Teaching writers' workshop is the best thing I do all day. It is powerful to help young children to become writers. Great books, intentional instruction, high expectations, and wide open spaces. Think Katie Wood Ray. Think Ralph Fletcher. It all comes together here.

Same philosophies extend to instructional coaching. It's about clarity of intention, reflection, and ownership. Working side by side. Building communities of learners (of all ages).

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Rethinking Collaboration

Measured by minutes on a clock, an instructional coach has opportunities to collaborate much more frequently than anyone else in the building. In the past week, for example, I have been part of:
  • Four grade level PLCs
  • RtI Planning with three grade levels (including horizontal teammates, paraprofessionals, and special education teachers)
  • Planning for a PBL unit with one grade level
  • Half day release time for unit planning with a small group that included a classroom teacher, digital teacher librarian, and tech integration specialist
  • Instructional planning with my principal
  • Big picture data analysis and UIP planning with our Instructional Leadership Team (including three classroom teachers, a special education teacher, teacher librarian, and principal)
  • Planning and debrief/reflecting conversations related to coaching cycles and/or modeled lessons with three teachers
  • A half day class learning/planning side-by-side with a grade level team plus special education teacher
  • More planning conversations than I can count supporting teachers in crafting their Individual Educator Goals that are due in the next few days (classroom teachers, specialists. . . everyone)
  • Follow up learning around the PLC process with coaches, principals, and district leaders
Almost all of the work I do is side-by-side with someone. And yet. . . how often is that someone another coach? In the past week, only one example included an opportunity to be in a role-alike situation. 

Ironic? Definitely.

I would argue that if research shows collaboration is key for teachers, that teachers are more effective when they deprivatize practice and leverage their collective expertise to engage in collaborative, results-oriented work, then the same should be true for coaches. 

Within buildings, we have redesigned schedules to reflect this shared value of collaboration for teachers. We are creative with resources to build extended planning blocks, to offer release time, and to make sure all stakeholders are at the table when we analyze data and plan for instruction. We have invested time in learning how to work together at higher levels. We have celebrated the impact this commitment has had on student learning and school culture. 

So. . . do we need to re-think our structures around how instructional coaches collaborate? 

When I look at my calendar, how often does it say, Planning for Formative Assessment PD w/ Coach X, or Observe and Reflect w/ Coach Y? Is there a regular time allotted for Coach PLC? Is it even okay to advocate with our principals for this kind of time out of our buildings, intentionally carving out space to collaborate with our fellow coaches? 

This is not to say that my district doesn't have processes in place to build community among coaches. We meet once or twice a month formally, in large groups and in smaller groups. We share via Schoology, and we build networks of go-to coaches for support and mentoring. We occasionally visit and observe each other in action. There is regular sharing going on, resources and ideas passing from coach to coach. We have structures for shared leadership. We have a strong coaching program, no question. 

But I do wonder what might be possible if the how we work together evolved to better align with what we know about the power of Professional Learning Communities.

Consider the 4 Questions of a PLC Through a Coaching Lens:

  • Q1: How are we prioritizing the essentials of the adult learning in our building (and its intended effects on student learning)? 
  • Q2: How do we know when teachers have it (and it's impacting student learning)? 
  • Q3: What do we do when teachers don't yet have it (and students aren't learning)? 
  • Q4: What do we do when teachers/students already have it? 

Wouldn't involvement in a coach PLC with other coaches focusing on the same goal be an ideal place to share this worthy thinking work?

What type of work (that we often do in isolation) would be more powerful if done with another coach (or coaches)? 
  • Planning for Professional Development: This includes both the long-view work involved in thinking through a year of connected learning as well as the weekly/monthly planning for each learning experience building up to the expected outcomes. Designing PD together and then reflecting on results and next steps. . . that would have a significant impact on adult and student learning. 
  • Structures and Sense-Making: The how is just as important (if not more so) than the what. So much time and thought goes into the systems and the framing for what happens in schools. And while it is critical for this work to include a wide variety of stakeholders from inside the building, the perspective of how things are organized in other buildings is just as critical. It's too easy to get mired down in, "This is how we do it." Outside perspective prompts us to inquire, "Why are we doing it this way?"
  • Development of Cognitive Coaching Skills: How do I get better at my coaching conversations, my group facilitation, my coaching cycles? What data points help me to reflect on my effectiveness as a coach? Do I have opportunities to give and receive growth producing feedback to and from other coaches? If I could do more regular work alongside other coaches, I would grow faster--guaranteed. 
  • Straight up Time-Savers (which gives us more time for higher leverage work): For example, coaches attend a training, with the understanding that we will "bring it back to our building." The process of translating a three hour training with 150 slides into an hour long learning experience with 15 slides takes several hours. It is incredibly inefficient for each of the 100+ coaches in my district to do this independently. And yet, all our buildings have different needs, so it's not about creating something one-size-fits-all. But if small groups of us with common needs or styles created this type of presentation together, it would save time--and would be higher quality. We would also have a common reference point to reflect on as the learning in the presentation played out in buildings. 
A system with dedicated structures in place to support the PLC process is a gift to educators. It's sacred time to do the most important work with the stakeholders closest to (and most invested in) that work. As I reflect on the impact on student learning arising from the shift towards the PLC process in our building, I feel the need to advocate for myself and for the other coaches in my community. What might the impact be on our work if regular engagement in the PLC process became part of our routine--as expected on the weekly calendar as the staff meeting or grade level PLCs?

I want to find out! 


  1. Love your thinking and the way you make it so clear, using the framework of the PLC. I would love to be party of these kind of conversations. We've had some success at the area level. What could I do to help get this going?

  2. Hi, Morgan! Let's make some time to chat--I would love to hear what you have going in your area.

    On a completely unrelated note, what did you use to make your profile pic animated? :)