In the world of Instructional Coaching, we often hear about the importance of 1:1 coaching and relationships, collaboration around a common and compelling goal, and tracking a teacher’s or student’s progress toward that goal (Knight). However, if we take a more systems-approach to coaching and focus on the teaming behind teaching, we may see that successful 1:1 coaching often begins with a well-developed team.
Clutterbuck explained that, “coaching an individual without attempting to influence the immediate human systems in which they operate reduces the impact of the coaching intervention” (p. 272). This makes a lot of sense! Part of a coach’s role is to help build capacity within an individual, but without an outlet to learn from others, or a systemic way of approaching a strategy, new insights stay within one classroom, where only a pocket of students ultimately benefit.
Through team coaching, however, it would seem we should be able to achieve more, and achieve more, quickly. By thinking together, posing questions, building trust, and pushing boundaries of rigor, we create a climate of “Where can we take students next?” to constantly push us beyond what we know.
In a standards-referenced system, team coaching becomes that much more mission critical to our success as practitioners, and as a system. The coach role must extend beyond the 1:1 in order to influence a larger population, and ensure educational equity and rigor among all students in a grade level. Team coaching is helpful at three basic levels in this system: Defining a Standard, Collaborative Rubric Creation, and Collaborative Scoring.
Defining a Standard
When we think about a standard, it is often easy to say what we think the standard means. However, put 5 teachers of the same standard in a room and coming to an agreement on its meaning can seem a mere impossibility! And yet, this is Step 1 to success for students, and therefore, needs to be our Step 1 when team coaching. Our teams should answer the following questions:
- What does this standard mean to us? How do we know?
- What does this standard mean to others outside our school? How do we know?
- What progression leads to this standard and what follows?
By helping a team sort through these answers, and definitively deciding what the team approach to a standard will be, a coach can help set a high standard of learning across a grade level. If there continues to be disagreement, it is critical that all teachers agree to teach the standard to a similar level in order to afford all students equal access to the same, strong education. Teachers can always adjust their understanding, but when done together, the conversation leads to an interdependent working group, instead of the former “island,” closed-door mentality as in the past.
Collaborative Rubric Creation
In a standards-referenced system, another important aspect that may require team coaching surrounds collaborative rubric creation. Once a team has developed a clear sense of what a standard is asking, and the rigor they will require of each student around the standard, the next step is creating a rubric to assess the quality of student work around the standard. This can often be where opinions vary, yet best practice should guide all that we do. A rubric should be able to answer the following questions:
- What does quality look like as our expectation of this standard?
- What evidence will we see when a student succeeds with this standard?
- Are some parts or phrases of the standard more important than others? How will we focus our assessment on the most critical aspects?
Again, a coach’s responsibility is to guide a team toward their ultimate understanding of what a standard will look like in action. It is not the coach’s opinion that matters, but rather the coach’s guidance toward the resounding team agreement that is most essential. When a team can answer these questions and craft out what it means to “Meet” a standard, the bar will raise as all students in every class attempt to meet the same criteria for success.
Lastly, another impactful way coaches can play a role is team coaching around collaborative scoring. When teams know what a standard means, what it looks like when a student has met the standard, and can detail what “Meets” looks like in a rubric, a coach can use a protocol to guide conversation around collaborative scoring using the rubric criteria. Parts of the EQuiP Student Work Protocol can be used for this purpose. The coach might ask each teacher to bring in student samples that are Approaching, Meets and Extending. Together, the team then chooses one to score individually, then talk together about their scores. It may be at this time that the coach plays the facilitator role in asking questions to uncover beliefs around student understanding, asks for evidence as a means to gain insight into student work and the rubric, and guides the team to challenge their own rubric to enhance and clarify the expectation of the standard. Again, the coach is not always considered a “team member” because the team owns the expertise of the content. The coach’s expertise lies in the questioning, togetherness, and movement of the team toward common goals and beliefs.
When a coach facilitates team coaching to define a standard, collaboratively create a rubric and collaboratively score student work with the rubric, team trust and student expectations are simultaneously strengthened. There is more academic consistency among classrooms allowing fewer students to “fall through the cracks,” and where a team begins to speak collaboratively, interdependence and collective efficacy result (Hattie) leading to more advanced teaching systems.