place them in the role of a coach, and more often than not, it doesn’t work. There’s a big difference between working with second grade children and automatically shifting to working with degreed adults. By hiring an outsider, like the Instructional Coaching Services of Michigan, whose emphasis is not only on developing systems for professional learning, but also training teachers in coaching mindsets, you allow principals and teachers to witness what really good coaching looks like. When teachers are playing the role of instructor and coach, everyone begins to wonder about evaluations, pay, time allocation, and overall trust in getting the work done.

I currently work for a school in Genesee County who hired me from a referral. Although not always easy to walk into a new school and start coaching, the principal, her teachers, and I agreed that we needed time to get to know each other, as well as what the stakeholders wanted from the school. My “outsider perspective” has allowed me to integrate work from the variety of schools and universities that I work with to determine what was best (and simplest) for this particular school. I’m happy to say that I’m in my second year of work with the teachers, and they are working hard, they are engaged as writers, they support each others’ growth, and they are loving it! Oh, and did I mention the kids are loving writing too?

Negotiate a Contract: By hiring from the outside, you remove the red-tape sometimes associated with the hierarchy of the teaching community. There are fewer hard feelings when a contracted coach visits the classroom and begins building relationships that model mature, professional behaviors, dialogue, and teaching. The contract you create with your coach should lay out the different services the coach is able to provide along the way; the time of the interaction with teachers; and the specified outcomes to be achieved (also known as a coaching plan), with the primary focus on teacher instruction that impacts student learning.

Each contract I write for a school includes an outline of anticipated services, but it also comes with a roadmap of where the school is, and what sequence of professional learning and feedback is needed to move forward. As soon as the principal and I share this common vision, we bring it to the staff to ensure they trust the judgment in planning, implementation, and reflection for continuous improvement. We also want their feedback. This, single handedly, has been the most helpful piece of my work as a coach thus far. I wouldn’t do business any other way. As for the budget, I visit at least once a week and facilitate Professional Development sessions for 25 teachers during release time for a single building, and the budget is a fraction of what the Michigan Department of Education has distributed.

Build Capacity: The coach you hire is supposed to show teachers how collaboration, instruction, and professional learning works together to form communities that support the great work schools and teachers do on a daily basis. In the long term, however, contracted coaches want schools and teachers to build the capacity within themselves, and to take ownership of their capacity to the levels that meet the needs of students and stakeholders. Coaches can demonstrate what that collaboration looks like, can work through teacher struggles and roadblocks, and can support quality learning that will have a long-term effect on how schools do business the way they always wanted to. Despite my want to continue working for a school as a coach, my role as a contractor is really geared toward building strong capacity in multiple school districts across Michigan. Although I start my work by building strong learning communities with teachers, my goal is that principals and teachers work together to model coaching behaviors and strategies. I build the capacity for coaching to thrive by collaborating with the principal(s) in grooming at least two teachers who will work together to model that same collaborative spirit that I began the work. Like most learning, we want people to do the work confidently on their own and to see the value in the collaboration to get there; they sometimes just need to be shown how first.

Establish Evaluation Criteria: Many teachers who work as a coach part-time find themselves in a pickle when it comes time for evaluation. A novice coach new to working with teachers over children, may find herself frustrated and overwhelmed by the amount of work, the shift in focus from teacher to school leader, and the accountability of measurement for a coach’s success. An evaluation created to establish the expected roles and outcomes of a coach (that differs from her role as a teacher) needs to be established to ensure success for both areas of work.

Instructional Coaching Services of Michigan has a working template to guide school districts in creating their own evaluation of coaches. As a formative model for feedback dialogue between coaches, teachers, and administrators, the evaluation provides opportunities to set goals, continue working on coaching skills and practices, and to determine areas of greatest need for improvement.

Instructional Coaching Services of Michigan is always looking to service schools who want to build their teacher and coaching capacity; we are in the business of education to serve the needs of our students and that often begins with their teachers. Whether you are looking for professional development on building aninternal coaching network, or if you are looking to hire an outside coach to bring life to the literacy program at your school, ICSM can help you pave the road for meaningful teaching and learning to thrive.

Contact ICSM at instructionalcoachingofmi@gmail.com or visitwww.instructionalcoachingofmi.com

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