The adoption of the Common Core State Standards, and the subsequent testing, has brought about another time of change in the history of Education in the United States. As an Instructional Coach, I view part of my job is to lead teachers through the turbulent waters of change.
In his 2001 book, Leading in a Culture of Change, Michael Fullan proposes a framework for leadership in times of change such as this. He says leaders must possess these components of leadership: Moral Purpose, Understanding Change, Making Coherence, Knowledge Creation and Sharing, and Relationship Building.
As an Instructional Coach, I see my role in each of Fullan’s components. I believe there is a moral charge for ensuring common standards, and equity between schools and states. I have an obligation to not only understand the changes, but also lead the teachers I work with through this change, as well as help them make sense of the changes. The part that excites me about this blog (as well as the other sites I’ve written about: NewsELA, Tulare County Resources, and the PSESD offerings) is the opportunity to create and share knowledge. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here: there’s no sense in each of us re-creating the wheel. The last of Fullan’s components is relationship building. Times of change create opportunities of high emotion. Fullan says being sensitive to this emotion and hear out a diverse range of ideas is important to the health of the change process.
This opinion of the importance of building relationships is contrary to Joellen Killion’s opinion in Reprising Coaching Heavy and Coaching Light. Ms. Killion’s premise is that in order for true instructional change to occur, an Instructional Coach must do away with ‘light’ aspects of coaching such as support, building relationships, and working with teachers who request assistance. Instead, a coach must constantly engaged in weighty conversations, presenting areas of growth based on data, and testing teacher’s assumptions.
I’ve read Ms. Killion’s article several times before finding my own opinion and voice about what it means to coach in times of change. I believe in an amalgamation of Fullan’s ‘relationships, relationships, relationships’ and Ms. Killion rigorous feedback of student engagement and performance. I practice a combination of the two (or, in the Mentoring Matters world, I practice a continuum between consultancy and coaching) and I value a time and place for both in Instructional Coaching during a time of change.
Here’s an example. I once had a new teacher come into my office. She was passionate about serving the students she worked with. However, she was struggling to find the right thing to do. As she began tearing up, I had a choice. I could tell her to buck up and ask about her Professional Growth Goals and the 32 TPEP standards she was going to meet at her evaluation. Or, I could give her a Kleenex and let her spill out her worries. I chose the latter. As a result, after my chance to meet her on a relational level, we could then talk about what she wanted to do with her students. We looked at test results, talked about what the new standards required, and found resources that would work for her. Without the 10 minutes of relational investment, we may not have continued with the true work of improving student achievement.
Here’s another example of blended coaching. One of the grade levels at my building was working on writing text dependent questions. They wanted to write some questions that matched a standard we don’t often teach, but were at a loss as to how to begin writing the questions. Because we had already done some preliminary work in this area and I knew they already had the tools, I could ask them some guiding questions about their current goals. What types of questions had they already written? What did they learn students needed based on the last set of data? Because I knew they had done some of this preliminary work, these questions were not threatening, and promoted thinking and problem solving.
As an Instructional Coach, times of change offer opportunities to talk with teachers in ways times of equilibrium don’t allow. This year our students are taking a standards-aligned reading assessment called the Reading Benchmark Assessment. While it is not perfect, it has opened doors to me as a coach to talk about data, the new standards, and ask probing questions. It has also caused us to look at our instructional materials and decide what parts do minimize and what parts need highlighting or supplementation. I predict when our state takes the Smarter Balanced Assessment next year similar opportunities will present themselves.
As a coach, I wear many hats. In times of change such as this, I may need to change my hats more frequently. I cannot wear the same hat all the time. I must change based on the needs of the teacher, the urgency of the task, the relationship I’ve built with the teacher, and the resources available.