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Instructional Coaching is like an Oreo Cookie

I have been trying to develop a short and simple way to describe the coaching process to the educators at the new schools I will be joining this year. An Oreo Cookie popped into my head – probably because I’ve been trying to stay away from sweets lately!

I learned early on in my career as a professional development provider that teachers appreciate treats, especially after a long school day. Chocolate seems to do the trick! I plan to have Oreo cookies with me as I briefly explain the coaching process.

How do you eat an Oreo cookie? Do you dunk it in milk? Do you twist off the outer cookies first and lick of the creamy center first? The beauty is there is no one right way to eat an Oreo. Everyone seems to have their own unique way to enjoy this treat.

The instructional coaching process to be similar because there is no one right way to engage in the process. The process is as unique as the individuals taking part in the experience, yet three stages do emerge – just as the three parts of the Oreo cookie.

At the heart or center of the coaching process is student learning. Many times this comes in the way of the coach acting as an observant with a second pair of eyes for the classroom teacher or the coach modeling a strategy or approach. Either way, the focus is on the students and their learning.

Just as the outer chocolate cookies support the Oreo and add to its richness, the pre and post classroom experiences add to the coaching process as well. In a pre-classroom visit meeting, the teacher and coach have a collegial dialogue about the upcoming observation or modeled lesson. The goal of this session is for the teacher and coach to establish an agreed upon protocol for the visit.

If an observation is going to take place, the teacher decides what he/she would like the coach to watch for during the visit in the pre-meeting. The possibilities are endless. Is the teacher learning a new strategy and would like the coach to watch for key elements? Is the teacher wanting the coach to collect some “time on task” data to determine next steps in deepening student engagement? Has the teacher worked to establish classroom routines and want data collected on their effectiveness so that they make the most of the effective use of instructional time? Is the teacher concentrating on developing clear learning targets and want a second pair of eyes to help determine if students are reaching the targets? In any case, the decision comes from the teacher. The coach is not entering this process with their own agenda. The goal is to gather data the teacher is interested in using to reflect on his/her own instructional methods and their effects on student learning.

If the teacher is wanting an instructional coach to model something in the classroom, the same holds true during the pre-meeting. It needs to be clear that the coach is not entering this process as an expert. The coach may know of an approach the teacher would like to see in practice to add to his/her repertoire in order to increase student learning – but the coach as a reflective educator is learning throughout the process as well. The coach and teacher agree upon areas the teacher will watch for. Is the teacher currently adding the strategy or approach to their toolkit? Do they want to watch for the specific steps of the strategy/approach? Are they wanting to watch how students respond to the strategy/approach? Again, the possibilities are endless.

After the observation or classroom modeling experience, the teacher and coach should engage in the third part of the process – the post meeting. The agreed upon data is brought to the table and a collaborative inquiry process takes place.

Jane L. David describes the collaborative inquiry process as:

“In the collaborative inquiry, teachers work together to identify common challenges, analyze relevant data, and test out instructional approaches. The idea behind this approach is that such systematic, collaborative work will increase student learning.” (Collaborative Inquiry – Ed. Leadership: December 2008/January 2009 | Volume 66 | Number 4)

This reflective process will no doubt reveal next steps in the coaching process – again with no one right approach. Will the data reveal that additional observations or models are desired? Can the coach assist the teacher in locating additional resources? Can the coach and administrator assist the teacher in scheduling a time to visit another classroom in the school? Will the teacher decide that videotaping his/her own teaching process and personally reflecting on the experience would be helpful?

No matter how the coaching process unveils, it is not, at any point, to become evaluative in nature. It should have the feel of two educators coming together to enjoy cookies and milk and have a wonderful dialogue, share ideas, learn from each other in the journey to increase student learning. If you are fortunate to have an instructional coach available at your school I encourage you to give the process a try! Enjoy the treat!

Does this post doesn’t make you hungry, hungry enough to give the coaching process a try?

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