School Coaching as Educator Development
Jean Haeger and Mark Kostin
The pressure and the need to improve our nation's high schools
are arguably the greatest they have been in the last fifty years.
Secondary principals and teachers must work quickly, yet thoughtfully,
to identify the steps they should take to ensure a high quality
education for all students. Traditionally, high schools have been
alone in their improvement efforts; however, a growing number
have been successful in breaking down the barriers of isolation
by working with a school improvement coach. An outside school
coach, if properly prepared and sensitive to individual as well
as whole school concerns, can provide meaningful professional
development for teachers. By balancing pressure and support, a
coach can help initiate and sustain meaningful school improvement
The Southern Maine Partnership has developed a coaching model
that supports educator and school development simultaneously with
the goal of transforming schools and teaching so that every student
is fully prepared for college, work, and citizenship. To that
end, we support the development of equitable, rigorous, and personalized
learning opportunities for all students and have developed coaching
strategies to support development in four areas: classroom practice,
organizational design and culture, leadership, and community connections.
In our role as school coaches, we spend considerable time directly
supporting teacher professional growth, particularly in the areas
of classroom practice and leadership. In what follows, we will
describe the context of our school coaching work and how we continually
support teachers' ongoing professional growth, such as deepening
their classroom practice, supporting professional learning communities,
enhancing shared leadership knowledge and skills, and assisting
in the analysis of student learning and school-wide data.
Unlike a consultant, a school coach enters into a long-term agreement
with a school. In our case, we work with schools over the course
of three to five years, spending as much as 40 half-days on site
over the course of a year. This allows us to get to know the school
context very well, be responsive to the school's needs, and provide
the necessary balance between pressure and support required to
sustain improvement. Because coaches sole responsibility to a
school is to support school improvement efforts, they have the
time and technical expertise required to be thoughtful and responsive
to a school. Few school leaders have that luxury. The Southern
Maine Partnership school coaching model is based on five core
- Schools must establish a bold and clear vision.
- Shared leadership, that shepherds the work, is essential.
- It is necessary to have an action planning cycle that includes
reflection informed by data.
- Sufficient and regularly scheduled time for professional development,
reflection, and planning must be in place.
- All members of the greater school community should be included
in school improvement efforts, including students, parents, community,
staff, district personnel, and school board members.
Meaningful, transformational change challenges the deepest beliefs
about teaching and learning in a school community, which is often
an emotionally charged situation, a tricky one for administrators
to lead, as it challenges teachers' competence. An outsider is
sometimes in a better position to facilitate that process. While
a consultant can often play the role of instigator or catalyst
for change, the role of school coach goes a step further by establishing
ongoing working relationships with members of the school community
to see the change through. Below, we identify three crucial roles
that a coach plays in educator and school development:
1. A coach builds trust by building relationships.
In order for an outsider to affect the kind of transformational
change most high schools need, there must be a high level of trust;
as school improvement coaches, we seek to earn that trust by building
strong, open and honest relationships with the leaders of the
school, official and unofficial. In addition to the administrative
personnel, there are other leaders who influence the work of the
school, and it is essential to understand who those individuals
are, and what their roles are in the school community. Those "unofficial
leaders" often do not carry titles, but carry quite a bit
of influence in faculty meeting discussions, for example.
2. A coach is responsive to schools' day-to-day concerns (helping
put out fires), while always maintaining the big picture view,
the school's vision. In order for school coaches to prove their
value to the school in big issues, they must first prove their
worth in the smaller issues that consume administrators' and teachers'
time. Often it is the willingness (and ability) to get "down
and dirty" with the reality of school which is what distinguishes
a "coach" who is there for the long haul, from a one-shot
consultant or occasionally present university faculty member.
As we build relationships and come to understand the school culture
and climate, we listen for starting points that will leverage
the work of the school and move it forward. We look for the entry
points that could lead to a series of actions that will result
in effective change for students' learning experiences. We ask
ourselves "what will have the biggest, deepest, longest lasting
impact on student learning?"
3. A coach includes voices of all stakeholders in the planning
and decision-making process. How are decisions made? How do people
find out about the decisions that are made? What is the role (really)
of students, parents and community members? The process of coming
to agreement when including a broad cross-section of stakeholders
is much more time and energy intensive; however, when consensus
is reached, the process of implementation is much faster and often
As coaches, we are involved in a wide range of activities. For
example, we assist schools in developing a comprehensive action
plan, based on their vision; this includes five-year goals, short-term
strategies, and concrete action steps with measurable outcomes.
And we conduct mid-year reflection based on data related to action
plan goals. We serve as facilitators of meetings and workshops,
co-planners of professional learning and planning time and other
events, data collectors, resource brokers, student and teacher
shadows, participants in community forums and school board meetings.
We make connections within and outside of school, spread the good
stories about our schools within the school and with other schools
with whom we are also working. We endeavor to form collaborative
relationships among the schools engaged in coaching. In addition,
we build leadership capacity by coaching existing school leaders
to enhance their effectiveness, periodically providing feedback,
asking probing questions, communicating our personal observations
of the school's progress toward stated goals, and offering suggestions
for ways to leverage the work.
High schools are facing an unprecedented level of scrutiny. Whether
it's making Adequate Yearly Progress, demonstrating that its teachers
are highly qualified, decreasing its dropout rate while increasing
the number of graduates entering college, the stakes are indeed
very high. Just as every student needs customized support to be
successful, we believe that every high school needs similar support
to meet its school improvement imperative. School coaching with
an emphasis on supporting teacher professional growth is one way
to support the achievement of our nation's school improvement
Evans, R. (2000). The human side
of school change: Reform, resistance, and the real-life problems
of innovation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.