By GERMAN RINCON M.S.Ed. – Foreign Vice Principal at World Foreign Language Kindergarten, Shanghai, China.
After a decade of leading international departments in ECE across China, in different settings with different structures and systems – not to mention the diverse culture of the people and the environments – I can’t think of a challenge that is more relevant and evident than the struggle of finding suitable tools to boost the professional development (PD) of teachers, as individuals and collectively. Surprisingly, this tool or magic formula is closer than you think. We call it Instructional Coaching (IC).
Tangible benefits of having an Instructional Coaching Program (ICP) in our schools:
1. School Culture: Strengthening the school culture by establishing a psychological safety environment. Psychological safety enables candor and openness and, as such, thrives in an environment of mutual respect (Edmondson, A. 2019). A culture of learning and a lifelong learning mindset will nurture current instructional practices and support the development of new ones for a constant transformation of your team.
2. Teacher agency and collaboration: It levels up teacher agency, allowing teachers to voice their needs and increase their accountability while developing a lead-and-follow approach and having win-to-win interactions between seasoned and novice teachers to strengthen collaboration. ICPs are driven by this type of relationship where success is guaranteed by “investigating each other’s needs” (Gino, F. 2019).
3. Adaptive Leadership: As a school leader, your journey will benefit by using IC to help you distinguish technical problems from adaptive challenges. The most common cause of failure in leadership is produced by treating adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems (Heifetz, R. 2009). Establishing an Instructional Coaching Program will serve as a diagnostic tool to identify your challenges, especially the ones related to your school training program, and design a path toward professional development.
4. Evaluate and strengthen your training program: Instructional coaching practices will help you test your training system and adapt it throughout the years based on your team’s develop and established skills. We can refer to training content related to planning, instruction (frame design and delivery), teaching strategies, classroom management, co-teaching approaches, student assessment (diagnostic, formative, and summative), and documentation. This continuous improvement will reduce your teacher turnover as well. We all want that!
Hands-on! How can we install IC practices in our schools?
There is no need to panic when looking at the vast and deep ocean of establishing an instructional coaching program. The first essential step is to have at least one instructional coach on your team. This role can be filled by a seasoned teacher (teacher trainer, head teacher, or grade leader) or by yourself if you don’t have an experienced teacher who can take this role when kicking off the program.
Start small and scaffold the program through teachers’ feedback but start NOW! You can design your ICP around three main coaching steps (coaching cycle):
Pre-coaching: one-on-one experience happening before any lesson observation (coaching). The instructional coach meets with the teacher to collectively identify a session’s focus and goals (purpose). An aspect the teacher wants to improve. Tip: the lesson plan is an essential document to address. Ensure the learning goals align with the activities the teacher designed.
Coaching observation: the lesson observation – we all can relate to this type of activity – where the coach aims to pay special attention to the focus established during the first coaching step. I suggest you design a coaching observation form to record the session. Some basic information you can’t miss: Questions (you might have based on what you observe), Glows (teacher’s strengths), Grows (aspects to improve, identify the potential of the teacher, what’s missing?). Tip: design the form to facilitate the “scripting” of the lesson, recording the interactions between the teacher and the students for further feedback in the next step.
Post-coaching: feedback to the teacher. Collectively unfold the coaching session (instruction) by reflecting on the coaching form and designing a path of action for continuous improvement and future sessions. Tip: listen more, talk less—the root of coaching. Lead the process of guiding the teacher to find answers through self-reflection.
You can run the coaching cycle continuously throughout the year, depending on your team’s needs. I suggest having at least one coaching cycle per semester but feel free to adapt it based on your team structure and the developmental stage of your teachers, along with other school projects you might be running throughout the year.
Establishing an Instructional Coaching Program for your team has a wide range of advantages for teachers and school leaders – equally – while significantly impacting the quality of student learning. An ICP can become your department’s “core and explore” for a sustainable professional development journey. The program’s structure, system, and dynamics are flexible – with applications tailored for each teacher – mutually supportive, where the coaching cycle steps are led by inquiry, interdependent, and inherently aligned with your team development stage. When are you going to start developing yours?
GERMAN RINCON is a Teacher Educator, Foreign Principal, International Education Consultant and IB PYP Coordinator. He is currently based in Shanghai, China.
Edmondson, Amy C. The Fearless Organization: creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth (p. 18). Wiley.
Gino, Francesca “Cracking the Code of Sustainable Collaboration: Six new tools for training people to work together better.” Harvard Business Review November-December (2019): 72-81. Print.
Heifetz, Ronald A.; Linsky, Marty; Grashow, Alexander. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. Harvard Business Review Press (2009). Print.