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3 Ways to Elevate Teacher Learning Through Coaching

 |   |  Educator Effectiveness, Professional Development, Instructional Coaching


I lived among ten-year-olds for over 20 years. My day family, as I liked to call them, since I spent more waking hours in my fifth-grade classroom than I did with my own family. And I loved it. I thought that teaching kids was all I would ever do as an educator, until one day, I was offered an instructional coaching position.

It was a hard decision to leave the classroom, but I took on the role with renewed energy, reading Elena Aguilar’s The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation and learning all I could from Jim Knight’s research and writings as the director of the Kansas Coaching Project. And while I studied and prepared, it wasn’t until I began working with the teachers in my district that I  formed an entirely new outlook for the role I was taking on. By leaving the four walls of my classroom and venturing between hundreds of different classrooms, I was given the rare opportunity of viewing education and learning from many perspectives. Five years later, I have come to the conclusion that we all learn like our students do; best practices for children also work for adults. I never left my students, they’re  just taller now.  And while there are many ways to bring about change in the classroom, I brought the effective classroom strategies I was using in my fifth-grade classroom to help elevate the instruction and learning with any teacher that I coach.

Listen and Question

It takes time to build trust between a teacher and a coach, which all begins with listening. It’s key for coaches to really hear the peaks and valleys in a teacher’s experiences with instruction, allowing them to share and vent without feeling the need to fix the situation in that moment. I have a minor in psychology, and I liken this process to therapy. The coach allows time for a teacher to come to their own realizations and conclusions through thoughtful questioning and reflecting back what was heard. We can develop effective change when we’re able to create meaning and take ownership from the conclusions that we reach.

Connect and Collaborate

Being a connector is one of the greatest gifts of coaching. Research shows that teacher collaboration helps raise student achievement, according to Carrie R. Leana’s studies.  A coach’s role in fostering these collaborative relationships is a pivotal layer to the job. Whether it’s bringing like minds together for a common grade-level lesson or just pairing those “alone on their island” to share about what they’re doing, coaches have the chance to model and facilitate effective teamwork. Collaboration between a coach and teacher not only helps with reaching current instructional goals, it also creates a model for building more potential relationships. By becoming a partner who shares ideas, helps with planning, and designs lessons, we contribute to the positive energy it takes to teach well, along with the capacity to keep it going beyond the constraints of a coaching appointment.

Reflect and Revise

My coaching appointments are brief, and by sharing mentor samples, I find I can inspire an “aha!” moment that launches teachers into independent lesson design. Together we evaluate and reflect on the content in order to establish personal goals and objectives. Once I’ve built these relationships as a coach and collaborator, I encourage candid discussions around instruction. I want to be honest with my feedback when asked for it, nudge a teacher’s growth beyond what they thought they could do, and ask them to reconsider and revise their work to really elevate the potential learning for their students. Never am I the expert, just someone offering a different perspective. Never are my ideas the “right” way; rather they’re suggestions to spark a reflective look at current practices.

My work as a coach is really not so different from what I did with my students as a classroom teacher. By creating a space where people feel heard, connect ideas as they collaborate, and feel confident to effectively revise their work, I'm building agency in learners of all ages. Good teaching is good coaching.

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About the Author
Lisa Highfill

Lisa Highfill describes herself as a thinker, philosopher, debater, and geek. She was a classroom teacher for over twenty years, and is currently Pleasanton Unified School District’s Instructional Technology coach. Working in the ed tech field since 1998 when she earned her Master's Degree in Ed Tech Leadership, she went on to become a Google Certified Innovator, a YouTube Star Teacher, a Merit Fellow, and a Leading Edge Digital Educator. Lisa serves on many advisory boards including GoogleEDU and Imagine K12 and presents at ed tech conferences around the country. Lisa is the co-creator and co-author of The HyperDoc Handbook. As co-creator of HyperDocs, her passion for creating meaningful professional development for teachers emerged. She is energized by working with teachers to create transformative learning experiences for students and finding solutions that help them continue the development of their craft of instruction. Lisa loves taking unique road trips with her husband and teenage sons and is a self proclaimed #BBQWhisperer. She hopes to someday be the author of many Children’s novels, and loves any chance to read a good story.

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