Coaching up at every level

Inside the system of support to improve Tier I

By Edwin Javius | March | April 2020
The research is detailed that effective instructional coaching has a significant impact on teacher efficacy and student outcomes, which are the essential elements of Multi-Tiered System of Support. All too often in education, we equate “doing things” (instructional reform) in districts and schools with actually making a sustainable and demonstrable impact. The central theme of this article is to highlight the critical components of an effective and sustainable MTSS. Leading effective instructional teams and coaches have the most significant impact on Tier I instruction. Developing effective instructional and administrative coaching is the system of advocacy for improving teacher practices and student outcomes. Change the target, change the outcome  As school reformers and educators seek to create safety nets to improve student outcomes through MTSS, I urge state and district leaders to shift the target of success of MTSS from student outcomes and draw more attention to the antecedences (the act of going before or the fact of being prior; precedence) of student outcomes; coaching and teacher efficacy. As noted on previous writings, I have used the formula; A+B=C. The letter “C” defines Student Outcomes; The letter “B” defines Teacher Efficacy, and letter “A” defines coaching (instructional or administrative; either principal coaching or instructional coaching). Despite the simplicity of this formula, many scholars argue student outcomes increases, when classroom instruction is culturally relevant (Gay et al., 2010). Hollie speaks to the importance of linguistically responsive classrooms and an essential element that impacts student outcomes in the learning environment is racially and culturally safe for the students to take an intellectual risk and enjoy academic struggle (Hollie, 2017; Voight, 2015).  The babies get better when teaching gets better Shifting the focus to instructional coaching in MTSS is a direct support to improving instruction. Many instructional coaching models have been implemented with varying degrees of success and impact. The impact of successful instructional coaching is chronicled through many research reports. Impactful instructional coaching models include five essential elements: 1) developing and leveraging trust with a teacher to have honest conversations surrounding the current level of efficacy; 2) the coach has to develop an uncanny knack of assessing the “will and skill” of the teacher; 3) the coach provides high quality and timely feedback to the teacher to engender immediate instructional action; 4) the coach can cultivate a “psychological safe space” with the teacher to engage in Racial Equity, if applicable in the coaching relationship; 5) the coach solicits feedback of their coaching to examine their efficacy of coaching-up teachers. Elements one through three are well documented in the research on instructional coaching. Elements four and five are the coefficient to impactful instructional coaching models and coaching-up teachers (Thomlinson & Javius, 2012). 

Racial equity engagement in instructional coaching requires the coach to reflect on their understanding of race and racism and the power dynamic that plays personally and systemically.
Elements four and five require the coaching model to implement Racial Equity explicitly, and measure the impact of the coaches’ ability to impact teaching practices. More evidence is being highlighted that underscores how Racial Equity is the missing piece of the current school reforms. Racial Equity acknowledges and addresses the impact of institutional and instructional racism has on adult performance and student outcomes (Gorski, 2019).  What does race have to do with it? Racial equity engagement in instructional coaching requires the coach to reflect on their understanding of race and racism and the power dynamic that plays personally and systemically. Notwithstanding, the coach must understand the societal impact that race and racism have outside of the system work. The personal understanding of Racial Equity is the foundation of how the coach can develop a psychological safe space to engage their teacher(s) about race as a positive attribute to the teacher’s efficacy of teaching all students and especially students of color. To deeply understand psychological safe space does not mean having hard and challenging conversation about race and racism. It’s quite the opposite. The cultivation of the safe space is when race and racism are introduced, the learning environment is leveraged to add depth and complexity to the challenge topic(s). Unearthing the complexities of instructional racism is a coaching component that is untapped and undeveloped skill set in coaching. Many coaches get stomped in the coaching session when teachers share their belief system about students and families of color. When teachers use “those students” requires a different type of coaching. The shift from coaching “skill” will need to address the “will” of the teacher. All too often, we place a “skill” strategy on a “will” issue.  In developing a safe space, teachers are more likely to be vulnerable to their current belief system (will) and teaching practices (skill). When the coach can cultivate a "psychology safe space" with the teachers, the coach has developed a coaching environment sustainable to coach the teacher’s efficacy to “High Will” and “High Skill.”  How do we know? Measuring the impact of an effective instructional coaching model has been a challenge in education. Educators tend to grapple with what is impactful? Who is being impacted? What data/information do we use to evaluate impact? Earlier in the article, it was mentioned that educators tend to measure impact based on student outcomes. I urge you to examine and measure the antecedence to teacher outcomes. Using the A+B=C formula: C, Teaching outcomes (efficacy) increases when B, coaching is effective and A, feedback to instructional coaching is valuable.  The ineffectiveness in most instructional models stems from a lack of a formal system of providing feedback to the instructional coaches or site administrators. More often than not, most models offer professional development to instructional coaches at the beginning of the school year through coaching institutes. Some districts provide periodic centralized meetings throughout the year. The models that have been most impactful with increasing teacher efficacy is when the instructional coach is provided immediate feedback when working directly with the teacher(s).  The district instructional team develops multiple opportunities to visit the coach/administrator on-site and observes the coach and or administrator working with the teacher(s). After the coaching session is over, the district coach provides specific feedback regarding what was observed and discussed. The district coach has a system to determine if the coaching goal(s) were met and to what degree. Coaching the coaches  In my coaching of other coaches (instructional coaches and site administrators), the importance of the pre-conference with the coach is the most valuable section of the coaching cycle. The pre-conference targets the area(s) of the focus of the session. A clear coaching map is agreed upon, and what specific area of their coaching is seeking to be improved, and how that improvement will be measured. Understanding the importance of completing the coaching cycle; (pre-conference, observation and de-brief) provides opportunities to support Tier I instruction. The pre-conference is the opportunity to calibrate the agreements of your coaching with the instructional coach. Many coaching sessions minimize pre-conference, which hinders impact. I caution district leaders to push away from vague coaching language such as, “I’m coming to your school today.” Instead articulate specific language of, coaching: “What type of feedback would you like when I observe you during your coaching session with your teacher?” The role of the district leader/supervisor of the coaches needs to have levels of specificity to influence how the district coaching can impact instructional and administrative coaching.  Developing a wrap-around system of coaching is key to impacting the outcomes you seek to change. I urge districts to shift their focus to examining the impact of the antecedences of the coaching outcomes and institutionalize a vertical system of coaching. Improving and cultivating impactful instructional coaching model, will require the leaders in the system to ask, “Do we have effective coaching at every level?” If we seek to have MTSS be impactful, a vertical system of coaching must be developed and sustained. In conclusion, teaching gets better when coaching gets better; coaching gets better when district coaching gets better. References Gay, G. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching. New York, N.Y: Teachers College Press. Hollie, S. (2017). Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning – Classroom Prices for Student Success, Grades K-12. 2nd ed., pp. 57-84. Huntington Beach: Shell Education.  Tomlinson, C., & Javius, E. (2012). Teaching Up Excellence. Educational Leadership, 68(5), 28-33. Voight, A., Hanson, T., O’Malley, M., & Adekanye, L. (2015). The Racial School Climate Gap: Within-School Disparities in Students’ Experiences of Safety, Support, and Connectedness. American Journal Of Community Psychology, 56(3-4), 252-267. doi: 10.1007/s10464-015-9751-x

Edwin Javius is the CEO/President of EDEquity Inc.

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Association of California School Administrators