August 10, 2020

Coaches Using Student Behaviors to Begin Coaching Experiences

Those of you who have followed me on this blog or have been in my workshops know that I have been waiting for the release of my new book, Instructional Coaching with the End in Mind. Well, the long awaited day (at least by me) has arrived.

I had the opportunity this week to put some of the book’s theory into practice as I worked with new instructional coaches. The cadre I was with are newly hired and beginning a new program of coaching in their schools and district.

After three days of training, some attended by the principals, we did our first day onsite at the schools. I modeled an activity at three schools with the district coaches and the principals from the three buildings. The plan calls for coaches and principals to repeat the activity with their teachers.
I prepped the participants for 6 minute observations in classrooms.

 “The focus of the observation is on the students…. first observe the entire class …then groups of students and individual students who might differ from the whole as to what they are doing or how they are responding….lastly consider any connection between the teacher behavior and the student(s)’ behavior.”


The groups of about 8 divided into two teams and observed the same teachers (about 6 minutes) so that together we saw about 15 minutes of a class. We observed in six classrooms and then returned to a conference area to debrief.


I handled the debriefing by first asking folks to report student behaviors they observed that they felt indicated increased likelihood that student achievement would improve. I gave an example:


I observed students humorously dialoging with the teacher and each other in a Spanish class.

A list was generated:

Students working independently with technology

Students pairing and discussing answers to teacher’s questions

Students writing independently

Very focused readers during Silent Sustained Reading Time.



Coaches conducting this activity could then ask members of the group, “Are there any behaviors on this list you’d like to get more of in your classroom?”. When teachers make a selection, it provides the new coach/teacher relationship with a non-threatening place to begin. Teachers who made the same selection could be grouped as a PLC or peer coaching partners.


The second part of the debrief was, “I wonder ______________?”. This was a way to approach student behaviors that indicated a need to alter teacher practice. We use the phrase “I wonder_______?” because the observations are too short to draw a conclusion.


I saw students waiting for the teacher. I wonder how much time a students spends waiting during a day.


I saw some students “flipping” through books of pictures, graphs, jokes, and puzzles during the silent reading time. I wonder how much reading stamina those students gain.


I saw students doing lots of math problems. I wonder if that builds the math skills we need.


I observed a lot of off task conversation when students were sitting in groups to discuss a prewriting activity. I wonder the value of the discussion time.


At this point coaches would ask members of the group if there were any of the “I wonders” that they would like to explore in their own classrooms. Again the new coach/teacher relationships had a starting point for coaching conversations.


The new coaches felt that this activity created a non- threatening opening for teachers to share a focus area to begin the coaching experience. Groups of teachers are discussing student behaviors observed in other teachers’ classrooms (non-threatening) and selecting an area of interest without saying, “I’m having a problem”. (increased risk taking). As trust is built among coaches and teachers, teachers will increase their vulnerability to focus coaches on areas where the teacher wishes to improve student learning.


I’ll let you know what these coaches find as they begin doing the observations and debriefings with teachers from their classrooms.

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