Many schools and districts see the value in having an instructional coach to support teachers. But how can an instructional coach, who often serves as the only person in that role on a faculty, receive feedback to improve her own practice? In this article, we will outline strategies we’ve used for giving feedback to ensure that we continue to grow as providers of instructional support.
#1. Pass the Feedback
Instructional leaders should meet together to analyze each other’s work and grow from each other’s experiences. You could consider gathering your colleagues and engaging in a formal protocol called Pass the Feedback [See #BookSnaps from pages 80-81 of Using Quality Feedback to Guide Professional Learning: A Framework for Instructional Leaders for details.].
This protocol optimally takes place after the group has spent time observing instruction as a team. Each participant should gather all his/her written feedback and the team should sit around a large conference table. To begin the protocol, the feedback is passed from one person to the next and while reading the feedback during each round, the participants should take time to reflect on the methods and words used by each colleague. Additionally, participants can add to one another’s feedback to provide multiple layers of support.
When new feedback is passed to each participant, she should take time to reflect on the methods and words each colleague uses to frame their feedback and provide layered feedback on top of their responses. Do you notice that observers focus on questioning techniques, highlight what they observed in light of student outcomes and student learning, or focus on teacher behaviors? Do you notice if observers tie their feedback to standards or items on a particular rubric? Is common language used among your colleagues in which the vision for the school is evident?
#2. Accountability Partners
It should be no surprise that perhaps the most effective way to grow your practice is through a relationship with a trusted colleague. Just as relationships are foundational to student-teacher interactions and teacher-coach interactions, having an accountability partner [Read more about “Accountability Partners: Finding Your Professional Soulmates”] that pushes and pulls you towards increased capacity as an instructional coach is immensely valuable.
This accountability partner should be a coach or mentor of some sort who can appropriately push you to improve your practice rather than simply provide an ear for frustrations to fly and venting to occur. Once this relationship is established, both parties will find the value in hearing about the other’s work, reflecting together, and pushing forward to improvement. Though the conversations may not always be balanced equally, both parties will grow in the partnership. Sometimes these formalized relationships take some time getting established, so in the meantime there are actually high quality tech-based opportunities for coaches going solo with their professional development.
#3. Technology Support
Candor, Inc. has both a podcast and a recently released app that can push an instructional coach to become stronger in having professional conversations and providing quality feedback to administrators and teachers alike. While the podcast is a more sit-and-get style of professional development (perfect for work commutes or exercise entertainment), the app actually prompts the user to take action and reflect on the steps provided. It reminds the user that feedback often must be asked for.
Voxer, another app, is a valuable tool for implementing the skills learned in Candor, Inc’s resources. This walkie-talkie style app also includes a transcript option so that coaches can review their practice by revisiting the feedback and reflecting on how they provide and receive feedback.
Practice without quality feedback on your actions may not lead to improved results. How does an instructional coach know they are improving if they are simply practicing theory with no framework or metric of success? In order to combat this trap of practicing the wrong skills, having another coach sit in on a coaching conversation to script and provide feedback is ideal. This, however, is often not possible with many coaches being the only person in their role in the school. Therefore, we suggest, with the coachee’s permission, filming a coaching conversation and reflecting on the progress with the coachee to define what made the conversation successful and what could be improved. Using a tool like Vialogues.com is a great way to add time-stamped notice and wonder statements to the video.
Additionally, we’ve found that focusing yourself on a standard measurement tool such as Elena Aguilar’s Transformational Coaching Rubric to be vital for ensuring that your practice as a coach is focused on improvement rather than remaining in a static loop.
In the end, we argue that instructional coaches have the same obligation to seek out professional development and find opportunities for improvement as classroom teachers. Although finding these opportunities may at first be a struggle due to the isolated nature of the job as an instructional coach, using relationships such as local or long distance accountability partner, technology tools, specific protocols such as Pass the Feedback, and a field-tested rubric will ensure continual improvement in the practice of the coach.